Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 4, 2014

The stretch run is here. And Wisconsin is sitting in a prime spot to win the West because of a terrific defense led by safety Michael Caputo.

The hard-hitting junior is one of the leaders of a Badgers defense that leads the Big Ten in scoring (14.1 ppg) and total defense (253.8 ypg). The 6-1, 212-pound Caputo paces the defense in tackles with 57, averaging 7.1 per game.


Wisconsin pitched a shutout the last time out, winning 37-0 at Rutgers. The game before that, Caputo?s defense yielded just seven points to Maryland.

The unit arrives in West Lafayette, Ind., for this Saturday?s tilt vs. Purdue on a roll. That?s good. Because after the game vs. the Boilermakers, Wisconsin faces three huge games that figure to go a long way toward determining who will win the West: Nebraska, at Iowa, vs. Minnesota.

I caught up with Caputo, a native of Imperial, Pennsylvania, who attended West Allegheny High, as he prepped to play Purdue.

Q: How would you describe Wisconsin?s defensive philosophy?
A: It gets down to playing 11-man football and executing on Saturday. We put in a lot of preparation during the week. We want to be aggressive and the toughest team out there.

Q: What is your role?
A: I take the role of leader. I try to motivate these guys, but a lot don?t need motivation any more. They have a lot of drive themselves. I am one of 11. I do my part within the scheme. I try to lead and communicate, playing the game I love.

Q: Would you say you play almost like a linebacker?
A: Our scheme puts me down in the box often.

Q: Is there anyone who you pattern your play and style after?
A: I like watching old-time guys like Dick Butkus. I like new-age guys, too, safeties like Eric Weddle; Ty Law was a big influence, Ed Reed, guys like that. I try to model some of my play like them, whether I play like them or not.

Q: You gonna grow a big manly beard like Weddle?
A: That?s big-time. I ain?t there yet.

Q: Have you had a most memorable hit or tackle this year?
A: There was one in the first game of the year vs. LSU. It was when we got a goal-line stop, and it was me vs. the LSU running back-one-on-one on the edge. And I got him down on the line of scrimmage. That sticks out to me.

Q: What?s it like trying to tackle Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement in practice?
A: It makes you a better player, I?ll tell you that. You get exposed. I love going against them. They are all-around backs. Melvin is getting more powerful like Corey. And they both can get away from you. Playing against them has made me better and all of us on defense better.

Q: Who is the most difficult of the two to tackle?
A: Corey is harder to tackle and Melvin is harder to catch.

Q: How would you describe defensive coordinator Dave Aranda?
A: He?s a very intelligent man. He knows football. He?s very intense and down-to-earth, too. He?s a player?s coach. He knows everyone on the defense in and out. He cares about the players and puts us in the right position to excel.

Q: Are there any mantras on defense?
A: The units all have something we say in our position groups. The linebackers break with ?Chevy Bad Boys.? I don?t even know what that is. Us in the back end, we break on ?Hit Squad.? We pride ourselves on being tough and aggressive.

Q: What does the d-line say when it breaks?
A: Not sure. They are just grind-it-out guys. They just line up and play. They may not need to say anything.

Q: Can your defense keep it rolling this Saturday at Purdue?
A: We are preparing to. We will just keep moving forward and will work on executing on Saturday. We have a lot of potential to be a great defense and a great team in general.

Q: Who is the most underrated player on the defense?
A: The entire unit is underrated. But the guys in the trenches don?t get much notice. Guys like the nose tackles and d-tackles, Konrad Zagzebski, Warren Herring, Arthur Goldberg, those guys fight in the trenches and control the line. They all allow (linebackers) Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch to come make a play. They clog it up for offenses and make it great for us in the secondary, too. We can move forward and make plays.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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