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Badgers Film Room: Michigan

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We take a look at a few of the defining plays from the Badgers’ bludgeoning of the Maize and Blue this past weekend.

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

WELL, while I was busy marginally helping UW-Whitewater to a victory over No. 5 ranked St. Xavier (NAIA) on Saturday, the Badgers were busy winning their own ranked matchup. The then No. 13 Badgers were up 35-0 about halfway through the 3rd quarter, which was far from what I expected entering the weekend!

Nevertheless(!), let’s take a look at a few plays from Saturday and talk about them:

THE HIPPO FORMATION

Alright, so many of you who know me, and many who do not, know my affinity for RUNNING THE DAMN FOOTBALL, and for having literally as many fullbacks, tight ends and offensive linemen on the field as they’ll allow at one time.

Well my good personal friend and close pal Paul Chryst heard my wishes and pandered to these wishes of mine that some would call “misguided.”

Smh nerds.

What a beautiful mass of humanity. The Badgers essentially get into 32 personnel (three backs, two tight ends) except they use an offensive lineman as one of the tight ends, and two of the running backs. The result is Jack Coan, Jake Ferguson and Jonathan Taylor get to share the field with eight of the best athletes on the team.

In all seriousness, the Badgers make a huge decision here to go for it on 4th and 1 from their own 34. This is something that would have had about a .01% chance of happening a year ago, which is encouraging for a couple of reasons.

(1) It will keep the idiots on Twitter (Editor’s note: I resemble that remark!) from complaining that the Badgers don’t go for it enough on 4th down,

and

(2) more importantly, this is a huge exhibit of faith in his offense and a display of confidence from Paul Chryst.

If Wisconsin is able to maximize its own opportunities, while limiting their opponents’ opportunities (time of possession, less possessions for opponents) that’s a recipe for success, in particular against teams more talented than them.

Also, letting Jonathan Taylor get one yard behind, literally, over 2,500 lbs. of offensive linemen isn’t the worst idea I’ve heard.

JONATHAN TAYLOR’S LONG TOUCHDOWN RUN

So I’m sure most of you have blocked this day out of your memory, but let’s take a look back to the Badgers’ third game a year ago. In another primetime home game, the Badgers lost to BYU.

Now, I didn’t unintentionally bring your minds back to this disappointing day. The Cougars were able to manipulate the Badgers’ defense by Jeff Grimes’ use of motion into advantageous positions for BYU. This is what Wisconsin did against the Wolverines on Saturday.

The Badgers send receiver Kendric Pryor in motion prior (I hate myself) to the snap, and you can see the slot defender, in this case Lavert Hill, start to rotate back to the middle of the field. He’s spinning back to play in the middle of the field while the other safety rotates down to play the alley.

While this is happening, Jonathan Taylor has gotten the handoff, and bounces into the now vacated alley on the left side, and thus opens up a massive chasm in the Wolverine defense.

This isn’t far off from what victimized the Badgers against BYU last season. Just happened to be the right play call for how Michigan and defensive coordinator Don Brown wanted to play that look from Wisconsin. Six points for the good guys.

JACK COAN HITS CEPHUS DEEP ON 4TH AND 3

We’ve already discussed the benefits of Paul Chryst’s added aggressiveness, which I’m sure a VERY LARGE part has to do with getting his best receiver back.

The Badgers are on Michigan’s 42-yard line on a fourth and three. They know Michigan is in man, so they run Cephus on a wheel route from the inside of their trips formation, forcing the corner to track Cephus through traffic, which allows the junior wide receiver to get a step on him.

Coan is able to set his feet and let this one rip just before he’s hit, and the result is a great ball for a huge conversion early in the second quarter.

A sack or a failed conversion here gives Michigan the ball near midfield only down two scores and at least gives them a fighting chance to get back into the game. Wisconsin would go up 21-0 on this drive instead.

AJ TAYLOR JET SWEEP INTO THE BOUNDARY

One of the top staples of the Badgers’ offense, dating back to the early 2010s under Paul Chryst’s reign as offensive coordinator is the jet sweep. It’s an easy way to stretch the defensive horizontally, a nice change up from the smash-mouth attack they typically employ.

The Badgers get the ball to A.J. Taylor, one of their more talented offensive players on this jet sweep into the boundary. While conventional wisdom would tell you to get the ball to a player in more space, running this play into the boundary allows it to hit quicker, and thus give the Wolverines defense less time to react.

