Wisconsin Offensive Strategery in Review

By Keith on October 20, 2010 at 4:00p

Wouldn’t you like to just pack up those three hours in Madison and throw them away as if the game never happened? Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, right? The pain and disappointment would be gone. Our defensive line would still be highly thought of, we’d be thinking that we have finally fixed the kickoff coverage bugaboo and most importantly our record would still be pristine. That’s not reality though and if real life teaches us one thing, it’s to learn from the past.

It’s also important to not dwell on the past, either. But, with all the venting and angst thrown about in the last few days, the reasons behind the loss sometimes lose specificity and detail. We tend to wrap ourselves too tightly about who to blame rather than wondering what exactly broke down and whether it can be fixed. Even harder is to give credit to the other team for outscheming and outcoaching our bunch, mostly because it’s so rare.

But, that’s exactly what happened.

Wisconsin outschemed Ohio State in a couple different ways by correctly predicting what the Buckeyes would be keying on and then using that against the Silver Bullets. It also didn’t help throwing in a few mental errors of our own like kicking to David Gilreath at the start instead of the other returner, FB/RB Bradie Ewing, who happens to be about 235lbs. Nevertheless, as the action settled in it was clear the Badgers had three or four plays they would rely on all night.


Evidently, the Badger offensive line was sent a message during the week to be even more physical than normal and get out to the second level as much as possible. In several situations, Wisconsin lined up with 3 TE or an extra tackle - call it what you will - with only one wide receiver. It’s not difficlt to read run in this situation but it allows for our defensive tackles to be doubled which then creates pressure on our safeties to fill and clean up the play. And, we know for sure that Ohrian Johnson’s strong suit isn’t run support or diagnosing plays before they occur. He’s very much a finesse safety who reacts to plays which the Wisconsin staff just had to love to see on film.

The formation wasn’t much of a surprise but what was confusing is how Ohio State attempted to defense it. In reading various articles and posts following the game, I came across some excellent thoughts on what we were doing or not doing as it were:

My next issue is walking our 3rd LB up onto the LOS to cover up a TE. So we go to a 5-2, which you would think would help against the run. However, that defender was basically taken out of the play by alignment because they were running up the gut. All the TE had to do was keep him from crossing his face and then continue on to pick off a second level player. We were basically playing a 4-2 in an attempt to stop A GAP DIVES.

Hines helped some but if we were going to use our LB like that on the edge then we needed to completely give up on the pass and put Hines 6 yards off the ball with the other LB. What would have made more sense would have been leaving the 3rd LB 5-6 yards off with the other LBs so we would have had 3 LB to read and react instead of 2. Move the DT into the A gaps, tell Dex to cut the guard or center, play the DE head up on the tackles, and try to keep our LB as clean as possible.

It makes perfect sense and it easy to pick apart in hindsight but the analysis seems correct on the surface. 


I’m as guilty as anybody in thinking this was going to be a play Wisconsin would try to use against Ohio State. They had great success with it last year and it would only make sense to use again this year. However, Bret Bielema and company knew we’d be jumping the play at first sight so he went one level deeper schematically by using Gilreath as decoy. As we can see below, the formation is identical with Gilreath coming in motion, touching off alarm bells with Ohio State:

Hines immediatley starts to jump the play, biting on the Gilreath’s motion. As this is happening, Cameron Heyward is also getting vertical to push the play wide which helps create a gigantic inside running lane.

As the play continues, Clay sort of runs a simple counter has Brian Rolle gets swallowed up by Gabe Carimi, while Heyward and Hines realize their mistakes and make every effort to reverse course. Disappointingly, there is still no sight of Ohrian Johnson despite Clay having the ball for about two steps. Overall, beautiful play design and execution using our aggressiveness against us.


Perhaps the most frustrating of all things that happened Saturday night was the flanker screen that Wisconsin used with great success. Because we are known for giving such soft cushions on the edges, the Badgers exploited it with mind-numbing ease.

As far as I can tell, Jonathan Newsome is accounting for the inside receiver in case a quick slant comes his way, but he’s also being mindful of the running back behind Tolzien. Meanwhile, Devon Torrence is checking the outside receiver (Toon) while Jermale Hines - not even in the screenshot is responsible for the inside receiver. This would naturally change if the receivers run a quick cross/twist but you get the idea. Now, the fact that Toon isn’t on the line of scrimmage should be a gigantic redflag but apparently not as the pitch and catch still takes place covering about 11 yards in the process.

As the play unfolds, Newsome - apparently unsure of his assignment, attacks the line of scrimmage despite no play fake and a ‘rise and throw’ technique from Tolzien. Even if Newsome hadn’t committed so quickly, the play was bound to succeed because of our tendency to give so much room which no doubt the Wisconsin staff saw on film. Much like the power running plays, they essentially outmanned us with more blockers than defenders.

The Badgers were on their game. They devised a artful plan around how they felt we’d defend them and they guessed correctly. Using double tight end and unbalanced line was the backbone to their success. Decoying Gilreath and, to a degree, Lance Kendricks was also well done.  Ohio State had the ganas but not the counter strategy. So, as we move on, if you’re anything like me you wonder if it will happen again. My guess is probably not since there really isn’t another team in the Big Ten like Wisconsin. That doesn’t mean we won’t lose again. It means we won’t lose again that way - by being beat up front at the point and outschemed.



RBuck's picture

Film study time for the Bullets.

Long live the southend.

slippy's picture

More like for the guns.


