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.

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