The Wisconsin Badgers started their first offensive series of Saturday night's game against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors deep within their own territory after a 58-yard punt pitted them at the 3-yard line.
Backed up to nearly their own goal line, the Badgers deployed a new wrinkle -- a two-fullback set mostly out of 31 personnel (three running backs, one tight end) -- that contributed to a rushing performance reminiscent of years' past.
Funny thing was, the Badgers didn't plan on using it as much as they did.
"No, I think the first drive, we were back up and we got into it, and thought we got some mileage out of it," Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said after the game. "Like I said, I think our guys did a nice job of -- we were not quite sure what we were going to see. But the guys did a nice job of communicating and again up front, we were good but I thought the fullbacks, they got that rolling a lot. That part was fun."
The Badgers gained 326 yards on the night with this new look spearheading the offensive attack and another building block noted for the offensive line in their 28-0 win over the Rainbow Warriors.
"It's a nice formation," redshirt junior running back Dare Ogunbowale said. "It gives the defense a lot of things to think about."
First drive establishes running game
The 31 personnel was used six times during the first drive, with the Badgers gaining 41 yards. Hawaii runs a 3-4 defense as seen in the screenshot below. Redshirt senior tight end Austin Traylor is lined up to the right side of the formation, with the wide receiver to the left. Fullbacks Derek Watt and Austin Ramesh are lined up in an inverted wishbone formation behind quarterback Joel Stave, with redshirt freshman tailback Taiwan Deal set up 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
The Badgers' offense utilizes motion in their formations. They weren't initially set up as seen above. From a play in the second quarter, Watt and Ramesh would motion from one side of the field back into the backfield, while Traylor would move to the other side of the line.
Back to the first drive and the 3rd-and-1 play. This formation was highly efficient in short-yardage situations, even with nine Hawaii defenders in the box, as seen below. On this play, left tackle Tyler Marz and left guard Michael Deiter block down, with Ramesh taking on the edge rusher in outside linebacker Lance Williams (17). Watt leads from the right side of the backfield, almost like a pulling guard, and will engage safety Daniel Lewis (15).
Deal follows the hole and picks up 9 yards to move the chains.
The Badgers also utilized a power look, with redshirt freshman right guard Micah Kapoi pulling left on two of the six runs -- two of the first three runs on the drive -- from this formation (more on that look in a bit).
Wisconsin's offense, in their goal-line situations, implemented a 32 look, with two tight ends. The end result, the first of Taiwan Deal's two touchdowns.
The 32 was also utilized on Deal's second touchdown of the afternoon in the second quarter. On both plays, Deal follows Watt and Ramesh, and barrels into the end zone.
Not only useful on the first drive
The 31 and 32 personnel worked well in short-yardage situations against the Hawaii defense, even when the Warriors had 10 defenders in the box. Count the number of defenders on this 3rd-and-2 play within 5 yards on the line of scrimmage. Hawaii knew Wisconsin would run it, and there was no answer.
A close-up view shows what was mentioned earlier. Ramesh takes on the edge backer while Watt leads to take out the next defender in front of him. The wide receiver on the top left of the formation, redshirt junior Reggie Love, crashes down on the defensive back. The result: a 17-yard run by Deal takes it off the left side and a first down for the Badgers.
The play also worked when pulling a guard. First-and 10 from Hawaii's 28th in the fourth quarter on Wisconsin's last scoring drive. With Deal again in the backfield, Kapoi pulls left with Watt behind him. Love cracks down. Another productive run of 6 yards.
Ogunbowale would also get in on the scoring action out of this formation on the same drive. More pulling action from a guard, this time Deiter from the left side to the right and Ramesh blocks down on inside linebacker Makani Kema-Kaleiwahea (55), who crashes down. Ogunbowale is able to turn the corner, following Watt for Wisconsin's final touchdown of the evening.
The Badgers' back-ups also received success on the final series of the game out of this formation. True freshman Alec Ingold -- recently moved from inside linebacker -- rushed for 60 yards on seven carries in that final series, with many of the carries coming out of that look.
The two-fullback sets contributed to three of Wisconsin's four touchdowns. How often they use it for conference play is up in the air, especially with more physical play coming from a stout Iowa defense starting this weekend. However, it proved highly effective against an overmatched Hawaii defense, who even with nine or 10 defenders close to the line of scrimmage, couldn't stop the combination of Deal or Ogunbowale.