Kevin Cosgrove, New Mexico’s defensive coordinator, has fond memories of his 14 seasons at Wisconsin.
Cosgrove calls this Saturday’s game at Madison “a business trip,” where the Lobos will face the No. 5 Badgers at 10 a.m. (Mountain time), but he doesn’t neglect the nostalgia.
“The proudest thing is that I was there when we helped build that program,” said Cosgrove, who worked with then-head coach Barry Alvarez (now the athletic director) from 1990-2003, the latter eight seasons as defensive coordinator. “When we first got there they won three games in three years, similar to what happened here. When I was there we won three Big 10 championships and three Rose Bowls (1993, 1998, 1999).”
Cosgrove, a member of the Wisconsin Football Coaches Hall of Fame, is now tasked with the challenge of improving a defense that was humbled in its season-opening win against Incarnate Word. Cosgrove said he saw some highs and lows in the 62-30 victory over the FCS program that racked up 566 yards of total offense.
The Cardinals scored on their opening drive, but the Lobos then shut them out on their next five possessions, including a turnover on downs and an interception by Jalin Burrell.
“It’s about our individual improvement,” Cosgrove said of what the Lobos are working on for their game at Wisconsin. “It’s about competing every snap. Playing the best we can possibly play. That’s all we can ask of our kids.”
The Lobos will be facing an entirely different team than Incarnate Word this Saturday. On offense, the Badgers feature a mammoth front line that returns all starters from last year and three All-Americans in Michael Deiter, David Edwards and Beau Benzschawel.
Wisconsin sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman Trophy candidate, and UNM coach Bob Davie believes senior quarterback Alex Hornibrook has the type of talent that could make him a first-round pick in the NFL Draft. The Badgers own a 40-game win streak in non-conference games, the fifth-longest streak among FBS teams since 1946.
UNM defensive players see the challenge as a great test, a “perfect opportunity,” to prove that they are better than what they showed last week.
“That just gets our whole team foaming at the mouth,” senior safety Bijon Parker said of Wisconsin’s accolades on offense. “We’ve got some people on our team that feel they should be All-Americans too. So, now we put our guys against theirs and see what happens.”
Parker is nursing a groin injury that kept him out the majority of the game against Incarnate Word. He will make the trip to Wisconsin, where he hopes to play. He is a part of an experienced secondary that will be tested, though the Badgers’ strength is in their vaunted running game.
Parker and the Lobos remember last year when they were embarrassed at Texas A&M, where the Aggies beat UNM, 55-14.
“This week we already know what to expect,” Parker said. “We’re going there to win. We’re not going there to back down or anything like that. We’re ready to play. We’re getting all the techniques down this week and we’ll be ready on Saturday.”
The Lobos will be without wide receiver Q’ Drennan (hip) and backup quarterback Coltin Gerhart (sprained foot). Drennan dislocated his hip when he came down after a spectacular 40-yard reception. His hip was popped back into place later at the hospital, Davie said. Drennan, who is out indefinitely, will most likely avoid surgery, Davie said.
Davie did not allude to trick plays or a certain amount of turnovers caused when asked what it will take to upset the Badgers in a game that the Lobos will receive $1.2 million for playing. Wisconsin is the highest ranked team UNM has faced since 2010, when the Lobos lost to No. 3 TCU, 66-17.
“We have to keep it simple,” Davie said. “Make improvement individually. If we expand any more beyond anything, we’re making a dramatic mistake. Control what you can control. The one thing that you can control is your performance every time the ball snaps.”