(that's what I'm calling the coaches.  I think it kinda makes sense.  Is it any good?  probably not)

original buckeye's picture

Keith -- great analysis.  One point on the fake Gilreath fly sweep:  even though Hines and Heyward were caught chasing the fake, the play wouldn't have been nearly so bad if our DTs weren't completely manhandled on those plays (see Larrimore in the second screen cap under the fly sweep section).

thePhilipJFry's picture

agreed, great defensive tackles make it tough to run inside.

iball's picture

Losing Moeller really hurt. I would even go as far to say if Homan was in they wouldn't have made it 28-18 after we cut it to 3.

Newsome was tweeting all week about girls, not football. His lack of preparation showed. Hopefully this is a lesson to all backups that you must always be prepared.

Wisky's o-line did one hell of a job. They were perfectly in tune with Clay and White.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

BuckeyeChief's picture

That's only because John Clay had their numbers cut into his mohawk.

"2014 National Champions...deal with it!!!"

tampa buckeye's picture

Women weaken legs!! Rock.

chaoscrusader's picture

As soon they went power and had double teams all over the place with Ohrian confused to what his responsibilities were, I was screaming at the TV go 4-4 (1985 Chicago Bears) on their ass. Replace Ohrian with another fast LB (Moeller would have been a great fit), have everybody on the line dancing in the gaps. Their is no way they would be able to effectively double team the line and almost instantly getting to the second level. Tolzein was shaky at times and he had all day to throw when he did. I would rather have them strike fast over the top and have more offensive opportunities for us than the slow grind that chewed up time and limited offensive opportunities. 

Poe McKnoe's picture

Brandon Saine would have ran for 200 yards on us if he played for the Badgers with the holes Wisconsin opened up.  I don't know why it comes as a surprise.  OSU struggled against Wiscky in 2007 until Beanie put them on their back.  They couldn't score the last time in Madison, and didn't have the opportunity to do anything on offense in 2009.  Wasn't a surprise.

andyr78's picture

Great post.  My only fear is that our defensive line isn't as good as we thought it was.

OHIOST1087's picture

Hopefully the D-Line/ the ENTIRE Defense will redeem itself against Iowa.

German Buckeye's picture

Iowa??? I'd take Purdue first.  We simply cannot think that far down the road...

iball's picture

As well as Pryor has played at times, he still has not become the reliable, go-to instant offense guy like Beanie or Troy was.

The two identical goal line qb sneak calls were just awful. Everyone in the world knew what was coming.

I still say Pryor has to get out of the pocket to be most effective.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

BuckeyeChief's picture



No wonder why I wear Buckeye running socks to every f'in race I run. FTW!!!!

"2014 National Champions...deal with it!!!"

Kurt's picture

Keith, another great wrinkle Wisconsin introduced was a pump fake on to the flanker screen then a hand-off on a draw to Clay (or White, whatever).  Our linebackers and secondary ate that play up.

In rewatching the game I really enjoyed Chryst's play calling.  A simple thing that go so far, misdirection!  It's not rocket science Tress (Bollman).

German Buckeye's picture

I think something we are overlooking is Wisco actually EXECUTED the plays called.  Doesn't matter what play was called, whatever it was they did it to design 95% of the time.  Any O coordinator looks like a genius when the players do what he calls - I see that every Saturday with my own Pop Warner level team.   When my boys do what I draw up and what we cover in practice, then I look like the best play caller in the world ( and we score in bunches).  When my linemen don't maintain blocks or get gapped by a rush not picked up and my play gets destroyed in the backfield, I hear all kinds of crap from parents in the stands.   Just sayin...

Keith's picture

I don't disagree but this isn't just about execution. If you get a team leaning and reading keys based on formation and then do something different from it - it's not just about execution,  it's also about scheme.

That's what Wisconsin did to Ohio State.   Outmanned us by formation.   We didn't respond well from an X/O standpoint.  They also formationed us into thinking one play was coming when it was something different.

Execution is very important but it doesn't take into account player capabilities.  If their OG is turning out our DT over and over because he's faster, stronger and lower - it's not about execution.   One can think of dozens of other examples.  The point is, you may know your assignment and keys but the guy across from you can change that quickly if he's better than you.  

As Mike Tyson famously said: Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.  :)

TLB's picture

So....they knew what we were keying on.  Maybe Luke Fickell isn't the answer.

hoff2811's picture

Great post.  And still, on a night like this when your D and S-teams are getting schoolled....there was still opportunity for the offense to capitalize and stay in or even win the game.  In fact, it's inevitable nights like these that your offense must step up and keep the other team off of the field.  You can't get a field goal from 1st and goal at the 3, can't end up with nothing after an interception deep in Wis territory.  Any D is not going to be able to stop good teams all of the time.

Keith's picture

Yep, one of the positives I think we can take away is this team didn't fold.  I thought the offense did a nice job once they got some smelling salts and woke up.  The two drives were beautifully executed even if they second one chewed up too much clock.

I think this team can be really, really good with a few tweaks.  

buckeyedude's picture

I am not an "Xs and Os" guy. But our offense cut the lead to 21-18, did they not? In a hostile environment. And I don't recall too many Wisconsin punts. Just once, JUST ONCE! Stop the Wisconsin running machine! The OSU D coudn't do it. End of story.

Hopefully, they can put it behind them.  Beat Purdue.(!)



tampa buckeye's picture

I think its time Sabino started playing ball again.

Matt's picture

Eh, we whiffed on Hicks and then DePriest. The national title is out of reach now and I'd rather Bino gets an extra year of eligibility to help fill the gap that our recent recruiting misses at linbebacker created.

Orion9282's picture

First time poster, long time reader. Please, more posts like this. I know not everyone is into x's and o's, but analysis like this educates the buckeye faithful. Most of the radio, blogs, and major networks make the same comments over and over again... "our d-line isn't getting pressure", "our o-line isn't performing", etc etc. Knowing the "why" allows us to understand our Buckeyes better, and might cut back on the inane post-game crowd criticism.