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Film Study: What was up with Wisconsin’s (very) early struggles vs. Utah State?

Utah State had some success rushing the passer on Wisconsin’s first drive.

Utah State v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers were able to dispose of the very inferior Utah State Aggies on Friday night, cruising to a 59–10 victory. However, the first drive of the game wasn’t without adversity, as Utah State dialed up some nice pressure schemes to take advantage of the Badgers early.

This is how the defense looked pre-snap for Alex Hornibrook. Sorry the drawing is bad.

The Badgers are in 21 personnel, but the fullback is in the bunch to the left of the formation. They call the protection to the field, meaning Beau Benzschawel is the start of the slide protection. He’s automatically coming with the slide because he’s uncovered in the Aggies’ 3-4 alignment.

Right tackle David Edwards is one-on-one with the defensive end over him. The four other offensive linemen are responsible for the two other down defensive linemen, as well as the two linebackers, all in the circle. Four guys to block four guys—seems easy enough. The two defenders indicated by stars are Chris James’s responsibility. He’ll read from the inside out if either of the defenders are blitzing, and it’s his job to pick up whichever one blitzes.

The Badgers have a six-man protection, and the Aggies send five. Perfect, right? Wrong. Of the four guys the slide is responsible for, only two rush and the linebackers drop into coverage. The end over Edwards shoots across his face, forcing him to wash him down and shorten the edge for the other two rushers. The outside linebacker comes and James blocks him like he’s supposed to. However, the unaccounted-for rusher—the cornerback—creeps toward the line of scrimmage at the last possible second. Being left-handed, Alex Hornibrook doesn’t see the corner blitz from the boundary.

It’s a hot read, but Hornibrook can’t see it to throw the hot route and it ends in a sack. This was a very well schemed pressure by the Aggies, and it resulted in a sack.

Let’s take a look at the other sack from this first series.

Here’s the pre-snap look on the second sack, only two plays later.

There are a lot of different names for this defensive front. “Psycho package,” “Amoeba Defense,” whatever you want to call it. It’s an extremely stressful front for the offensive line from the standpoint that you don’t know where the rushers will come from.

Again, the Badgers set the protection to the field. It’s a seven-man protection, with James flanking Hornibrook to the left and Troy Fumagalli to his right. On the snap, the Badgers retreat in an attempt to read the rush. The Aggies send five, with three to the field side. They do a nice job of manipulating the Badgers’ pass pro into scheming up some pressure.

The Aggies send Jalen Davis, the same cornerback who sacked Hornibrook earlier, off the slot. The outside rusher who started on the line of scrimmage begins to rush outside to get Michael Deiter’s attention, but then crosses Deiter’s face. This is the first part of a three-step rush plan.

As an offensive lineman, you’re taught that in pass protection, “If someone leaves, someone else is coming.” This is what the Aggies simulate, as they blitz Davis to the outside after the end spikes inside, simulating a stunt of sorts. Deiter, starting his first game at left tackle, overcommits to Davis, who is really James’s responsibility. They then loop around a defender who actually started the snap in the middle of the field. Deiter turns his hips to follow Davis, which opens the window for the third rusher to get the sack. Remember the guy who crossed Deiter’s face to start the play? He ends up crossing left guard Micah Kapoi’s face and makes him turn his hips at the same time Deiter is turning his the wrong way. It was then a clear lane to the quarterback for the looper.

Utah State did an excellent job of taking advantage of Paul Chryst scripting his first 10 to 15 plays per game. This isn’t a knock on Chryst; most, if not all offensive coordinators script their first series or two of plays in order to see how the opposing team lines up to defend certain tendencies, but the Aggies were able to capitalize on the lack of adjustments being made early.

Expect the Badgers to clean this type of stuff up, and expect the offensive line to improve on pass protection throughout the year. They played very well in the second half. However, also expect opponents to attempt to replicate these types of schemed pressures to jump on Wisconsin early in football games like Utah State did.