Craig Has The Scout - Wisconsin 2021

Oct 7, 2021

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Coming Up

Who: Wisconsin Badgers

When: 2:30 pm - October 9th, 2021

Where: Home Sweet Homecoming

How: BTN

Opponent Primer:

Head Coach: Paul Chryst. Hiring new coaches is the best way to tank a program. The Badgers made the right hire in Alvarez, who has picked well in his years. Wisconsin moved from Barry, to Bielema, whiffed on Gary Andersen who took care of himself, and then moved on to Chryst. Chryst and Bielema were both coordinators under Alvarez. Chryst has managed to maintain the Badgers at a high level but they have slid from the previous highs. The B1G West becoming competent has started to hurt the Badgers.

Offensive Style: Power Run game out of multiple formations. In the off-season Chryst announced he was taking the play-calling duties back. Rudolph called the most anemic offense in recent memory at Wisconsin. The offense struggled to generate big plays. Chryst has taken over and the issues of big plays continue. The issue appears to be the players, not the play calls.

Defensive Style: A 2-4-5 utilizing a lot of zone blitz. Jim Leonhard's best defense was on the field in 2020. The Badgers gave up less than 300 yards/game last season, and are giving up less than 250 yards/game so far this season. Against one of the toughest schedules in the country, only Michigan has eclipsed 300 yards. The Badgers will stack the box against the Illini rushing attack. If it wasn't for the unbelievable defense of Georgia and the Badgers 1-3 record, the discussion about Wisconsin's defense would be getting the headlines it deserves.

Specialists: James McCourt has a cannon for a leg, and good accuracy at the distance. Collin Larsh is the kicker for the Badgers and has a career long of 44-yards. He hit a 43-yarder this year, and that seems to be the edge of his range. With the two worst offenses converting in the red zone, a FG kicking contest favors Illinois

Three Things to Watch

  1. 3rd down conversion %. Wisconsin has played against three top-20 defenses. The Badgers are converting a woeful 26% of their 3rd downs. Chryst took over play-calling to get the offense moving in the right direction, the Badgers 3rd down conversion % has dropped from 38% to 26%.

  2. Red zone conversion %. Wisconsin and Illinois are the worst in the B1G converting red zone opportunities into TDs. TDs beat FGs. There may be limited opportunities to score in this game.

  3. Illinois pass conversions of 20+ yards. The Wisconsin secondary is designed to allow deep shots. For it to be successful, the opponent needs to continue taking the shots, Penn State proved this out. The Nittany Lions continued to take shots and hit four 20+ yard passes leading to all 16 Penn State points.

Scouting Review - Offense

The Wisconsin offense has always involved a power running scheme with a bellcow running back. From Ron Dayne to Anthony Davis to PJ Hill to Montee Ball to Melvin Gordon to Corey Clement to Jonathan Taylor. The lineage has been strong and consistent until the last two years. Jalen Berger was supposed to be the next big thing, but has struggled to find himself getting carries. The team has instead tagged Clemson transfer Chez Mellusi to be the primary back.

Speaking of blue chips not working out, Graham Mertz has not exactly lived up to his hype. Mertz could have been excused last year since top receiver Danny Davis only played in two games and Kendric Pryor only played in three. Along with top TE Jake Ferguson, Mertz has had all the targets available this year. His TD:INT ratio last year was 9:5, he is 2:6 this year. The offensive line is allowing more sacks this season and opposing defenses are packing into the box and stuffing the run game closer to the line of scrimmage. Mertz has been unable to make opponents pay.

Statistically, the offense is below average (but still better than Illinois). They are 11th in the B1G at this point plodding right along with Northwestern. The defense is keeping the team afloat.

Starting with the days of Ron Dayne, the Wisconsin Run Game has equated to the zone blocking scheme. Historically, the Badgers ran the outside zone scheme. Recently, they have started leaning more heavily on the inside zone schemes.

