Craig Has The Scout - Wisconsin 2022

Sep 29, 2022

I believe this is the 9th time Craig has scouted Wisconsin and hopefully the 2nd time he has scouted them before a win. This is also the 4th time Craig's ability to publish an article has been lost, which is why I'm writing this intro (and why the byline says "Robert").

To the scout...

Coming Up

Who: Wisconsin Badgers

When: 11:00 am - October 1st, 2022

Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

How: BTN

Opponent Primer:

Head Coach: Paul Chryst. It seems the Badgers under Chryst have fallen into a funk. Chryst's first four years involved New Year's Six bowl games. Then just as suddenly they are competing in the Duke's Mayo and Las Vegas Bowls. The B1G West opponents finally got their hiring act collectively together, with Fleck and Brohm quickly closing the margin on the Badgers. Illinois has hired Bielema, which also appears to have cut into the Badger advantages. As a result, Chryst made a pretty large change in his staff in the off-season, the first major after seven seasons.

Offensive Style: Gap Scheme Power Run. Bobby Engram was brought in during the off-season to be the new offensive coordinator. Joe Rudolph had held the title since coming to Wisconsin with Chryst in 2015. In 2021, Chryst took back play-calling duties from Rudolph, and Rudolph left in the off-season to join Brent Pry's Virginia Tech staff. Engram is not unfamiliar to Chryst though, he had Engram on his Pitt staff when he coached there. Since leaving Chryst's staff at Pitt, he has been the WR & TEs coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The purpose of bringing in Engram was to make the offense more efficient. Thus far, the results are poor.

Defensive Style: Blitzing 3-4 C1 & C2. Jim Leonhard continues his wizarding ways. His efficiency numbers don't look quite so good since he just finished up his Ohio State beating. The defense lacks some of the high-end talent of previous versions, but they are still dangerous. Defensively, they've picked off 8 passes in four games, so the coverage and pass rush are still up to snuff.

Specialists: The Badgers had placekicking woes to start the year, and have swapped kickers to a freshman. Wisconsin sports a perfectly average punting game, which is where Illinois would like to be.

2022 Wisconsin at a Glance:

2022 Record: 2-2, 0-1
Rushing Offense: 211.8 ypg
Passing Offense: 221.3 ypg
Total Offense: 433.0 ypg
Scoring Offense: 34.8ppg
Rushing Defense: 121.5 ypg
Pass Defense: 197.8 ypg
Total Defense: 299.3 ypg
Scoring Defense: 19.0 ppg
Turnover Margin: +4

Three Things to Watch

  1. Defensive Blitzing. Ryan Walters has been blitzing about 35% of the time year to date, one of the higher numbers in FBS. Jim Leonhard has historically been one of the highest and is sub 25% this season (with an Ohio State bogey). The Illini will force the Badger receivers to get separation while on defense. Wisconsin will play man-on-man and try to win individual battles. Losing team blinks first.

  2. Tommy DeVito RPOs. Lunney introduced a large number of RPOs last week in game plan. DeVito was pretty efficient with them and did a nice job of flipping his hips to hit the open receivers. Illinois will need to show the look to prevent Wisconsin from stacking the box. DeVito's confidence in pulling and throwing over the middle will be clutch to the game plan.

  3. Red Zone Efficiency. Illinois is one of the least efficient offenses in the nation at converting red zone opportunities into points. The Illini are also converting fewer chances into touchdowns. The Wisconsin offense is middle of the pack in conference.

Scouting Review - Offense

The Wisconsin offense under Chryst has been one that wants to play physical in the trenches. Given his druthers, Chryst prefers to put the QB under center and utilizes a blocking fullback or H-back. That's as far from the spread as you will see in modern-day college football. Chryst prefers to win on physicality.

