The most optimistic University of Wisconsin fans likely couldn’t have predicted 35 points from the Badgers’ offense against a team that entered bowl season ranked second nationally in total defense.
UW did just that in its 35-3 blowout of Miami at Yankee Stadium in last week’s Pinstripe Bowl, just besting its point total of 34 against the Hurricanes during last season’s memorable Orange Bowl performance.
This obviously wasn’t the same type of offensive outburst. Defensive takeaways helped the cause, and a last-second touchdown boosted the final number. The Badgers passed just 11 times for 73 yards, a far cry from Alex Hornibrook’s four-touchdown masterpiece in 2017.
This also, however, wasn’t the same offense we saw throughout the regular season. For the first time, UW knew more than a week in advance that sophomore Jack Coan would start at quarterback, and the Badgers used that extra time to implement new ideas that a Hornibrook-led offense wouldn’t otherwise showcase.
“You don’t want to put anything on him that could take away from the confidence that he has, so you still want to be smart,” UW offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Dec. 21. “You want to put a package together that he’s really confident in. … I think you can curtail some things for him and make it friendly for what he’s confident in.”
Along with Coan’s naked bootleg in the fourth quarter that put the game away at 28-3, UW ran a heavy dose of read-option plays out of the gun, and Coan’s fast enough to at least keep a defense honest.
If the cornerback covering Danny Davis in the first video doesn’t take a peek in the backfield at the last moment, that could have turned into a much bigger gain.
After that play, Miami made sure to account for Coan, which opened up more room for running back Jonathan Taylor. Coan’s usually reading the weak-side defensive end on these plays. If he crashes in towards Taylor, Coan will keep the ball and run free off the edge. If he stays at home, Coan can give the ball to Taylor without the Badgers’ offensive line needing to account for that defensive end.
Van Lanen missed his block in the video above and Taylor still had room to burst past the first level of defense and pick up 10 yards.
On a few occasions, UW motioned Taylor to the strong side from a pistol formation and then pulled the strong-side tackle and guard to lead the way for Taylor. In the video below, Logan Bruss and Beau Benzschawel pull inside and leave defensive end Jonathan Garvin in no-man’s land to gain a numbers advantage on the interior.
This motion from Benzschawel and Bruss can make life difficult on opposing linebackers, too. Both inside linebackers in the video above over-pursue towards the weak side once the right side of the line shifts that way, opening up a lane for Taylor to cut upfield.
UW ran a few other variations off this — some that worked and some that didn’t. I’m not highlighting this due to its success, necessarily, but more so to show there could be a few more wrinkles in the Badgers’ offensive playbook if Coan ultimately wins the starting job over Hornibrook this offseason.
Coan’s perhaps more mobile and athletic than you’d initially think, and certainly more mobile than Hornibrook. He also showed that off on a few occasions against Miami by avoiding unblocked rushers in the passing game, although most of those instances still led to a sack or his interception.
Coan did plenty of good in this game, but he still has a long way to go. Coaches indicated he made a big jump from his freshman to sophomore years, and another step forward in the coming months could lead to a very interesting offseason at the quarterback position.
— The defensive line’s final game of the season may have been its best, despite lacking depth with Kayden Lyles out.
Starters Isaiahh Loudermilk, Matt Henningsen and Bryson Williams all had to carry a heavy load of snaps, and all three came through by making a sizable impact against the run.
The two plays below are key stops created completely by the defensive line. Both led to third-down stops.
Loudermilk shoves Miami’s left tackle into the backfield in the first video before making the play behind the line. Henningsen also does a nice job at staying on his feet to avoid being taken out by a cut block before helping Loudermilk bring the ball carrier to the ground.
In the second, Bryson Williams creates space between him and the center before shedding his block at the perfect time, while Henningsen also fights his way into the same gap.
Those guys battled all night and didn’t allow the Hurricanes to move the line of scrimmage.
That first clip, which also led to a third-down stop, is particularly impressive. UW’s in a nickel package and both Loudermilk and Henningsen are initially double-teamed. Both hold their ground, though, and the running back has no where to go before outside linebacker Zack Baun wraps around to make the tackle.
Loudermilk also made a major difference when rushing the passer. He batted away a third-down pass after blowing by the right guard, and it was his pressure that led to Chris Orr’s interception. The Badgers will need him to provide that consistently next season.
Miami’s offense struggled this year, to say the least, but this still served as an encouraging step forward from what many would consider one of UW’s weakest and thinnest positions this season. If Garrett Rand returns to full health next season, the group’s outlook could begin to look much more positive.
Here are a few more tidbits after re-watching last week’s win over the Hurricanes:
— Alec Ingold’s departure leaves UW’s starting fullback position wide open, but Mason Stokke started making his case for the job in the fourth quarter. Check out this play, where Stokke makes two key blocks that spring a long run.
Stokke moved to fullback the week before this season began, but he’s now the most experienced player at that spot. It appears he’s made some progress over the past few months, and he’s certainly capable of bringing enough physicality to the position. We’ll see if anyone else can give Stokke a good competition this offseason.
— Along with working in some Jack Coan-specific plays, UW also added more variety to its screen game against Miami. The Badgers haven’t used tight end screens very often this year but did so twice with Jake Ferguson late in the second quarter for a combined 15 yards. They also completed a 10-yard pass to Garrett Groshek after he motioned into the backfield from what was initially an empty set. That pass that could have gained much more if Jon Dietzen didn’t trip on his way out to block the man who ultimately made the tackle.
— Logan Bruss had an inconsistent outing and appeared to be at fault for a sack and a couple negative plays in the run game. With David Edwards off to the NFL, it’ll be interesting to see if five-star true freshman Logan Brown — or anyone else — can push Bruss for the starting right tackle spot.