The quality of the run game has deteriorated the last couple of years though. The Badgers are leaning more heavily on the inside zone this year. Here is the basic inside zone run.

It took until the middle of the second half for the Badgers to have this type of success running against Notre Dame. Here is the same look attached with the read-option.

In both these looks the backs are hitting the backside A gap. Historically, the backs would hit the playside A or B gap. The offense has moved on with the times and added the backside Wham block split zone concept as well.

The right tackle blocking on this gets high quickly, which should allow the Illini OLBs to create havoc. Here is Penn State doing just that.

The tackle did enough to stymie the DE, but the opportunity exists.

This is Wisconsin, so the outside zone will be on full display. Here is the general look against Notre Dame.

On this play, the Badgers started out in I-formation and motioned the fullback to the sideline. They use the motion in passing sets as well. The fullback will always motion to the TE side of the formation. The outside zone will be to the strong side of the formation when the motion is in play. I didn't see the Badgers run to the weak side on the outside zone.

Notre Dame did a nice job of chasing down with the DE, and using the OLB to take away the read-option.

The other blocking scheme taking advantage of the zone blocking skills is duo. Duo combines playside gap techniques and backside zone techniques.

Richard Johnson approves of this play. They will mix in Z-motion with this look as well to bounce the LB corps.

No split zone blocking on this play. The Illini DTs will need to occupy the double teams to prevent the Badgers from running this all day.

Wisconsin will utilize power gap blocking schemes as well. The guards are marginal at blocking, the tackles are better. As a result, they run Dart often, pulling the tackle across the formation and blocking the playside LB.

Michigan's front 3 strung this play out well. The pulling tackle ends up blocking the playside end. Here is a better version, pulling the right tackle.

The pulling tackle here is Logan Bruss. Bruss is the tackle playing high in blocking, and was the best pulling guard for the Badgers last year. They moved him to tackle in the offseason. Bruss is the most athletic lineman for the Badgers.

The Badgers will pull the guards. The power run scheme is in play in the play calling, but they abandoned it against Michigan.

The H-back in this case is the fullback Chenal, who is used as a lead blocker. In traditional Power O, the FB will kickout the DE. In this case the OG has the DE, while Chenal moves on the ILB. Here is the same look, but the TE Jake Ferguson as the lead blocker.

The Penn State DL played itself out of position which allowed the TE to get to the second level. The Badgers do have a play-action they can attach to this as well.

The front action looks just like standard Power runs, the play-action shook open the outside receiver, but the blitz from Notre Dame rattled Mertz who made a bad throw.

Late in the game against Notre Dame, the Badgers pulled out a few new run schemes. The two plays of interest was a buck sweep, and a version of belly. The buck sweep is here

At this point in the game, Notre Dame had walked 8 into the box. The Badgers responded with these run schemes to attack the edges of the box and gain a numbers advantage on the edge. They matched a couple of buck sweep runs with a belly look.

Typically Belly blocking pulls the playside guard who blocks the end. In this look, the TE seals the end and the OG & OT kick to the second level.

The Badgers use the FB in short yardage situations. Here is a FB dive.

3rd and short, watch for the FB.

If the Illini defensive front starts getting penetration regularly, the Badgers will mix in the screen game. The Badgers will use a 3x1 receiver formation set-up on this. They will use twins and a TE on one side, and a single receiver on the opposite. They run the screen to the single receiver side.

Once against Notre Dame, once against Michigan. In both cases, the play was blown up by the guy the single receiver was supposed to block. The Illini corners need to be able to shake this similarly.

The Badgers run game has historically been 60-40 run:pass. Against Penn State, they maintained the ratio. Against Notre Dame, they were inverted running 40:60 run pass. They were 50:50 against Michigan. The 60-40 ratio is where the Badgers will try to revert. When they do pass though, they run a few base concepts, and like to mirror the field. Here is the Hitch & In/Out routes.