The theory is easy - wear down an opponent. It's a concept used in other sports, primarily in boxing. Body punches are a tool used early in fights to drain the stamina of their opponent. As the fight develops, the body punches to help cripple an opponent. Wisconsin's offense is based on the concept of the body punch. Beat on an opponent early and often, then deliver the knockout blow later after the opponent lowers their guard.

Wisconsin does most of the damage by utilizing the gap scheme. The gap scheme allows the offensive linemen on the play side to block down and wear on defenders. Wisconsin pairs this power run scheme with running backs that stay tight and wait for the hole to develop.

Wisconsin does not just rely on the gap scheme, they will also utilize plenty of inside-zone blocking. The historical Wisconsin offensive line was a series of mobile brutes who beat down their defensive opponents. Defenses have evolved though and the 3-4 scheme has become the primary method of stopping the power run game.

Most offenses have paired this running scheme with an efficient passing game. Lincoln Riley has made quite the career of it. Wisconsin has paired it with Graham Mertz. Mertz's numbers are gaudy against meager defenses and pedestrian against better defenses.

Chryst has stopped calling plays this season and brought in Bobby Engram to be the OC and play-caller. Engram has infused a great deal more motion into the offense vs. previous seasons. The change was needed since Wisconsin had the worst B1G worst passing attack last season. The basic tenor of the playcalling has not changed, Wisconsin is still running the ball 65% of the time.

Joe Rudolph was the long-time OL coach and moved to Virginia Tech. Wisconsin moved Bob Bostad from LB coach to OL coach in the off-season. Bostad was the OL coach under Bielema. The OL brings back three starters, but the overall OL is not to normal Wisconsin standards. Three of the OL are all-conference caliber, while the other two are serviceable. The OL gives up too much pressure, and Mertz's inconsistency does not help the situation.

Wisconsin's base offense is built off the Power run play. Wisconsin has some great historical success with the play, primarily with tackles who could pin opponents outside while the interior did damage with the leverage blocks. Braelon Allen is the perfect complement to the run blockers. Here is the Power after motioning the H-back

And look at that, it's a fullback. Wisconsin utilized the fullback more often against Illinois St. and New Mexico St. They moved more to the TEs against Washington St. and Ohio St. Here is the same look of Power using the two TEs.

Washington State runs a 4-man front. Their head coach is a disciple of Craig Bohl and his 4-3 defense. Ohio State also ran a 4-man front. Illinois State is the only 3-man front the Badgers have faced. I would expect Illinois to see more FB than Ohio State.

Another version of the run game the Badgers will employ is the duo blocking scheme. The Badgers ran a version of this against Illinois State.

The set utilized the FB again. The play started with the H-back motion to set the advantage. The Illini will have a 5-man front, and I'm curious to see if Walters bounces his front or the LBs to account for the shift.

The counter for the Badgers is a passing attack out of the look. The Badgers still utilize motion in the look, then will sit receivers down in the gaps in coverage. The back flares out on the play.

The H-motion and Flare pass seem to be added from Engram to the offense. Engram is calling the same playbook but has added motion to put a new veneer on the offense.

The next gap scheme play the Badgers are running is a pin and pull play.

The LB blitzed on this play, so the pulling playside guard kicked him out. The play design has the guard pinning the DE down with the center kicking out the LB. The primary block to watch on the play is the TE. The TE blocked down on the DE and drove him across the line. Mellusi is the RB on this play, and while not as talented as Allen he is a dangerous back. The Badgers will run the same play out of the I-formation.

Due to the covered linemen, the Tackle and the Center pulled on this play. Against the 4-man front, they pulled the play side guard and center.

Mellusi is the back on this play again, and he is very patient letting his linemen set up the blocks.

The Badgers will also run inside-zone. In the heyday of Ron Dayne, this was the base of the Badger offense. Over the years they integrated the gap scheme while maintaining the good order of the zone blocking scheme. As always, the way to disrupt the zone blocking scheme is penetration by the DL. The Illini DTs have been very disruptive thus far this year and may give pause to the Badgers running too much zone.

