MADISON – Michael Deiter was beaming as he walked into the interview room at Kinnick Stadium.
Wisconsin had just rallied in the final quarter to defeat rival Iowa in the teams’ Big Ten opener and one of the many highlights from UW’s 28-17 victory was a Jumbo package that featured seven offensive linemen.
Approximate combined weight: 2,200 pounds.
Asked how many linemen might play in UW’s next game, Deiter smiled and said:
“Hey, as many as we need.”
Seven was the right number for UW in the victory over Iowa, with reserves Logan Bruss and Jason Erdmann getting extended work because of UW’s lack of depth at tight end and fullback.
Erdmann and Bruss were paired together as extra blockers for only seven plays, in part because Erdmann took over at center in the third quarter after starter Tyler Biadasz suffered an ankle injury.
UW rushed five times for 34 yards, an average of 6.8 yards per carry, with Erdmann and Bruss on the field as extra blockers.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook also threw one of his three touchdown passes with UW in the Jumbo package.
That came on UW’s first scoring drive, when Hornibrook executed a play-action fake to tailback Jonathan Taylor and found tight end Jake Ferguson wide open in the end zone with 14 minutes 31 seconds left in the first half.
“It worked pretty well,” said Ferguson, who finished with 58 yards on four receptions. “It is pretty intimidating having a couple more 300-pounders on your side.
“I like running it. I like having those big guys next to me. Hopefully, we can see it more in the future.”
UW deployed Ferguson, Erdmann and Bruss to the left of tackle Cole Van Lanen.
Iowa’s coaches, apparently fearing they didn’t have enough bodies on the strong side of the UW formation, called a timeout just before the snap. That killed a run by Taylor.
The Hawkeyes substituted linebacker Kristian Welch for linebacker Djimon Colbert and deployed their personnel differently.
This time, they aligned three defenders – Welch, linebacker Nick Niemann and safety Amani Hooker — over the left side of the UW formation.
UW countered with a pass. Hornibrook faked a handoff to Taylor and then hit Ferguson in the back of the end zone. Ferguson blew past Hooker, who charged toward the line of scrimmage because of the run fake.
“Another great designed play-action pass,” FOX analyst Joel Klatt said during the telecast. “Just sneaking the (tight end) past the safety, who wanted to come up and fit himself into that run space.”
The touchdown came one play after Hornibrook executed a play-action fake to Taylor before hitting fullback Alec Ingold 33 yards to the 6.
Facing third and 2, UW deployed two tight ends – Erdmann and Kyle Penniston – to the left, one wide receiver to the right and two backs.
Penniston motioned to the right side and lined up on a wing to the right of tackle David Edwards.
Ingold fired off the ball to the left and appeared to be the lead blocker for Taylor. That move, coupled with Hornibrook’s fake to Taylor, froze Welch.
Ingold got around Welch and was open down the sideline for the pitch an catch.
“Love that play call,” Klatt said. “Get big. Get physical in there. Throw a little play-action.”
With senior tight end Zander Neuville (ankle) limited to a handful of snaps, UW used Bruss and Penniston together on 16 plays. Fifteen of those were runs and UW averaged 6.1 yards per carry. Bruss, according to UW coach Paul Chryst, was in for more than 30 plays. That was his season-high mark.
“I thought they did some really good stuff,” Chryst said of Bruss and Erdmann. “I thought they handled even just the crowd noise. They are further out than they’d normally be…
“I thought it gave us some plays.”
UW used Bruss and Penniston together just twice on the 88-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter but two runs resulted in a combined 12 yards. Taiwan Deal gained 8 yards to open the drive and Taylor gained 4 yards five plays later.
Neuville could be available for full-time duty this week when UW (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) hosts Nebraska (0-4, 0-2).
But don’t be surprised to see UW’s coaches use the Jumbo package again.
“That one is fun,” Hornibrook said. “The O-line loves that one. I think a lot of the guys do because they know we’re about to pound the ball. They all did a great job.”