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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Joel Stave-1

Three Things to Watch: UW thrives against spread offenses

1. Single deep against the spread

The Troy offense spreads out opposing defenses and moves quickly with frequent no-huddle plays to tire out other teams.

Against Wisconsin, they kept firing plays off to a number of receivers up and down the line of scrimmage, running 68 offensive plays to the Badgers’ 53.

With no tight ends, Troy had three or four wideouts on every play, forcing the Wisconsin defense to match personnel. UW stayed in nickel defense for the majority of the game, with five defensive backs.

Pretty frequently, the Badgers dropped back in man coverage with a single-deep safety. They brought redshirt senior safety Michael Caputo down into the slot when the Trojans had four or more wide receivers, which ended up being more often than not, and fellow redshirt senior safety Tanner McEvoy dropped back into a deep zone over the middle.

By the second half, the Troy offense started to figure it out and started to run route combinations that crossed just after their releases or worked across the middle to create separation against one-on-one coverage. The problem for sophomore Troy quarterback Brandon Silvers was that he couldn’t get much protection from the Trojans in the trenches, and their drives stalled down the stretch.

Going up against another spread offense with Hawaii this week, Wisconsin should be prepared to see similar looks. The Rainbow Warriors have a similar vertical passing attack like Troy, and the Badgers may opt to go back to the single-deep safety coverage that got it done last week.

2. Now Orr never

There were a lot of boos coming from the stands when junior linebacker Leon Jacobs was ejected by a targeting penalty on a sack, but one guy had to be at least a little excited when his teammate left the field. Late in the first quarter, true freshman inside linebacker Chris Orr joined the defense and proceeded to make his presence felt.

It’s easy to look at the box score and see his impact with a team-leading 14 tackles, but what was most impressive about his game didn’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. The ener- gy Orr brought to the field for the Badgers was contagious. He fed off the emotion of the questionable disqualification of his teammate, and he seemed to fly around the field.

“I was just ready to play,” Orr said after the game. “Take full advantage of my opportu- nity and try to make plays to help my team.”

Nine of his 14 tackles were for short gains or losses, and he seemed to have a knack for the ball. He filled lanes cor- rectly against the run, and he didn’t get burned in coverage. Even when he wasn’t making the tackle, he consistently slipped by his blockers and redirected the ball carrier to let his teammates make the play.

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Orr looked like he wanted it more than anybody else, and he really proved a lot to his coaches with his newfound playing time. If Jacobs’ targeting doesn’t get overturned, Orr will get his chance to show his stuff from the start, but even if Jacobs plays, Orr earned himself some playing time at the very least.

3. First down and firing

The Badgers have always been known as a run-first team, but over the first two games of the season, redshirt senior quarterback Joel Stave dropped back to pass 27 more times than he handed the ball off. Wisconsin got back to the running game against Troy, rushing 35 times compared to 18 passes, but it was able to do so in large part due to the efficiency of its passing attack.

Particularly early in drives, Stave came out firing. He racked up 181 passing yards and a touchdown on eight completions on first down throws but had only 21 yards on all other passes. 109 of those 181 yards came on the first plays of drives. The UW QB was able to spark some big drives for his offense in an all-around efficient performance.

Part of what made it easy for Stave was the coverages he faced. The Trojans’ defense was content to sit back in soft zone on the back end as they loaded up the box in an attempt to stop the run. Troy showed a lot of Cover 3 in particular, and Stave picked up big chunks of yardage with post routes underneath the deep corners and safeties.

He’s not going to have such easy reads against every oppo- nent, but Stave continues to get the offense going through the air, and that only bodes well for the future. We’ll see if they opt to pass early once again against Hawaii.

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