It's the moment a college football coach relishes.

It's the point when the work on techniques in countless hours of practice shows up in a game.

It happened for University of Wisconsin redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ethan Hemer when he made his first start against Iowa two weeks ago.

"It kind of just clicked," said Hemer, a walk-on from Medford. "Last year at this time, I couldn't do anything on the line. I was a little undersized. In (fall) camp, it started coming together and one thing led to another."

And beaming on the sideline was defensive line coach Charlie Partridge.

"That's the moment," Partridge said. "That's what we as coaches really work for is when you see that kid make that transition (from practice to a game).

"It's a lot of fun because it takes thousands of reps to get there. Some kids (arrive) earlier than others. To see him make some strides that way is very rewarding."

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Hemer had a tough assignment in his first start against a physical Hawkeyes offensive line. He finished with six tackles, tops among defensive linemen, and was selected by UW coaches as the co-player of the week on defense.

"They really put a big emphasis on moving the line of scrimmage," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "It was going to be very important for our defensive tackles in general to be able to hold the line of scrimmage — and they did it. He did a nice job of getting off of blocks and making tackles."

After averaging about 20 snaps per game prior to that, Hemer more than doubled his workload while starting for redshirt freshman Jordan Kohout, who missed the game with an ankle injury.

"It's different when you take a lot more snaps, but especially in a win, you don't feel it until the next day," Hemer said. "You don't feel tired; you're riding off that high."

Like most defensive linemen, Hemer arrived at UW needing to put on weight and gain strength, so it was a good sign for him to hold up to such a physical challenge.

"A lot of it had to do with coaching, putting me in a good position," he said. "Just following the game plan, not trying to play outside myself, just doing my assignment and then good things happen."

Hemer grew up playing hockey and didn't focus on football until his final two years in high school.

"He came in here as much of a hockey player as a football player," Partridge said. "We saw an upside in him. It confirmed what we thought he could be some day. What a great start to his career."

Kohout is expected back for the game at Purdue on Saturday, although Hemer gives Partridge a strong third option. The other starter is junior Patrick Butrym.

The challenge for the defensive tackles against the Boilermakers' spread offense is much different than the Iowa game.

Facing spread offenses used to put defensive ends in the spotlight, because of the read option. That's where the quarterback sticks the ball in the stomach of the running back, then reads the defensive end, to decide whether to hand it off or keep it himself.

The Boilermakers' passing game has struggled due to quarterback injuries, but they managed to run for 153 yards on 34 carries in a 44-10 loss to Illinois last week.

"They do some nice things in terms of testing the defensive tackles," Partridge said. "We've seen this evolve over the last few years. This will be one of our first times seeing where they zone read the defensive tackles."

Partridge said defensive ends got so accustomed to playing the zone read, spread attacks went elsewhere.

"If you look nationally, you're seeing a push that way," Partridge said. "It's funny seeing the cycle of college football. It's really getting back to old school, mid-line option. That's really what it is; it's just dressed up because it's in shotgun."

That means Hemer and the rest of the defensive tackles will have to be sharp on their keys in practice this week.

"You don't even think about it, it's so second nature," Hemer said of when the techniques learned in practices translate into games. "Because we drill it so many times, it's all muscle memory."

Wisconsin Purdue

When: Saturday, 11 a.m.

Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: WIBA-FM/101.5 and AM/1310 with Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas

Wisconsin: Stats | Roster | Schedule

Purdue: Stats | Roster | Schedule

Wisconsin Michigan

When: Nov. 20, 11 a.m.

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.


Radio: WIBA-FM/101.5 and AM/1310 with Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas

Wisconsin: Stats | Roster | Schedule

Michigan: Stats | Roster | Schedule

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