After being away from Madison for 8 months on a semester abroad, I finally got a chance to see the football team in action for the first time since the Rose Bowl at Monday's scrimmage. I'd been reading a lot about how it seems to be really clicking and throwing the offense off, but not too much about how things worked schematically. After collecting my thoughts, I thought I'd throw up a FanPost for those interested.
**A brief disclaimer** This was the only time I've seen the defense, so things I saw could have very well been more of a test run for new packages and such that the coaches were breaking in. I did not take notes, and spent a good amount of time focusing on the offense as well. I also in no way consider myself an expert on defensive schemes, with this being the first time I've really broken down a defense since my prep football days as an offensive lineman. So while I think most of my observations were pretty sound, there could be some things I write that you simply won't see in this defense.
The typical alignment for the front seven, what I'd consider the "base" has a pretty conventional alignment. The nose tackle is in the "zero" technique, lined up head over the center. The ends both play a "four", head up over the tackles.
What surprised me (and this is probably my inexperience with analyzing defenses and more specifically my inexperience with the 3-4) is the role of the outside linebackers. In this base 3-4, both the field and boundary side linebackers (F- and B-side linebackers) play as part of a five man front on the line of scrimmage. They are standing, but really in a "seven" technique on the outside of the tight end, and almost always take on blockers in this alignment. Thus, the Badgers play a 3-4 but have the defensive front and look of a 5-2.
Because of the outside linebackers' role in taking on blockers on the LOS, the middle linebackers' play is crucial to the success of the defense. If they are eaten up by blocks or miss a tackle, there's only the safeties to prevent a big play. We're pretty lucky to have an experienced player like Borland to take on such a role in this first year.
Multiple Alignments and Fronts
One thing that I loved watching was Aranda's creativity in the different alignments used. In the passing downs, I repeatedly saw formations with zero down linemen, and up to five linebackers on the line of scrimmage. I also saw a couple two down linemen sets as well.
No matter what the formations there were, the Badgers always (unless I missed it) had four or five men on the line of scrimmage. The most common four man front I saw was the field side linebacker pulled back off the line to roam with the two ILB's. This has a strong resemblance to last year's 4-3, and makes Armstrong's switch to F-side linebacker more logical in the scheme sense, as he played strong-side OLB last year.
I've gotta say, it looks weird for me seeing the Badgers playing man-to-man coverage. I don't think I ever saw zone on pass plays where I specifically watched the defense. The corners didn't play too much press; while I think Andersen and Aranda definitely want that as part of the scheme, I think it's been built up as having a bigger role than it really does. It was cool to see it varied within the play-call. One play, I saw a tight press on Abbrederis, with the other two receivers being given a seven yard cushion.
The safeties look like they'll be taking a much more active role in this defense than under the last regime. Lots of blitzes, a good amount of 3 safety sets, and some good involvement with them in the run game.
I really, really like this defense after seeing it in action in the scrimmage. I was a little worried that it's aggression could hinder it a little bit against the dual-threat QB's this year (ASU, Ohio State, Northwestern), but the base looks really solid, and isn't too crazy where the players will get burned. With the new scheme and multiple fronts, the pass rush is going to be outstanding. I've never seen a more complicated system run for 3rd down, and now completely understand how the offense has been struggling some days this fall camp. I was a little skeptical, but after seeing this D for myself I couldn't be more excited for the year.