The Wisconsin football team’s off-field changes have brought with them even greater differences on the field this season. Amidst excitement over a new head coach, new players and even the recently updated scoreboard, possibly the biggest change is the newly constructed defensive scheme.
In recent years, the Badgers have been known to run a traditional 4-3 formation, consisting of four down defensive linemen and three linebackers. First year defensive coordinator, Dave Aranda, had a different vision for the defense. Aranda’s first move was to switch to a 3-4 defensive scheme, consisting of only three down linemen and four linebackers.
The switch in schemes means that the defensive line will, in many cases, have to take on a double-team, the perfect job for someone like senior nose guard Beau Allen. On the other hand, the linebackers have an increased responsibility to contain the outside run attack and fill their assigned gaps, depending on the play.
For obvious reasons, the makeover of the defense wasn’t as easy as it may sound.
“Anytime you’re switching what you’ve been doing for four years, and you’re doing something brand new that you’ve never done before, it’s a challenge,” said redshirt senior defensive end Tyler Dippel. “I think guys really took advantage of the time we had in the spring, just working hard to make sure when it got down to season time we were locked in and ready to go.”
The defensive modification required players to take on roles that they may not have had in past years.
“It’s been a little bit different. I’ve been playing on the line of scrimmage a little bit more, playing against tight-ends and fullbacks a little bit more than I have in the past,” redshirt senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said.”
Armstrong and other outside linebackers have found themselves adjusting to the offensive spread formations, as well. “The biggest change [defending the spread] is against bigger personnel groups. In the two tight ends, two running backs type of stuff, I’m on the line of scrimmage a lot more.”
Armstrong has handled the change well so far, as he currently stands second on the team in tackles, behind only redshirt senior linebacker Chris Borland.
Although UW has only played three games thus far, the new defensive scheme appears to be promising, especially against the ground attack. Two of the three games have ended in shutouts, and the majority of Arizona State’s yards last weekend came through the air.
“I think it [3-4 formation] allows us to play our best people, and be creative in terms of where we’re putting them,” Aranda said. “We will continue to see packages out of that.”
In addition, there has been a noticeable change in style of play.
“The style of a 3 down [defensive linemen] that we run, is a very attacking style,” said Dippel. “Guys have a lot more freedom to play their primary and secondary gaps and to make plays.”
Without a doubt, this freedom and the extra linebacker has provided the Badgers with more explosiveness and speed on the outside when containing the run.
Even though there has been a change in the big-picture scheme, nothing is set and stone. Aranda plans to adjust to whatever offense the diverse Big Ten Conference has to offer. “I think what well try to do is fit what our people do best versus what the offense does, so that will dictate the matchups and looks that you’ll see,” Aranda said.
It may only be week four of the season, but thus far the new defensive structure has proved to be a vital piece to the overall success of the team.