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Friday, May 27, 2022

Football: 'Barge' formation adds unique twist to Badger victory

When Bill Snyder ran the “Wildcat” offense at Kansas State in the late 1990s, the name made sense. After all, they are the Wildcats.

Wisconsin’s version of the offense, unveiled for the first time under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada in Saturday’s 38-13 victory over Minnesota, also has an appropriate name.

The “Barge” package.

After all, the Badgers (3-1 Big Ten, 6-2 overall) loaded up seven offensive linemen, two tight ends and two running backs to overpower a Gophers (0-3, 4-3) defense that was caught looking at a wall of cardinal and white moving steadily, if not hastily.

“It’s an honor for us to be able to do that,” redshirt junior center Travis Frederick said of having two extra linemen in the game for the package. “As an offensive lineman, you kind of what to put the team on your back. We did that when times were bad and we want to be able to do that when times are good.”

Behind the nine blockers, junior running back James White took the snap from Frederick and had redshirt senior running back Montee Ball in the backfield with him.

“We cut all the pretty guys out, no wide receivers, no quarterbacks,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said.

The Badgers used the formation in a couple of different situations Saturday against Minnesota, and it jump-started the running game on their second drive of the day.

After redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave found redshirt junior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for a 42-yard gain, UW transitioned to “Barge” on the fly. White picked up four yards on the first attempt and then worked around the right end for a 14-yard score the next play.

“It was something [White] kind of did in high school at St. Thomas Aquinas and during fall camp, we’ve actually been working with that for a while,” Bielema said. 

“It’s hard [for a defense] because who do you want to put out on the field,” White said. “Do you want to put in more D-lineman, more linebackers and they’re all looking towards the sideline and by the time they look back we snap the ball.”

For the second straight week, as Frederick suggested, times were good for the Wisconsin running game. The offense rolled up 337 yards on the ground a week after amassing 467 against Purdue.

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The center said the team’s goal was to top 400 yards for the second consecutive week. Falling short of that goal, the Badgers still averaged 6.2 yards per carry and put both White and Ball over 150 yards on the day.

In the first six games of the season, the Badgers totaled 801 rushing yards (3.5 per carry) and 11 rushing touchdowns. In the last two games, the team has 804 (7.2) and nine scores.

“I cant emphasize this enough, the reason Montee and James are having success, they’re doing a lot of great things individually, but the people in front of them are playing well,” Bielema said.

White amassed 98 of his 175 yards and two of his three touchdowns in the first half. Ball earned 127 of his 166 yards and both of his scores in the second half. The two backs combined for eight runs of 14 yards or longer.

“We compete to see who has the most yardage in every game,” White said. “If I break one, he wants to break one.”

Ball took over the lion’s share of the duties during his historic 2011 season as White looked a step slow at times, but now the Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., native is earning a more even split in carries.

“You can clearly tell it’s night and day from last season to this season,” Ball said of White. “He’s made huge strides and he’s just a phenomenal athlete.”

Canada has used Ball as his feature back for the most part this season. He has put different packages and motions in to keep Ball on the field while utilizing White and talented redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon. The “Barge” formation likely will not take over the running offense, but it is the most recent wrinkle. It is also one the running backs like.

“You just try to figure out which hole to run to because you know there’s going to be plenty,” White said.

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