[Ed. note: Please welcome Owen Riese to B5Q. He's been helping with roundtables and will be writing about football this season.]
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst's first season in Madison has been anything but normal.
He's replacing the least "Wisconsin" coach in the past 25 years after Gary Andersen bolted to Corvallis, Ore., of all places. Chryst had a short time to patch up the rest of the recruiting class, retaining whom he could and getting some of his own players to come to UW. Leading up to the season opener against Alabama, he had to prepare with a top running back who wasn't completely healthy.
Since then, Corey Clement hasn't played. Backup Taiwan Deal has also been dinged up, so a former walk-on in junior Dare Ogunbowale and a true freshman moved from inside linebacker, Alec Ingold, have carried the rock for the Badgers. On top of that, Wisconsin's renowned offensive line is as weak as it's been in a decade after losing three starters from a year ago along with injuries preventing a consistent, cohesive starting lineup.
More on the Game
More on the Game
To say that the Badgers have fought some adversity on the field this season would be an understatement. Due to this, Chryst has been forced to get creative. A team known for that hulking offensive line, creating massive holes for big, thunderous running backs, has hardly done so.
In order to alleviate stress from quarterback Joel Stave, the Badgers have used the jet or fly sweep, a play they started running during Chryst's previous tenure in Madison and continued through the Matt Canada and Andy Ludwig eras (most notably seen with Melvin Gordon).
Opponents traditionally have condensed their defenses when facing Wisconsin in order to attempt to mitigate the rushing attack. To combat this, while still running the ball, wide receivers can use their speed to stretch defenses horizontally. This forces the defense to respect both runs up the middle, as well as having to sprint to the sideline to cover the edge. Wide receiver Alex Erickson displayed this on Saturday in Wisconsin's 24-13 win over Illinois.
Here is the first play of the third quarter. The Badgers are in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends). Robert Wheelwright is at the top of the screen and Erickson is in motion on the bottom. The Illinois defense is in its Under Up Roll with one-technique defensive tackle Chunky Clements (No. 11) on the strong side (defensive right side) of the field. However, the most important part of this play on defense is the player with the yellow star, defensive end Jihad Ward (No. 17). When teams prepare for Wisconsin, as I mentioned earlier, they like to condense the field. Because of this, Ward knows what Wisconsin tries to do with the sweep motion to open up the inside zone running play.
So when Erickson starts to cross the formation, Ward "slow plays," not making much of a movement in any direction. This is what the Badgers want, as they leave him unblocked.
Here is how the Badgers prefer to block this play, and Illinois plays right into it. The entire line, along with Ogunbowale, sells a normal zone play to the right. This makes Ward squeeze down the edge, as if he doesn't, it creates a cutback lane for the running back. This is exactly what Wisconsin wants, as it allows a much more athletic Erickson and his speed to out-leverage the defensive lineman to the outside.
The motion of the line and runner going to the defensive left also force the linebackers to respect the run fake, which puts them out of position to make a play on Erickson. Preferably, but not necessarily between the left side offensive linemen, tackle Tyler Marz and guard Michael Deiter, one could get up to and pester a linebacker enough to disrupt his pursuit angle. The two tight ends to the play side are double-teaming the under outside linebacker Eric Finney (No. 14), or the linebacker who is on the line of scrimmage. Like most zone concepts, they're combo-blocking to a second, or in this case, third-level player.
This is about two seconds or so into the play, and as evidenced by the yellow star, Ward is out-leveraged to the outside. On the far left, tight end Eric Steffes has washed out the under linebacker and redshirt sophomore Troy Fumagalli (No. 81) has moved on from the combination block and is about to block junior defensive back Taylor Barton (No. 3) from Illinois. These are the key blocks on the play, along with Wheelwright, who is out of the screen blocking the play-side cornerback. Because of the well-executed blocking on the perimeter, Erickson is untouched as he advances upfield for 13 yards and a first down.
On the first play of UW's third drive in the second half, Erickson also went for 56 yards on a jet sweep, leading to an Ingold touchdown later in the third quarter. The former walk-on carried the ball four times for 81 yards, leading the Badgers in both rushing and receiving on the afternoon. See the full play beginning at the 1:40 mark below:
The jet sweep, which Wisconsin has also run with wide receivers Reggie Love and George Rushing, is just one of a few different ways the Badgers will continue to look to get production out of the running game, at least until Clement can come back. Clement returning could boost the lackluster offensive line play into a much more respectable threat to defenses, in turn making the jet sweep even more effective.