This is apparent by watching Aidan Hutchinson, No. 97, at defensive end come off of the ball on the snap, and have no idea that Taylor had already crossed his face. Taylor then is able to use his high school running back experience to get yards after contact, and nearly gets in for the score.

Wisconsin’s offense provides just enough different threats to a defense right now to prevent them from completely selling out to stop Jonathan Taylor, which they did a year ago. (Yes, I know Taylor still had over 2,000 yards.)

JACK COAN IS A DAMN FOOTBALL PLAYER

Now, I don’t have a ton to say about this play, other than Garrett Groshek would be well-suited to see Cam McGrone coming to decapitate his quarterback from the inside.

HOWEVER. This play is awesome from the standpoint of Coan. He’s unafraid of contact, and is willing to put his shoulder down on the goal line to try and score. That’s the quick way to get your teammates’ respect and admiration. I know the Graham Mertz hype train is coming at some point, but this exhibition of Coan’s confidence right now is extremely encouraging.

LETS HAVE DISCOURSE ABOUT MATT HENNINGSEN

This play might be the most impressive thing I saw when re-watching this game, and it’s an excellent representation of everything going right for the Badgers as a collective football team right now.

Matt Henningsen is a former walk on, who is the poster child for what this program prides itself on; player development.

The fact that Henningsen falls down at the start of the play, and still has the wherewithal to get up, recognize it’s a screen and then proceeds to track down Zach Charbonnet, a potential future NFL running back is

(1) extremely impressive

and

(2) a sign from the football Gods that Michigan wasn’t meant to succeed on that day.

If reserve defensive linemen are playing this well, I don’t know what in the hell anyone is supposed to do to stop Wisconsin.

WISCONSIN OFFENSE CONTINUES TO DEVELOP

Okay, so again, nothing really noteworthy happens on this play. But the fact that the Wisconsin Badgers are running speed option away from a jet sweep action and a counter fake to a fullback up 28 in the third quarter is insane to me.

Tell this to someone in 2015 when Joel Stave is handing the ball off to Dare Ogunbowale behind four redshirt freshman offensive linemen, and they’d look at you like you had two heads.

Wisconsin’s offense is continuing to evolve, which kind of validates a theory I’ve had since, like, early 2017 regarding the Badgers’ offense. I’ve had this working opinion that Paul Chryst wasn’t showing all of his cards of his offense, and was really just doing enough to win with that they had, mostly due to quarterback play.

I’m about as big of an Alex Hornibrook apologist as you’ll find, but it would be ignorant to not acknowledge the areas he struggled and the limitations he put on the offense schematically. Now with a more athletic player and more accurate passer at the helm, Wisconsin is seemingly opening up the playbook, which is good for everyone involved.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS

Okay, so this article is longer than I anticipated, but this will have to make up for the haters and losers, of which there are many, at YouTube for taking down the copy of the UW vs Central Michigan video before I could do an article on it.

I just wanted to leave a few tidbits with you all of my thoughts on some things before I end this.

  • Wisconsin will be without its two starting safeties against Northwestern in the first half due to their ejections in the third quarter against Michigan.

Now, my opinions on targeting haven’t always been met with the most agreement, but I will say this: I don’t think it’s a bad thing that they were ejected. They’re playing defense the way their coaches are telling them to. I guarantee you Jim Leonhard lauded both players for their hits they made on Dylan McCaffrey.

Now, I’m sure he told them to be careful, and that he doesn’t want them getting ejected, but those were both football plays made at full speed being judged in super slow motion.

/shrugs

Reggie Pearson was like five feet from McCaffrey at full speed and he was still upright, so how he’s supposed to pull off at that point, I don’t know. However this leads into my next point.

  • This defense, in the best ways possible, reminds me of the Baltimore Ravens defenses of old. Jim Leonhard was apart of one of the best defenses in the NFL over multiple seasons, starting with his only season in Baltimore under Rex Ryan.

This team is fast, swaggy, and playing with a level of physicality that I haven’t seen from the Badgers in a long time. The level of confidence across the entire defense is infectious to those on it, and it shows. This unit has the chance to be special, which is really bad news for the rest of the league and country. They only start two seniors on the entire defense (Zack Baun and Chris Orr).

  • I mentioned this earlier when talking about Matt Henningsen, but the level of play from everyone on the roster seems elevated. Adam Krumholz is making tackles on punt, guys are flying around and making plays. John Torchio, a former walk on safety got a pick at the end of the Michigan game. Everyone on this team has embraced their role and are maximizing it. It’s an awesome thing to see as a fan.

This has a chance to be a special team, guys. Let’s all enjoy the ride.