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Film Study: Wisconsin LB Jack Cichy's three-sack series vs. USC

The redshirt sophomore made good use of his limited playing time to change the Holiday Bowl for the Badgers.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Cichy played pissed off.

After a questionable-at-best targeting penalty against Minnesota, the redshirt sophomore was forced to miss the first half of the Holiday Bowl against the USC Trojans. Once he got in the game in the third quarter, he unquestionably made an impact.

Wisconsin surrendered a touchdown to the Trojans halfway through the third quarter to cut the lead to six points, but what happened on the next defensive possession is something rarely accomplished in college football. Cichy recorded three consecutive sacks on three consecutive plays, pushing USC back into a 4th-and-38 situation. This sequence of played helped Wisconsin hold off the Trojans in their 23-21 win at Qualcomm Stadium on Dec. 30.

1st-and-10 at midfield

Wisconsin is in their base 3-4 alignment, and USC is in a tight-twins look. USC's offensive line and running back sell an outside zone toss play to the left, which will move the defense. Rather than having a quarterback roll out to "move the pocket," this is simply the other way to accomplish the same concept. However, as the right tackle will remain to set an "edge" for the protection, the tight end on the left side will slide over to fill that gap in the protection, as indicated with an arrow. Conceptually, the USC has all of their bases covered here.

Cichy has other plans.

The former walk-on is sent on a blitz by now former-defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. This blitz ends up attacking the weakest part of this protection scheme, the tight end sliding over to fill that gap. Cichy knows exactly where he's headed, and the tight end is in a reactionary position. Advantage Wisconsin.

Cichy simply beats the tight end to the spot, and in turn gets to quarterback Cody Kessler. This was an impactful play by the opportunistic linebacker from Somerset, Wis.

2nd-and-24 from USC 36

The second sack wasn't too much different from the first.

USC comes out in a trips formation to the left after a false start penalty pushes them back behind their own 40-yard line. The key here is that the Trojans leave their tight end, Taylor McNamara, in the inside slot on the left. This allows the base defense for Wisconsin to remain on the field. Because senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert can easily slide over and cover the tight end, the other defenders are able to remain in their original alignment.

Cichy blitzes freely, but the defensive line has a lot to do with that. Just before the snap, the defensive line shifted one gap to their right. This can cause some confusion for the offensive line, depending on the protection scheme they have called. True freshman nose guard Olive Sagapolu was lined up in a one technique, to the center's left -- and due to this the center isn't able to pass him off to the left guard, so he becomes engaged. The right guard is preoccupied with redshirt sophomore defensive end Chikwe Obasih, and the right tackle with redshirt junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel.

With the center and right guard moving in opposite directions, this creates a natural alley for Cichy to run through. Again, like the first play, the USC players aren't in a good position to pick this up, as the running back is set to cross Kessler's face on a play action fake.

Bottom line, no one is in any position to block the blitzing Cichy. With running back Ronald Jones facing the other direction by the time it's recognized, Cichy is able to get his second consecutive sack on Kessler. This is already an impressive feat, as Cichy had two sacks during the entire regular season.

3rd-and-31 from USC 29

Understandably, USC comes out in a passing formation, the same trips to the left as the previous play. However, in this situation, the defense can be ultra aggressive. With five receiving options, the Badgers decide to gamble, and play two-man coverage. With both safeties out of the screen, Wisconsin bluffs an all-out blitz.

In situations like this, the offensive line is often responsible for the defensive line, as well as one of the linebackers. The other linebacker is the running back's responsibility in pass protection. This is where the Trojans had some issues.

Here's another one of Aranda's "Mad Scientist" moments. Wisconsin gives the impression that they are in man coverage, with two deep safeties. The linebackers in the "A" gaps are an indicator of a blitz.

I mentioned earlier that the offensive line is usually responsible for one linebacker, and the back is responsible for another. In this play, the offensive line is responsible for T.J. Edwards (star), and the running back, Jones, is responsible for Cichy (poorly drawn arrow). This seems pretty simple, yes? Well, conceptually USC is in perfect position to defend this. It didn't work that way.

In this shot, the USC left tackle and left guard are focused on redshirt sophomore T.J. Watt. Zach Banner, the left tackle, was originally responsible for Biegel, but he dropped to cover the tight end. The right guard and right tackle are looking at redshirt sophomore defensive end Alec James. The right guard is passing James off to the tackle as he sees Schobert looping around in their stunt.

The center, Khaliel Rodgers, is responsible for Edwards (star and arrow), along with the left guard and tackle. They are in a slide protection, where they are taught to let the other linebacker go free if he blitzes, in order to make the running back's block more defined. Also, backs often cut-block blitzing linebackers, and if the center is touching the blitzer -- it's a chop block, and a 15-yard penalty.

In this instance, however, Cichy simply is too much for the freshman back. Kessler scrambles out to his right, and Cichy tracks him down for the hat trick. This is an incredible sequence, and a rarity in any level of football. The thing that is also noteworthy about the sequence, is that Cichy wasn't blocked on two plays, and defeated the third easily. I'm sure USC's offensive line coach, Mike Goff, wasn't thrilled.

Cichy was on fresh legs after missing the first half, and it was evident. USC was reeling during this sequence, and Aranda capitalized on it. Cichy will likely take the departing Joe Schobert's spot on defense at outside linebacker, if the Badgers remain in their 3-4 alignment moving forward. He, along with Biegel and Watt, could continue the trend of standout linebackers in 2016.