Last Saturday, the Wisconsin defense sacked Illinois quarterbacks six times and forced 11 tackles for loss en route to a 38-28 victory. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda saw Ben Ruechel, Konrad Zagzebski, Leon Jacobs, Derek Landisch, Vince Biegel and Chikwe Obasih all register sacks in their fourth win of the year.
Granted, Illinois now ranks 118th in sacks given up (3.14 per game). But in breaking down each of the sacks, it's clear that Wisconsin's defenders nicely executed some smart strategy by Aranda. Specifically, the combination of the athleticism of Wisconsin's rushers and various blitz schemes led to some missed blocking assignments and both Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey taking some hits.
Early in the second quarter and the drive immediately after the Badgers tied the game at 14-14, Wisconsin forced a three-and-out after a big TFL by junior safety Michael Caputo and the sack by the former walk-on Ruechel. Seen above in a long third-down situation, O'Toole's offense empties the backfield -- trips left with twins to the right. The Badgers counter with a nickel look: five defensive backs, four linebackers and two defensive ends. Biegel and Joe Schobert both are rushing from the outside, while Obasih and Zagzebski are the defensive linemen inside. It's a personnel formation we've seen out of Wisconsin when opposing offenses spread it out with multiple wide receivers.
As O'Toole gets the snap, Ruechel bltizes up the middle. Jacobs stays back in coverage against the slot receiver/tight end, as does outside linebacker Schobert in coverage. Obasih and Biegel actually run a stunt -- meaning Biegel, who's outside the left tackle pre-snap but rushes to the inside -- while Obasih goes outside from his inside position. Zagzebski does the same on the other side, pushing right tackle Christian DiLauro to the outside while Ruechel rushes inside. It actually leaves the senior linebacker with a double team against center Joe Spencer (71) and guard Ted Karras (69). However, as seen below, Ruechel bull rushes Spencer and Karras doesn't read the pass rush fast enough, allowing Ruechel to overpower the center and sack the quarterback while Karras, well, ends up on the ground -- ironically enough where his quarterback wound up.
This was the only sack by the Badgers in the first half. The rest were in the final two quarters.
This is the only sack that's not in the nickel look we saw in the first snap. Illinois starts the second half in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) in I-formation with tight end Jon Davis (3) lined up as a fullback. Most of the season, we've seen Wisconsin line up in a base 3-4 look when seeing this type of offensive look.
O'Toole fakes the handoff to Ferguson on a play-action pass. Both outside linebackers Schobert and Biegel back off -- Schobert covers the left flat while Biegel covers Davis out of the backfield. Obasih, Arthur Goldberg and Zagzebski all rush as linemen, with DiLauro taking on the senior defensive end. The right tackle does not engage long with Zagzebski, however -- whether this was meant to be a quick pass or DiLauro thought he had help is unknown. O'Toole doesn't get the ball off, and Zagzebski gets off his blocker and brings down the Illini quarterback.
More nickel looks this time on 3rd-and-12. The Illini are spread out 2x2, probably in 10 personnel. They keep a running back in (Josh Ferguson,No. 6) to help with protection this time.
Aranda blitzes five here. Biegel drops off into coverage in the middle of the field, but Jacobs and Landisch blitz the A gaps. Spencer attempts to take the athletic Jacobs and Ferguson tries to cut block Landisch. Neither works; Landisch forces O'Toole toward his right and Jacobs sheds the block of the center for the second sack of the series.
Sack 4: Derek Landisch (3rd quarter, 2nd drive, 2nd down)
Illinois goes trips right on this 2nd-and-8 later in the quarter. Similar look from Wisconsin.
The two defensive linemen, Alec James and Goldberg, shift slightly to the left a few seconds before the snap. Biegel drops off again as Landisch blitzes the B gap when Karras helps Spencer double-team Goldberg. This leaves Landisch one-on-one with running back Donovonn Young and, well, that's a mismatch in favor of the Badgers.
Bailey's now in at quarterback. As noted after the game by Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, Illinois went to a triple-option offense with Bailey in the game. After a holding call on Davis negated a 26-yard run by Bailey, it was 3rd-and-16. More nickel from the Badgers countering the Illini 11 personnel out of the shotgun.
Jake Keefer (93) and Obasih both slant to the left as Biegel rushes from the right. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton comes off his receiver and blitzes from the right as Schobert covers the tight end in the flat.
Shelton's route inside takes Bailey toward Biegel, who fights off left tackle Simon Cvijanovic (68) after an initial stop and chases after Bailey, wrapping him up before Jacobs can help clean up the Badgers' fifth sack of the day.
Illnois recovers an onside kick and is now within 10 points at 38-28 *Scooby Doo "ruh roh" voice*. Bailey and company are back in 11 personnel with the tight end lined up off the line of scrimmage. Caputo lines up to the left side of the line of scrimmage.
Bailey fakes the read-option look as left guard Michael Heitz (74) pulls to the right in play-action. Caputo rushes in along with Biegel from the left side, getting pressure early on. Caputo actually almost catches Bailey, but as Obasih works off of Spencer's block and heads inside after Zagzebski rushes from the other side -- the redshirt freshman bulldogs Bailey down for a 7-yard loss. Three plays later, safety Peniel Jean intercepts a deep, errant Bailey pass to seal the win for Wisconsin.