Thanksgiving with Maragos

Chris Marago (Fedie/File)

After two standout seasons in the Wisconsin secondary, Chris Maragos is finding his niche in the NFL. He rejoins Badger Nation for a weekly insider look at Wisconsin football, addresses the breakdowns on special teams, the little things Wisconsin needs to do right the rest of the season and how he would approach this weekend's game.

MADISON - The football journey of Chris Maragos is something that most every Wisconsin natives dream about growing up.

A high school player in the state, Maragos got a chance to walk-on to the Badgers' football program in 2007 after two uneventful seasons at Western Michigan. From there he changed positions, started two seasons at safety and became a team captain on a 10-win team in 2009.

Now as he prepares for his third year in the National Football League, he kicks off his third year with Badgernation.com to break down the Badgers.

Every week, Maragos will breakdown the previous week's game and answering subscriber questions posted on the insider board. Using his knowledge of Wisconsin's defense and its personnel, Maragos' contributions give added insight to Wisconsin football.

This week, Maragos addresses the breakdowns on special teams, the little things Wisconsin needs to do right the rest of the season and how he would approach this weekend's game.

Badger Nation: Special teams are your life blood. Watching the punt return for Ohio State's opening touchdown, what went wrong that nobody got a finger on him?

Maragos: The biggest thing is anytime you have a return down the middle of the field, you need equal distribution with the guys getting ready to swoop in and make a tackle. As a guy covering, you need to condense the lanes with the guys who are blocking you while they are trying to get inside leverage. You need to squeeze those blocks down to not create any creases down the middle.

The first thing you want to do is try to make the ball bounce. Anytime a guy gets out of his lane or a block comes in late, it opens up a crease. A lot of times the rest of the coverage, especially if guys are on the same level, guys on the outside have to redirect. When that happens, you are a little late to the ball carrier, and that can hurt like it did Saturday.

Badger Nation: Wisconsin has lost so many close games this year and there hasn't been a close game they have won where they can walk away feeling good about it. Having been in a locker room for so many years, how much of a carryover does that have?

Maragos: The biggest thing, especially when you are practice from here on out, you really need to focus on little things. It's very easy in practice to let little things slip by. When you are playing great teams like that, you need every little thing to go your way. Every single guy needs to be clued in. I think while they continue to rebound in practice, they'll need to force themselves to look at the little things they are doing and focus on those details. Evidently, those are the things that are having a negative impact for them in games.

Badger Nation: You've seen this team play a ton this year, so what are the little things they aren't doing right?

Maragos: I think there are some mental aspects to a game as well as some physical aspects to a game. For instance, the biggest thing I saw is making the plays that come your way. Especially in this last game, there were those little plays that Ohio State made – the pass breakup on the touchdown pass to Derek Watt and on the fourth down in overtime. The little things separate a big play from a pass breakup. As you look at those things, you have to ask yourself, ‘Am I looking the ball in? Am I making the right cut off my fullback? Am I making the right block?' All those little things end of affecting the play.

Badger Nation: Wisconsin's defense holds Ohio State to a number of season lows on offense, but lost the game. As a defense, can you walk away feeling good about your performance or feeling like you needed to do more?

Maragos: You always feel like you can do more. As long as they scored points on you, you haven't done your job. Ohio State only scored seven on them (in regulation), but those seven points were critical. There were a lot of great things you can take from that game and learn off of and build from. They are going to play for a Big Ten championship and a bowl game, so those were big-time building blocks that they'll need to continue to learn from.

Badger Nation: If you are a coach at Wisconsin, how do you manage this week? You want to win to give your team some momentum, but you don't want to risk injuries to some of your key players when next week's game means so much more.

Maragos: As a player or as a coach, you can't treat this game any different. If you are worried about getting hurt or thinking about resting yourself, guys start playing at a speed that's slower than they are used to, and that's when they are susceptible to injury. When you aren't playing fast and just thinking about getting through the game, that's when the details don't carry over to next week. Turning the switch on and off in terms of when you are going to go hard isn't a good thing.

I think the game plan should be simple: let your guys go out and execute the plays that you do well, that are your bread and butter and that everybody knows you are going to run. I would maybe work this week on things you would want to run in the Big Ten championship game, like trick plays or whatever, so the guys get comfortable with them a week ahead of time. I would treat it like any other week and monitor it as you go.

Badger Nation: Does Wisconsin need to win this game Saturday or are they in a good position to win a championship next weekend either way?

Maragos: They definitely need to win, largely because you need to continue to corral the guys. With a new quarterback in here, you need guys to believe in him and the situation that is going on. I think they need to win from the momentum aspect. The guys need to feel like they can win out the rest of the year.

Badger Nation: You've become pretty good friends with former Penn State QB and fellow Seattle Seahawks special teams player Michael Robinson. How impress have you both been that everybody wrote this Penn State team off, but they have played pretty good football after week three?

Maragos: The biggest thing I have seen with them is the guys that come through the Penn State program, the tradition that they have and the overall pride that they take in the program have is really unbelievable. That's one of the things you see with their football team this year. They are really committed. It doesn't matter with what is going on or the situation at hand. You are seeing them fight and take a lot of pride in what they do. That's the cool thing that I've seen and how serious they take it, and Mike has a tremendous amount of pride for Penn State.

Badger Nation: How much better does Wisconsin's offense look with the performance of Curt Phillips at quarterback on Saturday and how much more dangerous does that make them?

Maragos: Again, it's Wisconsin football. It's running the football, and they are going to have to ride Montee Ball the rest of the year here. I think that's going to be really important. I think it'll be important to get Phillips some more confidence in the game and really start to get him to make plays at a consistent level down the field, because they are going to need that in the final three games of the year. The team UW is going to play in Indianapolis and in the bowl game are going to be very good. It's important to get him involved and to get them going.

Badger Nation: What's the key for Wisconsin this week and what's your prediction?

Maragos: I'd say that anytime you go on the road, you need to rely on your special teams. Wisconsin's special teams will have to play well. They are going to be able to throw the ball to have success because everyone left on their schedule is going to clue in on the run. With Phillips being in there, people know what kind of plays and packages he runs, so opponents will be able to pick up tendencies.

I think the Badgers are going to go in with a bitter taste and I think they beat Penn State, 21-10.

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