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Film Room: Wisconsin’s highs and lows vs. Michigan

Looking back at the tape to see where things went wrong and some reasons for optimism moving forward

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA T

Now that we’ve had a few days to digest the events of the weekend in Wisconsin sports, let’s take a look back at a few things that happened in the Badgers vs. Michigan game on Saturday night and see what went wrong for UW.

There were some good, some bad, and some encouraging things that happened in Ann Arbor, so this isn’t going to be a big downer of an article. While I don’t think Wisconsin is in the same stratosphere in terms of talent as the Wolverines, some simple execution/game-plan issues arose to probably make the game look a bit more lopsided than it really was.

Let’s take a look at the first big play of the game for either team, Shea Patterson’s 81-yard run that set up Michigan’s first touchdown.

Michigan is pinned deep to start this possession, and to the untrained eye it looks like the Wolverines just run a zone-read play and Patterson takes off and beats Wisconsin’s defenders down the sideline.

While that’s somewhat true, there are a few things that led to this. This is a zone-read play, but the tight end Sean McKeon, who is lined up as a wing to the right side on this play, leads around to block for Patterson, something that the traditional zone read play doesn’t employ.

This is simply a situation of a good offensive play call against the defense’s play call. Zack Baun comes down and forces a keep read, which is what he’s supposed to do. However, the true freshman cornerback Rachad Wildgoose’s aggression gets the better of him and allows him to get blocked by McKeon by coming up too far on the inside-zone fake. Ryan Connelly plays his run hit, but by this time is behind Patterson, who’s more physically gifted than the former walk-on.

The other issue, which is tougher to see without the all-22, is true freshman safety Reggie Pearson, who was playing his first ever collegiate snaps in this game. In the GIF above, he’s the last guy to come into the screen and he is completely fooled by the zone read. Pearson is watching Karan Higdon get tackled and coming up toward the line of scrimmage as Patterson is streaking up the sideline. While it’s technically on him, it’s tough to be too hard on the kid who had played only a quarter of college football to this point.

One thing I’d like to note, however, is the insane hustle that Connelly and Wildgoose show on this play. Not one person would have blamed either of them for putting it on cruise and allowing Patterson to run uninhibited up the sideline to the house, but Wildgoose shows some impressive speed to hawk the quarterback inside the five. Ultimately inconsequential? Yes. But that’s an encouraging play by the true freshman and an example of his mental toughness.

Here, the Badgers answer right back with a long touchdown run from Kendric Pryor. The Badgers’ coaching staff schemes this up well, getting one of their best playmakers in space.

When Pryor gets the handoff, he gets a nice block from Jack Dunn, who push-cracks to the safety, putting the corner in a tough position. Alec Ingold is also in the mix, and while he doesn’t get anyone on the lead block, he makes the corner alter his angle to Pryor, who is able to outrun the defender to the end zone.

The Badgers had a lot of things go right on Saturday, this being one of them.

One of the biggest bright spots on Saturday was the play of redshirt sophomore Eric Burrell. Leading the team with 11 tackles, he was all over the field, especially in run support. Here is an excellent example.

Burrell isn’t afraid to stick his nose in among the big boys. Here, he splits fullback Ben Mason, who starts aligned to the right of Patterson in shotgun. Mason and right guard Michael Onwenu, who is pulling, are set to lead block for Higdon. Instead, Burrell comes off the edge fast and physical, and is able to split the two blockers and bring down the runner for a minimal gain.

Burrell isn’t going to start this year as long as Scott Nelson and D’Cota Dixon are healthy, but he certainly put himself in that conversation moving forward into next year.

This is a simply a misread in coverage by Alex Hornibrook. Michigan’s corner does a really nice job of carrying the vertical by Danny Davis up the sideline, seeing that there isn’t anything coming underneath him. This gives Hornibrook the impression that it’s man coverage and A.J. Taylor will be open breaking underneath.

Rather, Michigan is in Cover 2, and the corner breaks off of Davis’s route, which is really covered by Josh Metellus, who ends up with the interception off of the deflection.

While ultimately you’re disappointed with the interception, there’s a lot more context to this interception than a lot of Hornibrook’s picks, which are often to blame due to his arm strength or a late read. This is simply a good play by the defense, so you’re not too angry with your quarterback after this throw.

Previously, we talked about Pearson making a mistake on Patterson’s long touchdown run, but here he atones for that mistake with a potential turnover.

He starts this play covering the slot to the top. He reads run and fills with bad intentions to the outside, laying the wood on the ball carrier and popping the ball loose. While Wisconsin was unable to recover the fumble, this is another play showcasing the potential of the youngsters in the secondary. The first guy behind Pearson? His safety mate Burrell.

You put up with interceptions like the one Hornibrook threw in the second quarter because he’s pushing the ball downfield and the defense made a nice play. Disguising coverages is something that’s tough on all quarterbacks, so that’s a mistake you live with.

This one is a bit tougher to stomach, though it’s not all on Hornibrook.

The Badgers are in a max-protect concept, with only a two-man route to look for. Left guard Michael Deiter pulls, and the backfield action simulates power to the front side. The Badgers are in a full-house backfield, and everyone but the left fullback sells power. Kyle Penniston recognizes Michigan end Chase Winovich coming over late adjusting to the strength of the formation and he goes out to block him, which is smart. Left tackle Cole Van Lanen also goes out with Winovich, as he knows he has help inside with Tyler Biadasz. He also can’t depend on Penniston to have help for him to his outside, so this late movement created a breakdown in Wisconsin’s pass-pro scheme.

Pre-snap alignment should have dictated that Van Lanen stick with Carlo Kemp, so Biadasz stays inside helping Beau Benzschawel. However, when Van Lanen bailed to block Winovich, he left Kemp untouched. Due to Biadasz thinking Van Lanen had Kemp, he is slow to come off of the inside combo, and Kemp knocks him off-balance. This essentially gives Kemp a free run at Hornibrook, and disrupts the throw.

Now, let’s take a look at the routes. In Power, the play-side tight end is working back toward the inside linebackers, so it makes sense for Benzschawel to release to the offense’s left. It’s a well-designed play. However, it takes a few seconds to develop. Benzschawel gets knocked off his path momentarily by linebacker Devin Bush and that delays his route for just long enough for Kemp to get in and hit Hornibrook, causing the one-handed pick-six (show-off).

Could Hornibrook have thrown the ball earlier? Sure. Was there anyone to throw to at that time? Eh.

The bottom line is that Wisconsin got embarrassed on primetime. The good news? The sun came up on Sunday! The Badgers will be just fine. They’re simply going through some growing pains right now and are getting better weekly. Michigan has the No. 1 defense in the country statistically, people forget that. There was some good and bad on Saturday; unfortunately, the bad always seems to push through.

Wisconsin will end the year like 10–4 or something, and y’all will happy with a bowl win. Wisconsin is continuing to improve each and every year under Paul Chryst, it just might not always be linearly correlated with its overall record.