Who knew the Wisconsin Badgers had a reason to thank Gary Andersen?
The former head coach's efforts to get Tanner McEvoy involved in UW's offense have finally come to fruition. Against Rutgers on Saturday, the senior safety/wide receiver ran for a touchdown, intercepted a pass, and recorded his first career sack. Simply put, McEvoy's odd, yet versatile skill set allows the Badgers a lot of flexibility in their game plans each week.
With Rutgers down wide receiver Leonte Carroo, their only legitimate offensive threat, Wisconsin's defense knew it could afford to be especially aggressive. Dave Aranda's scheme was fairly simple: stack the line of scrimmage and force the Scarlet Knights' sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano to beat the Badgers throwing the ball. With safety Michael Caputo being a much better run defender than McEvoy, he was in the box most of the game and McEvoy played center field, essentially.
Above is a pre-snap of McEvoy's interception during the second quarter. The Badgers are in their nickel defense, a 2-4-5 alignment. McEvoy is on the left of the screen, over the yellow arrow. The Badgers played a ton of Cover 1 on Saturday, but in this play they run Cover 2 Man, an ideal third-and-medium to longer defense as the safeties over the top allow the underneath cover defenders to be ultra aggressive since they know they have help behind them. McEvoy does an excellent job of playing his deep half of the field, shadowing the only deep threat to that side of the field.
As Rutgers' Paul James released from the backfield, he was picked up by Joe Schobert.
Here's McEvoy about to intercept the ball. He played with inside leverage on the receiver and shadowing Schobert, was in position for the interception. This was a pretty impressive adjustment to the ball on the play, definitely a trait from playing receiver. McEvoy showed impressive range on this play also, as he started the play a yard or two across from the ball. This bodes well for McEvoy's potential projection to play free safety in the NFL. No doubt, this play was created by Schobert playing fantastic coverage, but McEvoy finishing the play was an encouraging sign.
The next impact play made by McEvoy was on the first defensive series of the second half.
Here's McEvoy at the snap, coming off the edge. When the offense initially lines up, McEvoy is back in a Cover 3 look as a deep safety. However, as the snap appoaches, McEvoy times the snap well and comes flying off the edge. He is undetected, as Justin Goodwin is responsible for protecting the offensive middle to the offensive left and the offensive line is sliding to the right. The right tackle momentarily thinks about sliding out to McEvoy, but turns back inside as his responsibility is to protect the inside at all costs.
This leads to McEvoy using his impressive speed for an athlete his size to come off the edge at full speed and drill Laviano, who doesn't see him until the very last second. This is another encouraging sign, as although McEvoy doesn't blitz often, he made his opportunity count. Often, you'll see an inexperienced blitzer come off the edge and allow his momentum to make him miss the quarterback. McEvoy avoided that.
This is also well-schemed by Aranda, as the safety hadn't been within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage nearly all game, so he's the last guy you'd expect to blitz.
McEvoy also made an impact on offense in this game.
This isn't an uncommon formation for the Badgers, who run it a couple of times per game. Rutgers has eight defenders in the box, one defensive back on Stave at the top of the screen and the deep safety out of the screen. When teams run with their quarterback, they gain a blocker, and in turn gain an advantage on the defense. If you take Stave and his defender out of the play, there are nine blockers and a ball carrier for 10 defenders.
I added the yellow lines to show what normally happens on these plays. Dare Ogunbowale will cross McEvoy's face and stretch the defense horizontally. This creates creases in the defense, which allow the quarterback to either give or keep the ball and attack downhill at the defense.
However, in this play, the Badgers turned it into a more "Wisconsin" type of running play.
Rather than have Ogunbowale head outside, he turns up and essentially turns the play into a "stretch lead" run play. In the screen, every play-side defender is accounted for and McEvoy is simply athletic enough that some back-side defenders can't get to him. Ogunbowale is also lead-blocking, giving McEvoy a clear path to the endzone. Twenty yards later, McEvoy has again displayed his great speed for his size and his excellent vision as a ball carrier. McEvoy has yet to throw out of this formation, so look for that moving forward.
McEvoy lacks refinement at any one position, but his overall versatility allows the Badgers to use him in many ways and always be accounted for by the defense. At the very least, he's a good decoy on offense while constantly improving as a defender. It was a big day for Corey Clement to play his home-state school, but many forget that McEvoy is also from New Jersey, and I'm sure he has been looking forward to this for some time.
Looking forward, McEvoy will be one of the most interest draft prospect evaluations I've ever done, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that. He's spent time at quarterback, wide receiver and safety throughout his three college stops, so I'm excited to see what NFL teams think of him and where they want to play him, because he's a legitimate prospect at receiver or safety with elite size and athleticism.