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Film Preview: 2018 Pinstripe Bowl, Wisconsin Badgers Defense

The Badgers defense wasn’t a strength in 2018.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Much like our beloved Miami Hurricanes, the Wisconsin Badgers struggled in 2018 to return to their winning ways from the year prior. Wisconsin followed up their Orange Bowl winning 2017 season with a 7-5 record in 2018. The Badgers, who face the ‘Canes in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl on December 27th, are ranked 24th per the S&P+. Miami enters the bowl game at Yankee Stadium ranked 22nd per the same metric.

The Badgers have historically relied on defense and a strong running game for success. Dating back to the 90’s with Ron Dayne or more modernly with Melvin Gordon and now Jonathan Taylor- using multiple tight ends and running power is the base of the Badgers offense. Wisconsin did finish the regular season with the nation’s 13th ranked offense but the defense slipped to 43rd and the kicking game was 116th overall. By comparison, Miami has the nation’s 67th ranked offense, 7th ranked defense, and 100th ranked kicking game.

The S&P+ has Wisconsin as a favorite to win by less than a point, however, the weather conditions could play a huge role in the Pinstripe Bowl. Luckily for the Badgers, rain and snow are on the forecast for the 27th in the Bronx. For Miami that’s a terrible sign as the players aren’t used to those conditions quite like the Badgers are.

Against Purdue, Wisconsin edged the hot Boilermakers in a 47-44 shootout. Jack Coan threw two touchdowns and Jonathan Taylor ripped off 321 rushing yards at 9.7 yards per carry and three scores. Coan will start against Miami as Alex Hornibrook is still suffering concussion like symptoms.

Attacking the Wisconsin Defense

The Badgers like the 4-2-5 as a base and against Purdue in this screenshot, you can see the nickel pressing the slot while the FS plays the apex (split between the tight end and the slot). I think the Badgers set up is great for plays like inside zone read and dart where the QB can read the backside defensive end and pull if he squeezes. The weak linebacker is playing in the b-gap and could scrape exchange, or switch roles with the defensive end, but that’s a risk you have to take to keep the Badgers defensive line honest.

Tight Zone

Miami started to employ tight zone, which I love, during the season. The running back is really looking to stay on the side where he started off pre-snap. This is unlike plays like outside zone (or stretch), split zone or base zone where the running back’s design is to come across the formation. As the linebackers read the back’s flow going left to right your hope as an OC is that the WLB will over pursue. That allows the back to put his foot down and cut back underneath the combo in the screenshot below.

You can see the result in the GIF below. Travis Homer puts his foot down and against an over pursuing linebacker and shakes a couple of defenders for a big gain. I like the idea of Navaughn Donaldson and Delone Scaife Jr. blocking this to their side.


If Miami is looking to attack this defensive look from Wisconsin, they need to run stick. Stick is an option route from the #3 receiver (here a tight end). If the FS in the apex bails on the vertical from #2 (the slot), the tight end sits down. If the FS runs up on the TE, he breaks off his route (it’s an option route) and runs to the flat (as depicted by the yellow dashed lines).

With #2 running a vertical the FS is put in a bind. If the nickel back pressed on the slot turns his hips at all to run with the vertical, the FS has to run with the TE into the flat. If the NB is covering the flat exclusively, the FS has to get over the top of the seam by #2 and hope the linebacker can cover the sit down part of the stick. It’s a great concept and one of my favorite concepts in football.

The cornerback is neutralized by the 12 yard out at the top of the screen.

I ran stick quite a bit once we settled on an h-back when I was serving time in Oregon. The stick concept is great, watch the linebacker bite down on the sit route portion before the HB breaks to the flat and picks up a big gain. In the GIF the HB floats a little bit deep for my taste but... high school kids.

Double Screen

This would have been an ideal play for someone like Jeff Thomas. His ability to accelerate after the catch is second to none in the ACC and he’ll be greatly missed. Moving on: Miami still has speed guys like Mike Harley and Dee Wiggins who need more work out in space. I prefer this play ran with the tight end in the slot to make the crack block easier. Brevin Jordan out in space on a linebacker or safety seems like a good matchup for a block down inside.

Miami has a plethora of running backs who could catch the swing route, if it’s open, and get up field. The double screen is a look first to throw the swing, if the defensive end doesn’t clog up the lane (or the flat nickel back in this screenshot) throw the swing. There’s a ton of space for it and it could be a big completion with guys like Travis Homer, Deejay Dallas, or Cam Davis getting the football in space.

The back side read is the tunnel. If the swing is clogged, throw the tunnel. The receiver works hard like it’s a vertical route, then breaks back to catch the football and work his way inside and upfield underneath the tackle and guard who are blocking outside-up to kick out the cornerback or a safety.

Screen to the RB

Screen to the WR


Jim Leonhard is a good defensive coordinator, don’t get me wrong. However, Wisconsin’s defense has holes and Miami with a proper game plan can exploit those holes. Miami has the speed edge if the ‘Canes can get a good push from the offensive line, and I like the combination on the right side of Donaldson and Scaife at guard and tackle, respectively.

You can see where Miami’s speed can take advantage of Wisconsin as Purdue managed to light up the Badgers for 8 yards per attempt and four touchdowns in November. What the film from the Purdue game below, the Boilermakers burn Wisconsin deep with cushion and collision leverage from the defensive backs. It’s all a matter of protecting the quarterback and having that quarterback make the proper read under rush or in rhythm.