he University of Wisconsin football team comes into each game knowing its opponent’s priority on defense. In fact, the Badgers know their foe’s first, second and third priority:
Slow down Jonathan Taylor.
In their attempt to do so, Michigan State crowded the line of scrimmage and challenged UW quarterback Jack Coan and his receivers to beat man coverage. They did just that, as Coan completed 18 of 21 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown.
But the way UW’s receivers and Coan beat man coverage was impressive — a combination of smart play-calling, accurate throws and strong receiver play.
Let’s step inside the film room and take a look at how these factors came together for the Badgers in their 38-0 win over the Spartans.
Situation: Third-and-5 from UW’s 43, second drive of game
Play: Jack Coan pass to Quintez Cephus complete for 9 yards, first down
Breakdown: This play encapsulates all three phases mentioned earlier to beat man coverage.
First, as part of the play call, A.J. Taylor (4) motions across the formation. Watch as Michigan State safety David Dowell (6) drops back to safety depth and Xavier Henderson (3) replaces him as the man-to-man defender on Taylor. When Coan sees a defense react like that to motion, he can assume man coverage.
Coan gets good protection — a theme throughout Saturday’s game — before getting the ball out to Cephus, who is at the top of his curl route. Note how Coan’s throw is to Cephus’ sideline shoulder; if it’s to his field shoulder, MSU’s Josiah Scott (22) might be able to disrupt the catch even though Cephus has created space.
Cephus secures the catch and keeps both hands on the ball as Scott attempts to rip it out. His route took him beyond the first down marker, so he doesn’t need to fight for more yardage and risk a fumble.
Situation: Fourth-and-2 from MSU’s 28, second drive of game
Play: Jack Coan pass to Jake Ferguson complete for 27 yards, first down
Breakdown: This is an example of both an offense throwing a changeup off a look it’s already shown, and of a bad defensive miscommunication.
UW had success against Kent State with this kind of play — play-action, but not really, as Taylor is never close enough to receive the handoff, but the fake from Coan still affects a defense’s eyes. The Badgers also ran a similar play on the first play of the game against the Spartans, gaining 9 yards on a quick throw to Taylor. The play is a man-coverage beater because there are few linebackers who can catch Taylor when he’s got the angle to the sideline, so it’s an easy chunk of yards for UW.
It being fourth-and-2 almost assures the defense will be in man, and when four MSU defenders go to Taylor, Ferguson struts wide open up the seam. Unfortunately for him, the Turf Monster stopped him from scoring.
Situation: Fourth-and-5 from MSU’s 35, UW’s fourth drive
Play: Jack Coan pass for A.J. Taylor for 10 yards
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Breakdown: This is another example of motion giving away the defense’s plans and UW taking advantage.
A.J. Taylor begins a motion from the right side, then goes back to his original spot on the field. MSU shows it’s in man, and Taylor’s slant route in between two clear-out routes creates an easy throwing lane and first down for Coan.
This is the kind of play that UW can use more often and against man coverage, is almost impossible to defend.
Situation: Third-and-9 at MSU’s 23, fourth drive of the game
Play: Jack Coan pass to Danny Davis complete for 10 yards, first down
Breakdown: This play comes down to protection and Davis shielding his defender.
Garrett Groshek (37) starts as a split out wide receiver, but comes back into the backfield as a running back. The Spartans tip their hand that they’re in man with their reaction to that motion, but also with the defensive backs’ positioning on the line of scrimmage. MSU tries to stunt, with stud defensive end Kenny Willekes (48) looping around to the inside. However right guard Josh Seltzner (70) passes off a rusher to center Tyler Biadasz (61) before picking up Willekes.
Coan delivers a good ball to the middle of the field, slightly to back shoulder, but not enough that Davis has to adjust too much. Even with tight coverage on him, Davis uses his back to shield his man away from the ball — like a basketball box out — and makes the catch for the first down.
Here’s the play from the end zone angle, which shows Davis better.
Situation: Third-and-5 at MSU’s 38, UW’s eighth drive
Play: Jack Coan pass incomplete, intended for Adam Krumholz
Breakdown: This would be considered a win for the Spartans because it fell incomplete, but it’s notable because it was Coan’s deepest pass of the day.
Watch Krumholz take a jab step inside, then break for an outside release. The jab step gets Scott off balance, and Krumholz has him by a step down the field. Coan throws a good pass — deep enough that Krumholz is the only player with a chance at it and right along the numbers. Krumholz appears to be using his right hand to shield Scott when the ball comes down, but he has a better chance at it if he continues running and goes for it with both hands.
This play’s important because Coan is going to need to show some of the better defenses he’ll see — i.e Ohio State and Iowa — that he can get the ball accurately down field.
Situation: Second-and-8 at MSU’s 19, UW’s third drive
Play: Jack Coan pass complete to Quintez Cephus for 19 yards, touchdown
Breakdown: This is actually zone coverage, so not applicable to this breakdown. But who didn’t want to see this catch again, right?