The Badger OL does a nice job of moving the line of scrimmage on this play. The Badgers also ran this play to the weak side of the formation. Another wrinkle the Badgers have added this year is Tite formation. They are bringing the WRs in near the end of the OL and creating additional gaps for defenders to cover.

By doing so the Badgers help negate the 3-4 OLBs by having outside leverage on them. Wisconsin will pull the Illini safeties up into the box by doing so as well. The Badgers have built into the playbook play-action from this look as well. The Illini defense will be challenged down the seams with the action.

The Cougars defended this well, but Mertz had plenty of time to find an open receiver.

It's Wisconsin, so one must always be prepared for the Jet Sweep. The Badgers have been running this since the days of Alvarez as well, but Chryst seems to have a particular love of the play.

The Badgers ran this to the two tight-end side. The Badger lead blockers did a nice job on this play, and the Illini need to be aware of the WR motion. The advantage of increasing the use of motion this season is the ability to hide this play.

The passing attack of the Badgers is leaning heavily on the TEs this season. The Badgers have not been able to unlock a credible passing threat at the WR position. Dike and Bell are the top two receivers, and both have had some success down the sidelines on deep shots. The primary passing threat is the TEs between the hashes. Here is one of the pass plays they utilize.

The TEs will challenge the Illini ILBs with this look. Hart, Barnes, and Darkangelo have all been stout against the run, but the mesh will pull them horizontally. The Illini have not had a challenge from opposing TEs with near the talent of Wisconsin's.

The other interesting set this year from Wisconsin is their pass protection to open an easy throwing lane for Mertz. The Badgers OL is hinging their pass-blocking set. The play-side will hold the line of scrimmage hard, while the back-side will get depth on their blocks.

Mertz has a single read on this play, and the receiver seems to be running an option route (either a slant or a hitch). Mertz allows the receiver to come free and makes the easy throw. They ran this with the slant with the TEs in routes against Washington St.

Mertz locks directly onto the receiver on the play. The wide splits of the receiver opens a clear throwing lane for Mertz. Illinois is more likely to run press coverage, which should lead to this look more often.

Washington St. and Ohio St. both ran press coverage early and often against the Wisconsin receivers. The coverage forced the Badgers to take multiple shots deep down the sideline. Mertz historically has had clear throws on the deep ball and a high completion percentage as a result. This season his completion percentage against bad opponents is great, and the percentage against good opponents is poor.

Illinois will pressure Mertz and try to take away the short-passing attack. Illinois will force Mertz to beat them by passing between 10-25 yards downfield. Mertz continues to struggle at that distance and generates almost all his turnovers there. The Illini will have to hold up against the Badger OL. So far the Illini have generated considerable pressure with their DL. The Illini haven't faced off against an OL like this though. Whichever line wins the trenches will win the game. The concern is that the Badgers' continuous power blocking wears on the Illini and they falter in the latter stages of the fight.

Scouting Review - Defense

Jim Leonhard is in his sixth year in Madison, and his defenses have been great for most of his time there. Last season might have been the best the B1G has seen in the last decade. The Badger D lacked as many accolades as they deserved due to Georgia's historic defense. Georgia did it with an NFL team in college, and Wisconsin did it with a mix of talent and scheme.

Leonhard has done a great job of building a disciplined unit. He seems to have a knack for developing edge rushers and plays a lot of positionless football. This year's unit is replacing seven starters from last year, and while they are still solid, they are not the elite unit last year was. The safety is led by John Torchio, while the DL is still anchored by Keanu Benton. Nick Herbig is the edge rushing threat.

Ohio State depantsed the Badgers last week, but it is not incredibly illustrative on how to beat the Badgers unless you have NFL receivers three deep. The Badgers continue to press opposing receivers and have started giving up a healthy number of deep shots down the sidelines.

Badger corners put into single coverage like this have been beat early and often this year.

The Redbirds found the weakness in the Badger defense, and it is the corners.