The offensive scheme here is to split the field in half and hit a receiver at the first down line.

The sideline stop route is the safety blanket for Mertz. Illinois has been keeping everything in front, and the flat routes will be open against the Illini.

Mertz seems to have gone up on this too early. The TE looked to come open as Mertz let go. Mertz seems to be going through his reads too quickly.

Wisconsin has shown a lot of 2-man route combinations this year. They run a play-action pass off the Power blocking scheme, with double tight on one side and a twins set on the other. The Badgers run a 2-man route combination with the twins receivers.

The route combination with twins is an out route along with a route down the seam to pull the safety and leave the corner with single coverage on the out. They will run the concept using the TE as well, in this case out of the I-formation.

You'll notice in every one of these play-action 2-man routes the play is being run on 1st down. The TE is one of the most dangerous weapons in the Badger arsenal. They used a half boot by the QB to open up another deep TE route.

The I-formation motion is something mentioned previously with regards to the run game. The motion again is to the TE side.

The FB flat route is the safety valve, and the out route is an isolation route on the corner. Here is another version.

Again, the FB flat is the safety valve. The TE is a crossing route and will be more likely open against the Illini. Here the WR is hit on the post.

Wisconsin needs the rushing attack to work for the offense to effectively operate. Wisconsin will attempt to re-establish the run game to move the ball. If the Badgers can get back to the 60-40 ratio, they have established themselves into a position to win. If they get out of balance from that ratio, the game is off-plan for the Badgers. If they are above that on the ratio, the Badgers are killing the Illini. If they are below, they are trailing and playing to catch up.

Scouting Review - Defense

Jim Leonhard has a top-5 defense. The Badgers continue to run one of the most visually advanced defenses in the country. Leonhard is willing to work in pro concepts on his defense, and does a good job of disguising his looks. The premise behind the defense is basic though, stuffing the run on standard downs and attacking short and intermediate routes on passing downs. A major component of the attack is blitzing linebackers. The 2 and 3-man fronts allow Leonhard to vary the blitzes. The most common is the ILB blitz, but they will run overload blitzes to a side as well. In order for the pressure to work, the Badgers isolate the corners in press coverage to take away the easier throwing lanes. Wisconsin got three of the eleven sacks last year against the Illini.

A large component of the success is the pressure mixed with split coverages in the defensive backfield. Wisconsin presses to take away the short routes, and mixes up the intermediate coverages to force the QB to make reads slowly. If the pass defense holds up, the rush should get home. From 2017-2019 it worked well, but slowed down last year. In 2019 they averaged 3.5 sacks/game, 1.5 last year, and they are back to 2.5 this year. Six of the ten came against Notre Dame, but Michigan kept them off the board. The split coverages tend to be Cover 2 and Cover 4, and Man-Zone Split field coverages. They will also mix in a deep center field coverage at times.

The baseline front is a 3-4, but they move to 2-4 nickel fronts often. Here is the base 3-4 with run fits in what appears to be Cover 4 on the top half and Cover 2 on the bottom.

The Wisconsin DL is stout, you can see all but one DL held the line of scrimmage. The Irish RB hit the hole on the only opening the OL created. Illinois has become so run heavy, the Badgers will most likely walk into an 8-man box.

Michigan took advantage of the aggression by attacking the sidelines with comeback routes. The question for Illinois is if they can execute similarly.

The Badgers walk down the OLBs to the LOS. The OLBs and ILBs are all excellent at blitzing. The Badgers will mix up where the pressure is coming from. Here is both ILBs cross-dogging.

The Badgers are using a deep safety in the look, and use it often. The deep safety is how they gave up the long 20+ yard passes but only one went for a TD. Here is the an ILB blitz where they dropped the OLB into coverage.

The Badgers defense drops the center fielder begins dropping at the snap, while the rest of the secondary drops 4 across at the first down marker. The deep centerfield safety is one they show often.

