In Wisconsin’s shocking 24-21 loss to BYU, the Badgers gotten beaten by their own usual strengths: offensive and defensive line play, fundamentals and great discipline.
From their first drive, the Cougar offense confused the Badgers with jet motion and jet sweeps. They combined the jet with false pulls — when an offensive lineman pulls away from where the play is actually going — to confuse senior linebackers TJ Edwards and Ryan Connelly. Linebackers are taught to read the offensive line, specifically the guards, and react to where they pull or flow. On several plays, the false pulls sent Edwards and Connelly inside while BYU's offense ran the jet outside, leaving just safeties or corners to tackle Cougar wide receiver Alex Hifo after eight or nine yard gains.
Because the jet was so successful, Edwards and Connelly couldn’t trust their normal reads and hesitated; after the game, Connelly said the jets were “eye candy and that can distract your eyes." Late in the fourth quarter with the game tied 21-21, Connelly overplayed the jet and filled outside, which left a massive hole inside for BYU running back Squally Canada to rip off a 46-yard run. A few plays later the Cougars kicked the eventual game-winning field goal.
Different blocking schemes and shifts also caused the Badgers to lose their discipline in pass coverage, specifically on the Cougars' trick-play touchdown pass that spotted the visitors their first lead of the game. Senior safety D’Cota Dixon got caught watching the backwards pass behind the line instead of following his assignment and missed the tight end streaking past, leading to an easy touchdown.
On offense, the Badger offensive line had their worst performance of the season. The Cougars looked a step faster than the Badgers' line the entire game and UW's vaunted blockers didn’t get to the second level the same way they had in previous games.
The Cougars also didn’t allow the Badgers to get their typical three-to-four yard push which cut down the holes for running back Jonathan Taylor. On several occasions, the Cougar’s initial punch drove guards Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel back, cutting off the their pulls and tight ends and leaving the Cougar linebackers unblocked.
While they did struggle up front, the Badgers still moved the ball for stretches and Jonathan Taylor finished with 117 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. However, countless mental mistakes killed promising drives for the Badgers.
Right after the defense got a stop to start the second half with the game tied, quarterback Alex Hornibrook made a bad read and threw an interception. This gifted the Cougars great field position at the Badgers' 27-yard line. Later that drive, defensive back Faion Hicks gave the Cougars an automatic first down on the goal line on third down with a pass interference penalty. The Cougars scored the next play.
Despite struggling on their previous drive, Hornibrook and the offense bounced back and got into field goal range. But on third down, tight end Kyle Penniston had a false start which put the Badgers out of field goal range--an crucial missed opportunity considering they lost by a missed field goal.
The lack of offensive production and mistakes highlighted the flaws in the Badgers' often one-dimensional offensive system. The Badgers showed they had no intention of spreading out the Cougar defense early on and ran mainly under-center jumbo packages. The Cougars responded by stacking the line of scrimmage with sometimes up to six players and pinching their defensive linemen because they knew the Badgers wanted to run between the tackles.
If the Badgers hope to win in Iowa City this Saturday, they will need to avoid becoming predictable offensively and cut down on simple mistakes — especially against a strong defensive line at one of the biggest and loudest stadiums in the country. If Hornibrook can throw more on early downs it will stretch out the Hawkeyes and make them respect the pass; like BYU, it’s almost impossible to just bully Iowa into submission.