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Badgers Film Room: Northwestern

We take a look at some of the pivotal plays from Saturday’s victory over Northwestern.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we’re all glad that’s over, right?

Wisconsin was able to get past an always difficult opponent in Northwestern on Saturday in Camp Randall, winning by a score of 24-15, a score as ugly as the game that was played in Madison. The No. 8 ranked Badgers were able to ride their opportunistic and stifling defense along with just enough from Jonathan Taylor and the offense to survive and advance and continue their undefeated start to this season.

A defense loaded with young playmakers who are making their impacts known on their opponents leads the way this week; let’s take a look at some of the plays that stood out on Saturday:

Jonathan Taylor’s passing game usage

This isn’t anything special conceptually, but finding additional ways to get your best player the ball in space and not by running him at seven plus other huge human beings is always #good I think. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Wisconsin likes their chances with Jonathan Taylor in space against 98% of linebackers in the country.

Taylor just runs a Texas route out of the backfield, and gives the linebacker some junk before his break. Shows nice reliable hands, too. ::NFL evaluators check that box on a proverbial checklist::


In all seriousness, I don’t think the UW coaches could have asked for more success than they’ve had with this offensive wrinkle.

The Badgers go for it on fourth down deep in Northwestern territory, and for the first time they break a long(ish) gain of 13 yards for the touchdown. Not only does this formation create issues due the physicality and girth on the field, but I don’t know how in the hell Northwestern is supposed to draw up a run fit to defend this. Just have to deal with the carnage and hope Taylor trips over the destruction.

Zack Baun benefits from Jim Leonhard’s 3rd down scheme

Once Jim Leonhard saw Northwestern lined the wing and the running back on the same side, I’m sure he was licking his chops.

It certainly is not a secret that the zone read is a good play to run on anything and short because of the ability to make the defense wrong and put the offense in an advantageous position. However here, Leonhard has Baun as his spill player, meant to take away the dive. And he does.

However, the reason Hunter Johnson gave the ball despite Baun screaming towards his tailback, is that Leonhard brought some secondary pressure behind Baun to account for Johnson keeping the ball. A perfect play call on third and one for what the Wildcats had drawn up. You can’t ask for much more as a defense than the offense doing what you think they will.

Northwestern Beats Bucky in Pass Pro Chess

Here is an example of Mike Hankwitz (former Wisconsin defensive coordinator) drawing up a blitz to counter Wisconsin’s protection scheme.

Wisconsin is running a half man/half slide six man protection, one of the more basic and uniform pass protection schemes throughout football. (You can learn more about six man pass pro schemes here). With the three technique and the defensive end towards the bottom of the screen, right tackle Logan Bruss and right guard Jason Erdmann are both man on their guys, which means that center Tyler Biadasz will be the start of the slide side.

However, as linebacker Paddy Fisher blitzes, Biadasz aborts the slide (with no one in his play-side gap) and comes back to pick up Fisher. Typically this is a no-no (at least in schemes I’ve been in/coached) because this muddies the picture for the running back. You can tell Taylor fully anticipated picking up Fisher, which is a problem when they’re both occupied with the linebacker while Travis Whillock, the safety, flies in for the sack.

Without being in the room, there was a clearly a breakdown between one of the two (I’d guess Biadasz), but which one’s fault it truly was we don’t know without being privy to more details. HOWEVER, it’s a good scheme to attack the Badgers’ pass pro, as even if Biadasz had remained in the slide, there were two interior blitzers to Taylor, and he can’t pick them both up.

Rachad Wildgoose atones for his prior mistakes

Rachad Wildgoose had an up and down Saturday against the Wildcats. Early in the game he was flagged for a facemask on a punt that allowed Northwestern to score their only points of the first half. However, he did his best to make up for it.

Wildgoose, as we saw a year ago, has no shortage of confidence or swagger. This was his second tackle for loss of the ball game on this same play. Northwestern is just trying to run a screen to get their back tailback in space with blockers. Wildgoose sees this and triggers too quickly for the guard to get to him. Being in off coverage on the slot receiver at the bottom of the screen allows Wildgoose to see this play begin to develop and he takes advantage.

The level of physicality the Badgers’ secondary is playing with has been overwhelming over the past few weeks, and that’s a huge part to why the defense has been so stingy.

Chris Orr get his first of two sacks

Chris Orr won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week this week, in large part due to his two sacks. This one, his first, is another example of a defensive scheme picking apart a half man, half slide pass protection scheme.

Orr is at his inside linebacker position, and in front of him is Isaiahh Loudermilk. Loudermilk is in a 2i technique (inside shade of the guard), and he crosses the face of the right guard. As the play develops, it reveals itself that the right guard was the start of the slide, but isn’t able to let a defender cross his face, so he has to latch onto Loudermilk.

This opens up a hole in the middle of the slide for Orr to blitz. Now, Drake Anderson is there to pick up Orr in protection, but I think Wisconsin will take their chances of Chris Orr against a running back blitzing from depth. He wins here, and you see the fruits of the happenings.

Eric Burrell Strip Sack Gets Home

When I re-watched this game, it was super apparent that Jim Leonhard saw a weakness in the Northwestern plan of attack. He sent pressure from depth with defensive backs from the field probably five or six times, which is a lot for one game. They were close but hadn’t gotten home on a blitz yet; Eric Burrell did.

Burrell blitzes here from his free safety position, and you can see him creeping down towards the line of scrimmage and timing up the snap count. He times it nearly perfectly, and Hunter Johnson doesn’t see it. Burrell gets there just as Johnson is about to get his throw off, and the ball bounces into the end zone to be picked up by Matt Henningsen, who continues to have a huge sophomore season.

I mentioned the secondary’s aggressiveness earlier. Wisconsin had a great front seven and a good secondary in 2017, but the secondary was much more pass centric. The safeties, thus far in 2019, are much more involved in blitzes and are all over the place, which is a bad thing for opposing offenses.

Chris Orr bodybags Northwestern backup QB

Jim Leonhard catches the Wildcats in a five man, full slide pass protection, and Chris Orr comes off of the backside. The offensive line isn’t responsible for Orr, as they’re being slid away from his rush. Orr is the quarterback’s responsibility to account for and beat with the ball.

He did not.

Chris Orr and Jack Sanborn are playing at the level that Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards have for the past two years, which has to be downright frightening for opposing offenses.