After a dominant two weeks to start the season, Wisconsin's defense fell back to earth a bit in the desert. Coming into their fourth game of the year against the Purdue Boilermakers, fans wondered how the team would bounce back after a controversial loss and a game in which certain areas were exposed.
Saturday, those questions were answered, and quite emphatically. Confusing Purdue quarterback Rob Henry and the Boilermaker offense, linebackers Chris Borland and Conor O'Neill once again led a defense that overwhelmed the opposition.
Numbers to notice
180: Number of total yards Purdue's offense gained (compared to Arizona State's 468 last week)
12: Number of first downs by Purdue's offense (compared to Arizona State's 32 last week)
8: Tackles for loss by Wisconsin's defense, compared to three vs. Arizona State
7: Quarterback hurries by Wisconsin defense
7: Three-and-outs by Purdue's offense
4: Recorded sacks by Wisconsin's defense
3.2: Yards per play for Purdue offense
2-of-14: Arizona State's third-down efficiency
0: Penalties by the Badgers' defense (six last week, all against the secondary)
3: Penalties Purdue's offense committed
1: Number of turnovers Wisconsin forced (2013 total: seven; 2013 prediction: 25)
Purdue's offense was different from other opponents' this year. While Wisconsin's previous opponents ran more spread and pistol-like offenses, Purdue came in with more of a pro-style offense. Henry and head coach Darrell Hazel utilized two-, and at times, three-tight end sets. Sound familiar?
To counter an offense that amassed 256 yards through the air against Notre Dame, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda used the following personnel:
- 3-4 odd front: This was used much more this week versus the pro-style looks Purdue gave
- Even front out of the 3-4, this time more with B-side linebacker Vince Biegel lining up as the "fourth" linemen in place of injured linebacker Brendan Kelly
- One defensive lineman and a flurry of linebackers and defensive backs
What went right
You can say a lot went right. Four sacks. Seven hurries. Eight tackles for loss. There is one formation I do want to dig a little deeper into, that being the confusion-inducing, pressure-increasing personnel utilizing one defensive lineman and a controlled chaos of defensive players near the line of scrimmage.
Used on eight of Purdue's 14 third-down attempts, this scheme gave the Boilermakers fits. Henry completed just two of eight passes against this defense for only 10 yards, and was pressured constantly. No first downs were gained against it, either.
Why? Here are three different examples of the look to showcase what can and cannot be sent. First look, the first time it was deployed by Aranda:
Before the snap, defensive lineman Tyler Dippel stands up but is the lone defensive linemen. Linebackers Ethan Armstrong, O'Neill and Biegel crowd the line, rounding out what looks like to be the four rushers. But notice what happens right at the snap:
Borland rushes in from the middle while Armstrong, lined up to the left side of the defense/right side of the offense, backs off into coverage. Dippel rushes in the middle while O'Neill, originally looking like he's coming from the middle, stunts outward to the edge. Biegel, O'Neill and Borland all rush from the left side of the o-line, resulting in pressure and an incomplete pass:
Not only did O'Neill hunt Henry down and force the incompletion off the hurry, but it appeared Biegel and Borland may have sniffed out a screen in the middle of the field, judging by the four Boilermakers linemen standing in the middle of the field not engaged in any blocking.
So different linebackers were rushing here -- what about other defensive personnel? In the second quarter, Aranda sends rushers again, this time from the secondary:
This picture is taken just after the offensive huddle is broken. Dippel is the lone guy in a "set" look, looking to rush just off the right guard. No one else is set. Ever get the feeling there's a pack of rabid wolves just waiting to strike? Note how the defense moves fluidly before the snap:
Cornerback Jakarrie Washington (No. 22) lines up to the left side of the defense and rushes off the corner, while Dippel moves inside while Biegel and O'Neill also rush. Borland and Armstrong, while looking like they're blitzing, drop back.
The four rushers get more pressure as Borland, Armstrong and sophomore safety Michael Caputo read yet another screen and stuff the Purdue offense for a 2-yard loss.
Did they only send four rushers in this scheme? No. In the third quarter, they sent five.
Looks like another standard look with this personnel. Four linebackers and Dippel crowd the line, bouncing around ready to rush. Notice where safety Dezmen Southward is at the far left of the screen, 8 yards off the line, but look where he is in the shot below:
Borland, once lined up to the left side of the defense, starts rotating back to the middle of the field for coverge as Southward starts his blitz to the right along with O'Neill targeting that left side of the offensive line.
Armstrong gets off his block on the right tackle with his speed and forces another incompletion with O'Neill and Southward from the right side getting there.
Purdue's offense was often confused and never found much of a rhythm with this offense. You can point to many individual players for honors in this game, but the defense as a whole answered the call after a rough week.
Fun fact: Wisconsin has yet to allow a passing touchdown through four games. Chances are pretty good that will change Saturday in Columbus.
What went wrong
The botched offensive play apparently confused Wisconsin's defense as well in the second quarter, as Henry scampered 22 yards for Purdue's first points of the game. The defense appeared to have over pursued to the right, allowing Henry to run through the gaping hole in the middle of the field, then cut it to the left for the score.
Another test awaits on the road this week for Wisconsin against Ohio State. How will Aranda and the defense prepare for quarterback Braxton Miller and the Buckeye offense? Be prepared for a level of talent Wisconsin might not have seen before, even after facing Arizona State two weeks ago. Talent, as head coach Gary Andersen mentioned during Monday's press conference, that has increased in its explosiveness compared to last year.
"I would say this, if you watch the tape from a year ago to now, it's obvious that they've made an emphasis to recruit speed in a lot of different areas on the offensive side of the ball," Andersen said. "They've got receivers that can run, catch, make plays."
"They do have a lot of speed there."