- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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It doesn't take long for new Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to spot a defense that puts takeaways first. Or one that doesn't.
"Say it's an interior run, an A-gap or B-gap run, and that ball carrier is held up at a certain point in that box," Aranda recently told ESPN.com, "the second and third defenders are ripping and attempting to strip the ball out. It's a frenzy. Or a ball carrier is running down the field after a catch and a defender has a non-aggressive angle, meaning the ball carrier doesn't see him, and he makes an attempt to not only secure a tackle but get the ball out with a rip or strip attempt.
"Those are things that show up on film a ton."
Aranda expects those things to show up on Wisconsin's practice film and game film from this point on. Takeaways are without question Aranda's top priority for a Badgers defense he'll guide after making the transition from Utah State with new head coach Gary Andersen.
Aranda spent only one season as Utah State's defensive coordinator after holding the same post at Hawaii in 2010 and 2011. Utah State tied for 73rd nationally in takeaways last fall with 20 -- the Aggies had much better ratings for scoring defense (7th), total defense (14th), rushing defense (13th) pass efficiency defense (8th) and sacks (6th). But Aranda's Hawaii defense led the FBS in takeaways with 38 in 2010.
When Badgers defenders show up for meetings with Aranda and his staff, they'll see terms like rip, strip, bat and pick displayed prominently throughout the football complex. The coaches will track each attempt and each successful forced fumble, pass deflection and interception, as they try to create a takeaway-first mindset among players.
"The biggest thing is the process," Aranda said, "the day-by-day emphasizing and highlighting of the rips, the strips, the bats and picks and the missed opportunities, putting it on the board, putting it on a PowerPoint [presentation], a highlight video, all those things. ... All that stuff comes in bunches, but the best you can do is emphasize it, make it a part of the daily routine and make it important."
Wisconsin needs to improve its takeaway numbers after finishing 105th nationally with just 15 this past season. It marked the Badgers' lowest takeaways total since at least 2000 after they had finished in the top 50 nationally from 2009-2011.
Although Wisconsin's defense performed well overall, ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense (17th), total defense (15th), pass defense (18th) and rushing defense (24th), the Badgers' lack of takeaways hurt them in a season defined by close losses. They failed to generate a turnover in six games, including overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State and a 20-14 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
If Aranda's plan works, the Badgers should be on the right side of more of those nail biters. It shouldn't be a tough sell, especially because Wisconsin's best defender already embraces the philosophy. Linebacker Chris Borland has recorded 13 forced fumbles, six fumbles recovered, three interceptions and 16 pass deflections in a decorated career, to go along with 13 career sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss. Borland has been a playmaker since he set foot on Wisconsin's campus, and he'll lead the defense once again in 2013.
"I'm awfully excited to coach Chris," Aranda said. "I've got all the respect in the world for him and what he's accomplished and what he means to this team and to this defense. He is the consummate teammate and playmaker, all those things. He's going to be a huge, huge part of our defense, like he has been."
The new staff is in the process of assigning recruiting areas, but Aranda's chief objective in wrapping up the 2013 class is the secondary, which loses three starters (cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie, and safety Shelton Johnson). Speed will be a major emphasis for Aranda and his staff on the recruiting trail.
"I was real fortunate to walk into a situation at Utah State where there was a lot of speed," he said. "We were faster than the majority of the teams we played, regardless of whatever conference they were in. So that goes to show that the game is built upon that. It is a foundational element to playing defense, especially the type that we would like to play.
"That is definitely going to be a No. 1 issue in terms of recruiting for defense."
14hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman