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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Bringing the heat from all directions

On perhaps the most controversial play of Wisconsin’s game against Troy, junior Leon Jacobs looped, untouched, around the left side of the Trojans’ offensive line on a first-down blitz and obliterated quarterback Brandon Silvers.

Jacobs was ultimately ejected for the shot he took at Silvers, but save for losing his starting inside linebacker for the remainder of the game, the play went precisely as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda scripted it. Flexible defensive linemen Chikwe Obasih and Arthur Goldberg lined head up on Troy’s guards and clogged the interior of the offensive line. From the five technique, in a two-point stance, linebacker Joe Schobert squeezed the left tackle and drove him into the mess in the middle, opening a wide open lane for Jacobs to tee off on Silvers from his inside linebacker position.

This unorthodox alignment is what is known in Aranda’s terminology as the “peso” package, essentially a 2-4-5 schematic driven by two athletic linemen on the inside and four linebackers capable of blitzing from anywhere on the field.

Frequently alternating between the peso package and the base 3-4 look is the keystone of Aranda’s pressure-heavy, multifaceted defense, which consistently has four to five pass rushers getting after the quarterback on any given play. 

“When you get into a three-man front, it gives you the ability to bring different people,” Aranda said. “When you play with your four-man front, you’re going to get certain protections, so you’re able to take advantage of those protections. I think the ability to go from a three-man front to a four-man front allows you to manipulate an offense, if you can.”

Through its first four games, Wisconsin has developed personnel groupings in the front seven that have remained fairly consistent. Schobert, redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards and redshirt junior Vince Biegel are the constants, playing the majority of snaps at linebacker, in one form or another. Until recently,  Jacobs held down the fort at inside linebacker, but after being ejected early in the Troy game Sept. 20, freshman Chris Orr took over as the starter against Hawaii and played the majority of the game with Jacobs leaving in the first half with a toe injury.

Where things start to get fun is on the defensive line. Obasih, Goldberg and sophomore Conor Sheehy take the most snaps, while redshirt sophomore Alec James and redshirt senior Jake Keefer fall into the second tier of linemen.

Obasih and Goldberg in particular see the field more often because of their ability to play any position on the defensive line, which has earned them the primary spots in Aranda’s peso look. Obasih thrives on the slant-heavy play calls given his quick first step and power, which is complemented by his intensity, as he can be frequently spotted urging the crowd to bring some more noise.

After playing two years primarily at nose guard, Goldberg made the switch to defensive end late last year, and the move stuck. He feels more comfortable setting up outside of the confines of the guards, and he’s found playing at tackle or end allows him to drive further into the backfield, rather than focusing on gumming up the interior of the offensive line.

Together, Obasih and Goldberg have developed into a formidable option.

“We can face any challenge, we feel like our two guys can take on the line and our outside backers are going to cover our backs,” Obasih said. “I feel like we’re prepared to be in peso as long as we need to be. Given the personnel, I feel like we can run with the best in peso or base.”

Sheehy is the Badgers’ go-to nose guard, and has performed decently at the position despite being relatively undersized at 6-foot-4 and 272 pounds. 

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Aranda’s play calling has a decided skew toward using fewer than three linemen, which plays to Wisconsin’s strengths perfectly. While any combination of linemen wreaks havoc on the interior, Biegel and Schobert, two of the best blitzing linebackers in the Big Ten, are free to do what they do best.

Most of the time, this involves Biegel and Schobert lining up and rushing from the outside, but it occasionally calls for Biegel to put his hand in the dirt and set up in a three-point stance.

“It’s just presenting different looks for the offensive line,” Biegel said. “Becoming a better, well-rounded football player. I’ve played in the 4-I, I’ve played in the five technique, I’ve played outside, I’ve played, at times, cover outside linebacker, I’ve played inside linebacker. So for me, personally, it’s just becoming a better, well-rounded player, a jack of all trades if you will.”

Obasih sees Wisconsin’s amorphous defense as a distinct advantage, despite the amount of film study and on-field organization the schemes require.

“I feel like we give teams a lot of different looks, we come at a lot of different angles, we mask our stuff,” Obasih said. “I think we’re just evolving as a defense, you’re never going to catch us doing the same thing.”

Over the last three games, Wisconsin has given up a total of three points, including shutouts of Miami (OH) and Hawaii. Nationally, UW now ranks 18th in total defense (292.3 yards per game), fourth in points per game (9.5), and 37th in yards per play (4.79), slowly climbing the leaderboards it perched on top of a season ago. While the Badgers’ opponents of late haven’t been the strongest, they have provided opportunities for the defense to find its optimal mix in terms of personnel and play calling, which Aranda tinkers with on a week-to-week basis.

“We’re sharp, we’re on top of our stuff,” Obasih said. “There’s a care factor here and it’s just pretty important to us, we’ve all bought into what Aranda’s got to say and what his game plans are. So we overcome all the difficulties of the schemes and stuff like that by Monday. And then Tuesday we test it out, and most of the time we feel comfortable with what we’re doing.”

The defense will face its first real challenge since Alabama Saturday against Iowa. The Hawkeyes run a more balanced, Pro-I offense than Wisconsin’s opponents to date, so it’s likely the Badgers will work in more looks with three linemen to better control the line of scrimmage.

That does not, however, preclude Wisconsin from operating out of its two-linemen looks. According to Biegel, controlling the line of scrimmage is predicated on a mental outlook, rather than any particular set of physical attributes or a well-designed scheme. 

“Listen to me, if you can play ball I don’t care what the hell you look like,” Biegel said. “You can be 5-foot-2, 100 pounds, you can be 6-foot-7, cut up, 300 pounds. I don’t care what you look like, if you can play ball, get after the passer, you’re on my defense.”

 

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