The OLB rushes in this clip vs. dropping into coverage. The safety started with more depth this play though, he is completely off the screen at the snap. I thought this might have been due to the long yardage to go, but Wisconsin showed this look consistently on all downs and distances.

Against a team like Illinois that will try to establish the run game, I fully expect the Badgers to run more Cover 4 than they have been lately. The Cover 4 allows the tight pressure on the edges Wisconsin wants to run, but with the double tight end looks Illinois will show it will free the safeties to support the run game.

The Badgers again drop seven into coverage which is hard to defeat, and bringing pressure with four. Notre Dame took on the Badgers with consistent out routes. Illini QBs will need to execute these throws to help move the ball.

Bringing pressure in with only four is one of the primary aspects of this defense. I chopped eleven different blitz pressures they bring, but primarily they rush the DL and will mix and match the LBs to create the pressure.

This is one of the few where I saw a stunt with the OL to help generate additional pressure. The downside of the stunt is when it doesn't get home, they are susceptible to big plays.

The last impact Leonhard will have on the game again is the split coverages they use on the back end. They run a great deal of Cover 2 on one half while mixing the other part of the field. They did no split field with the deep safety, but in the 4 man shell on the backend they moved it around often.

This is Cover 6, utilizing Cover 4 on one side and Cover 2 on the other. The top side in Cover 4 was matched with two deep routes, which were supposed to clear the TE. The drop by the LB put him right in the route of the TE.

In this instance the Badgers blitzed the safety, and ran man on the half of the field with the blitz. The Badgers muddied up the route combination on the near side with the zone drops.

No matter the QB for the Illini, they need to make quick and decisive reads. Petersen would be wise to move the QB out of the pocket and provide early reads for the offense. A mix of quick game with deep shots (which Petersen utilized last week more) is the only way to soften the pressure Wisconsin will bring. Leonhard is a master of sowing doubt in QBs minds and confusing opposing offenses.

For Illinois to Win:

Badger quarterback woes need to continue, and Illinois needs to take advantage. Graham Mertz was injured in the Michigan game and is questionable against the Illini. His replacement, Chase Wolf, has been even less effective. Illinois needs to make Wisconsin one-dimensional and get into obvious passing situations. Mertz had just hit his stride when he was hurt, the Illini need to Mertz to return to his inconsistent self and take advantage of the turnover opportunities he presents.

The Illini offense needs to convert touchdown opportunities when they present themselves. Illinois has struggled to do so this year and it has cost them. Illinois will not be able to string together long drives against Wisconsin, they need to create explosive plays. The Badger defense will only present opportunities if Illinois can complete deep shots.

For Wisconsin to Win:

The Wisconsin offense needs to convert the passes Mertz made prior to his injury. They had been unable to convert those in the first three games. Mertz (or Wolf) need to convert passes of 20+ yards. The deep passing game opens up the rushing attack as well. For Chryst's reputation as an offensive guru, he needs to unstick this offense and getting the offense to convert red zone opportunities.

The defense is going to play its part. The Badgers cannot allow too many long shots and need to force the Illini into long FGs. For all the flaws in Madison this year, the defense is still top 5 nationally. Wisconsin will need to continually force Illinois into long third downs where the Badger defense shines and the Illini are lackluster.

Illinois +10

Another Saturday, another tight game in the second half. Charlotte allowed Illinois to run away from them. Wisconsin's defense will not allow Illinois to rack up the rushing yards in the 4th quarter like the 49ers did. The question is if Wisconsin can score enough points to cover the spread. I'll take the over in the game, so I'll take Wisconsin to cover

YTD Against the Spread:




San Joaquin on October 7, 2021 @ 01:38 PM

interested to see if this is the game they go to sitkowski if peters continues to struggle. he seems to be good for a long completion to spann per game. Seems precisely the opponent when this ability most necessary.

ktcesw on October 7, 2021 @ 03:51 PM

Good review!

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