So here we are again, an undefeated start filled with a thrilling win over Notre Dame and a victory in our first big ten game of the season. We have seen all of this in both of our two previous seasons. Even many aspects of the team from last year remain the same: this offense still runs out of shotgun spread formations and has been almost entirely dependent on Denard's legs, even more so than previous years, due to his shaky numbers passing. So what has changed for the better? DEFENSE.
I am not going to say that we will have a top ten defense in the country by the end of the season, because I don't think we will but there is a clear difference between the way they perform now, and in the previous two years. First off, the defensive secondary has made huge strides. Last year teams could throw completions of 20 yards or more at will. The number of missed assignments that left receivers open was ridiculous. You could almost count on teams converting 3rd and 15 or 3rd and 20. This year the defense has forced teams to earn long completions. There haven't been very many plays over 20 yards by opposing offenses this season, and that is the first and most important sign of improvement. It doesn't mean we aren't still vulnerable. Notre Dame ran and passed all over us in the first half of that game, and without the epic collapse that only the Fighting Irish seem capable of, we were handled. We still are not great on defense, but we are most certainly better than before. And that is enough to give me hope that 5-0 now, wont end in 6-6 or 7-5.
This is the point of the season where we faltered previous years. Northwestern is our first test against an decent big ten opponent on the road.