As seen in both of the clips above, the Badgers continue to bring blitz packages every play. The Badgers secondary in years past was able to prevent the completions. It led to sacks galore for the Badgers. This season, the Badgers' sack numbers are down over one per game. The scheme is the same, the shots are not landing.

The Badgers will continue to blitz the ILB. Bryan Sanborn is the blitzing ILB for the Badgers this year, and he blitzes early and often.

One aspect of the Wisconsin D that makes them so tough is the discipline. On this play, Sanborn blows up the play side with the blitz. If forces the back to cut against the grain, but the edge Nick Herbig stays square and blows up the play.

Wisconsin is going to be aggressive and dictate the pace and style of play on defense. Illinois will need to attack and slow the Badger rush. Washington State and Ohio State both did it by attacking the perimeter against the Badgers.

The OLB gets beat here and the RB has a clean path down the sideline. Ohio State attacked the flat with the H-back.

Illinois doesn't have the talent at TE that Ohio State does, but Ford should have some opportunities in this look.

Washington State spent most of the game attacking with tunnel and bubble screens.

[[Vimeo 755005078]]

The quick hits to the WR on the edge moved the LB side to side and opened up plays. Illinois introduced a great deal of RPO last week, and DeVito did a good job of flipping his hips on the throws. I think Illinois might introduce more passes to the flat this week.

Wisconsin's continued aggression helps break down opposing offenses, especially those that are plodding. The Badger Base D though is a 6-man box. Illinois needs to establish the line-of-scrimmage to get the run game moving while protecting DeVito against the rush. Illinois will need to look at providing backside protection in particular for DeVito as he throws.

What does it mean?

Both offenses are going to receive their best test of the season. Both defenses are going to aggressively attack the opponent. The offensive line that holds up the best will belong to the team that wins. Wisconsin will play bully ball the best they can to wear down the Illini DL and tire out the front. Illinois will need to keep the drives short to keep the defense fresh, otherwise, the Badgers will wear down the Illini defense and gash it late.

For Illinois to Win:

Chase Brown has five consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Wisconsin will sell out to prevent another. Illinois needs to find ways to beat the Badger attacking defense with weapons other than Brown. In addition, the Illini need to play a clean game. Illinois will need to protect the ball and eliminate the turnovers. Finally, the Illini must finish drives with TDs, not FGs.

The defense needs to hold their ground against the Badgers manball offense. If they can slow the Badger run game, they put the game on the arm of Mertz. Mertz has seen his high against Illinois, but has had a lot of lows since. The Illini pressure needs to find the valley of Mertz, not the heights.

For Wisconsin to Win:

Uncork the run game. Allen and Messuli are both excellent backs, and the OL is stout. Once the Badgers establish a run game, they open up the easy throws for Mertz and allow him to take advantage of open throwing lanes.

Defensively, the Badgers need to shut down the Illini rushing attack. DeVito has not shown the ability to carry the team on his shoulders, and the Badgers will bring exotic pressure on him all game. The ideal for Wisconsin is to see the Gunslinger Bielema is worried about.

Illinois +7

I'm not convinced Illinois wins this game. I'm also not convinced there will be much scoring. Vegas has the Over/Under at 43.5, and this game feels like an under. In a game with few points, I think Illinois will cover.

Craig YTD Against the Spread:



illinois81 on September 29, 2022 @ 02:30 PM

"Both offenses are going to receive their best test of the season. "

Craig, This statement would imply that the Illinois defense will be more difficult for the Badgers than was Ohio State's. Is that what you intended? As an Illinois fan, that is hard to believe.

CraigG on September 29, 2022 @ 03:10 PM

That is exactly as I intended. Ohio State is more talented, but in Year 1 of a new scheme. Illinois is in Year 2, with a more cohesive staff than the Buckeyes.

illinois81 on September 30, 2022 @ 01:36 PM

Hope you are right!

RochIllini on October 2, 2022 @ 01:07 PM


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