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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Badgers' offense impressive in victory

In a season opener, history would suggest a traditional Wisconsin game plan of heavy power running and controlling the game on the ground.

Instead, Wisconsin came out throwing.

The Badgers opened Saturday's game with their longest pass since 2003 and broke out several new wrinkles on offense. The result was a balanced offensive day against a Northern Illinois squad geared to stifle UW's trademark rushing attack.

The early bomb, which went 80 yards on the Badgers' first offensive play, came courtesy of junior receiver Isaac Anderson and junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. Anderson had no Huskies within five yards of him when the ball was thrown and had managed to get behind the defensive secondary.

""You go where you think you are going to have success,"" Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said of the early deep pass. ""[Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst] talked about that play even earlier today, the opportunity came, and he capitalized. Isaac made a move, Scott threw it, we got protection and Isaac caught it and ran it.""

In the same vein of more aggressive passing, the Badgers also employed the shotgun formation, something very rarely seen from Wisconsin under Chryst. That helped Wisconsin to spread the Huskies out and keep them off balance.

""Your peripheral vision's a lot better in the gun,"" Tolzien, who threw for 257 yards, said. ""You see blitzes, coverage, I feel like you see that a lot better.""

A second advantage of the shotgun was that it allowed the team to showcase another adjustment, their two-quarterback system. Freshman quarterback Curt Phillips spent most of his time five yards behind the center in his college debut and made use of the extra space.

Phillips ran for 34 yards on four carries and forced the defense to hesitate just a little as he faked a run after handing the ball off to junior running back Zach Brown.

""I liked the [shotgun] a lot, just had a little bit more room,"" Phillips said. ""I can see what's coming, kind of being back away from everything you get a better picture of what's going on.""

Phillips also credited both Tolzien and former starter Dustin Sherer for helping him prepare for the game.

Phillips played on just two drives, managing to move the chains, but not scoring, and earned some post-game praise form his coach.

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""Curt, those first couple snaps, he was kind of looking around,"" Bielema said. ""I thought that he handled the situation, handled playing in front of 80,000 people. Against a good defense that was doing some good things, and he just continued to make strides. I'm excited where he can go.""

The rotation at running back was not quite as successful as its quarterback counterpart. Both Brown and sophomore running back John Clay found little space and a tough going against a Huskies unit that keyed in on the run. The duo rushed for only 3.3 yards per carry, but came up big on a pair of third-quarter touchdown drives that chewed up 12 of the period's 15 minutes.

""It was really good, we just established the running game again,"" Clay said. ""We pounded the ball and they couldn't stop the running game and every short yard they were calling me, so I'd get the first down.""

Overall the coaches were pleased that the offense achieved a level of balance between run and pass and managed to accumulate over 400 yards overall. There was some concern about Tolzien throwing a pair of picks but also excitement about the kind of diversity the offense could have.

""Next week we may have to run the ball,"" Bielema said. ""If they jam us up front we may have to throw the football, we're able to do both. If you're ambidextrous I think that's a good thing.""

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