Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge hasn't been part of a team where a defensive lineman has finished first in pass breakups.

Given the way University of Wisconsin junior defensive end J.J. Watt is going, don't rule out the possibility of it happening with the Badgers.

"We joked about that (Sunday) morning, the way it started," Partridge said.

The Badgers were credited with breaking up six passes in their 41-21 victory over UNLV on Saturday night and five were by defensive linemen — three by Watt and two by junior defensive end Louis Nzegwu. Free safety Aaron Henry had the other one.

It's not a fluke, either. Watt was swatting away balls regularly during preseason camp. At first, observers thought it had to do with the height issues with backup quarterback Jon Budmayr, who is shorter than his listed 6 feet.

But the 6-foot-6 Watt has shown a knack for getting his hands on passes, no matter who the quarterback is.

"Over the offseason and a little bit last year, watching film, I noticed the biggest thing guys do is they'll get close to the quarterback, but once they're there, the quarterback can get the ball off easily," Watt said.

"If you just throw your hands up, at least it gives you a shot. It may be a shot in the dark, but you're getting a shot. As you can see, this year it's been working great for me."

Cornerback Devin Smith led the team with nine PBUs last season and Watt finished second with five. It seems unlikely a defensive lineman could finish first in that department but Watt seems to have a knack.

"The biggest thing, I see the quarterback's eyes," he said. "He starts to do his little pump thing and as soon as he goes up with his arm, I know I'm not going to get there so I stick my hands up and get lucky."

It's not just that Watt is smart, tall and has long arms. As a former tight end, he is used to getting his hands on the ball.

"He was a receiver growing up," defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said. "He's got great ball skills."

The defensive linemen were so good at knocking down balls in camp, they had a competition going among them. But the thing Watt really wanted was an interception.

He had a shot at one, which probably would have been a touchdown, but couldn't hold on against the Rebels on a quick throw to the right flat.

"I really didn't think he was going to throw it right in my hands," Watt said of UNLV quarterback Mike Clausen. "I thought he was going to go a little bit over me. It would have been nice to have (an interception) but a PBU is a PBU."

Pass breakups can be huge plays, especially when they come on third down and get the defense off the field.

"The defensive backs don't have to do their jobs and we've done our job," Watt said. "It's definitely a great play for the defense."

San Jose State Wisconsin

When: Sept. 11, 11 a.m.

Where: Camp Randall Stadium


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

Wisconsin: Stats | Roster | Schedule

San Jose State: Stats | Roster | Schedule

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