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Wisconsin defensive review: Badgers look forward to Bowling Green

A look at the personnel Wisconsin used vs. Western Illinois and what's to come against Bowling Green's Baylor-style offense this weekend.

Grey Satterfield

Writer's note: This Week 2 defense is a little late, but when your wife's in danger of giving birth to really premature twins, priorities take shape.

A game after Wisconsin faced a potent, pro-style offense in LSU, the Badgers took on a spread-style system from the Western Illinois Leathernecks. Despite an early scoring drive scare that was negated by a Michael Caputo interception in the first quarter, the Badgers held their opponent to zero touchdowns scored. Before moving on to Bowling Green's Baylor-style offense and the threats/weaknesses it poses to defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense, here are some fun stats from last Saturday's stout performance:

By the numbers

162: Total yards gained by Western Illinois (54 rushing, 108 passing)

4-of-11: 3rd-down conversions for Western Illinois

2: Number of sacks and turnovers each for Wisconsin

1: Firsts for both Caputo with his first career interception and Jesse Hayes' first sack and forced fumble

19: Longest pass (yards) completed by sophomore quarterback Trenton Norvell

80: Longest pass (yards) completed by LSU sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings on Aug. 30

9: Longest run (yards) by Western Illinois on 30 carries

128: Yards in two drives that Western Illinois gained (13 plays, 61 yards on one; 11 plays, 67 yards on the other)

34: Yards gained by Western Illinois on all other drives

6: 3-and-outs forced by Wisconsin's defense


Western Illinois showcased its spread elements, mostly going in 11 and 10 personnel out of the shotgun and running some read-option looks.

"We were prepared for that," Caputo said, "but they did some things that we, I would say, had to adjust to, during the game and we did.

"We came out, and we stopped it all the way from the d-line all the way back to the secondary."

Wisconsin countered with more of a 3-3-5 nickel package look, with three cornerbacks (Sojourn Shelton, Darius Hillary and Devin Gaulden) and two safeties (Caputo and Lubern Figaro) for the majority of its defensive back sets. However, true freshman cornerback Derrick Tindal did get some playing time on the field when the Leathernecks took out their tight end and inserted a fourth receiver at times.

"It was just part of the game plan today, so we were in our nickel package," redshirt freshman defensive end Chikwe Obasih said last Saturday.

"We had Zags [senior defense Konrad Zagzebski] in the middle, me and Alec [James] on the outside, and so we'd been game planning and we had a good day."

To counter 12 or 13 personnel, which was maybe two to three times all game, Wisconsin shifted back to a base 3-4 alignment but also utilized a four-lineman look once it appeared.

For the first time this season, you also saw a look that was used quite well last season in the one-defensive lineman nickel/dime look (either a 1-4-6 or 1-5-5) that utilized a plethora of linebackers in a blitzing fashion.

Looking ahead to Bowling Green

I could do "What Went Right/What Went Wrong" sections, but it's been a week and outside of two drives, the Badgers held the Leathernecks to 34 total yards and six 3-and-outs.

So let's look ahead to the Falcons, who under head coach Dino Babers are hoping to become the Baylor of the MAC, which should cause some concern not just in the MAC, but to the Badgers.

Against Indiana on Saturday, Bowling Green ran 113 plays -- yes, 113 plays. For comparison, Wisconsin faced 51 against Western Illinois and 68 against LSU. The Falcons, in their up-tempo, spread offense, ran almost as many plays in one game as the Badgers have faced all season. That was partly helped by Indiana's fast-paced spread doing the same. In their first two games, the Falcons ran 71 plays in each, even without star quarterback Matt Johnson, who was lost for the season in its first game.

Enter sophomore quarterback Matt Knapke. Against the Hoosiers' sieve defense, he threw 73 times, completing 46 for 395 yards and three touchdown passes.

The majority of the game, the Falcons ran out of 11 or 10 personnel, forcing the Hoosiers into subpackages, mostly nickel with two or three down linemen. Bowling Green is not against leaving an empty backfield open, as it split out junior running back Travis Greene in multiple situations to create space for him. Greene -- utilizing an offense running inside zones out of the spread but also including some power sweeps with a guard pulling -- has gained 350 yards on the season with a 5.7 yards-per-carry average. Like many teams now in college football and the pros, Bowling Green utilized package plays of zone runs with bubble screens options, sort of like what Wisconsin did against Western Illinois two weeks ago.

Along the lines of the spread, some pistol looks were also seen out of Bowling Green's 11 and 12 personnel -- the 12 personnel showing twin receivers to the right seen during the second half of the game --- utilizing their senior tight end/fullback Chris Pohlman on the line and in the backfield as a lead blocker.

In the second half, the Falcons had five scoring drives of 75-plus yards, all 10-plus plays each. That's what helped lead them to 33 second-half points and, ultimately, the upset.

Bowling Green utilized a fair amount of wide receiver screens, whether bubble screens or having guards and linemen pulling out to create running room for their targets. Along with screens and some simple 10-to-15-yard pitch-and-catches in that uptempo offense that can give defensive coordinators nightmares, the Falcons can throw the deep ball. Knapke threw touchdown passes of 40 and 31 yards on Saturday.

Aranda and his defense will have to account for freshman wide receiver Roger Lewis, who leads Bowling Green in receptions with 30 and is tied in touchdown receptions with two. Four receivers caught at least six passes Saturday for Bowling Green, who coming into Saturday's game against Indiana was 37th in the FBS in passing offense, averaging 289.5 yards per game. Obviously, that stat will go up.

It's not all doom and gloom and overestimating your opponent's offense for this game, however. Knapke, despite putting up big numbers Saturday, had at least a handful of balls thrown that could have or should have been intercepted by the Hoosiers, possibly negating some momentum springs and putting Indiana in position to capitalize.

The key for Wisconsin will be preventing Bowling Green from finding a rhythm like it did against Indiana in the second half, and to get off the field as quickly as possible to rest its defense. When the opportunity arises when some of Knapke's throws are errant, they will need to capitalize.

Based on the spread looks Wisconsin has seen in its first two games, expect nickel and some dime packages to counter the number of targets spread out wide by Bowling Green. When Knapke is on an island by himself in an empty backfield, Wisconsin's defensive line and its outside linebackers will need to put pressure on the sophomore signal caller to disrupt rhythm and timing in the passing game. I'm sure the "mastermind" that is Dave Aranda already has started devising schemes to counter this already potent attack.

Wisconsin connection

Former Badgers quarterback/tight end Sean Lewis is a wide receivers coach for Bowling Green. Lewis played for Wisconsin from 2004-2007, and has made coaching stops with Babers at Eastern Illinois and now at Bowling Green. He's mostly coached the inside receivers.