The University of Wisconsin football team has turned its attention to the Rose Bowl and a matchup against Oregon on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
For now, it’ll have to let go of what happened in the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, when a 21-7 halftime lead turned into a 34-21 defeat. The Badgers (10-3) played their best 30 minutes of football in the first half against one of the best teams in the country, and the Big Ten’s College Football Playoff representative. But letting this one slip away was a tough pill to swallow for UW.
The game swung in the second half when the Badgers’ pass rush was slowed, and when Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields — who was nursing a sprained MCL — used the mobility he still had to buy time.
Let’s step inside the film room to see what happened to UW’s pass rush after halftime.
Situation: Third-and-10 at the UW 34, late first quarter
Play: Matt Henningsen sacks Justin Fields for a loss of 8 yards
Breakdown: This play best exemplified the Badgers’ plan of attack against Fields (1) last week.
Both linebackers, Chris Orr (54) and Leo Chenal (45) rush up the middle. After engaging with their linemen to ensure that running back J.K. Dobbins (2) has to pick up a blitzing linebacker — in this case, Orr — defensive ends Isaiahh Loudermilk (97) and Matt Henningsen (93) loop around to the edge of the pocket. This creates a pair of contain players to make sure Fields doesn’t have room to run.
Orr runs through Dobbins and gets the initial contact on Fields, Chenal gets a hit as well, and then Henningsen finishes off the sack.
This kind of contain rush was used often with a number of players keeping Fields inside the pocket, and in the first half when the secondary was doing well against OSU’s receivers, it was extremely effective. Due to his injury, Fields was reluctant to run around, and UW took advantage of it.
Situation: Third-and-7 at the OSU 28, early third quarter
Play: Justin Field pass to Chris Olave complete for 50 yards
Breakdown: UW tries to use a stunt here to get Zack Baun (56) to push pressure on the inside and defensive end Garrett Rand (93) to loop around the edge, but Rand is held, keeping him from being able to set the edge of the pocket — we’ll get back to this element of the play.
But Fields, seeing no one open on initial drop back, escapes to his left out of the pocket. He allows his receivers to break off their routes, and Chris Olave (17) goes straight down the field. Fields sets his feet and uncorks a deep throw and Olave makes the play.
Back to the hold — I’m never one to criticize officiating, because stuff happens and calls get missed, but I’m not sure how this one got missed. Maybe the referee believed Jonah Jackson (73) kept his hands inside and therefore the block didn’t constitute holding, but the way Jackson yanks Rand was a tell-tale signal for a flag.
Situation: First-and-10 from the OSU 31, middle of the third quarter
Play: Jack Sanborn sacks Justin Fields for a loss of 1 yard
Breakdown: He’s another example of disciplined pass rushing affecting what a quarterback can do.
Baun and Tyler Johnson (59) push the outside lanes, while Keeanu Benton (95) and Loudermilk start to collapse the pocket on the inside. With the coverage again doing a good job, Fields steps up and tries to escape the pocket.
You can’t see it from this angle, but Ohio State’s K.J. Hill breaks off his route, goes to Fields’ left and is open, but Fields has already taken off to his right. UW’s Jack Sanborn (57) comes up and makes a good open-field tackle after Fields’ scramble cuts the field in half.
As you’ll see in the next clip, problems come when the discipline of a pass rush fades.
Situation: Second-and-9 from the UW 14, early fourth quarter
Play: Justin Fields pass complete to K.J. Hill for 14 yards, touchdown
Breakdown: I’m using a replay angle here so you can better see the issues UW has on this play.
This is a designed rollout for Fields, which you can tell from how left tackle Thayer Munford (75) takes his first steps. Izayah Green-May (50) is a young player, so perhaps he didn’t recognize that Munford is trying to reach him and get to his outside shoulder, but Green-May’s inability to fight through initial contact and keep his outside shoulder free allows Fields to get outside and keeps Dobbins available for what happens next.
Chenal bolts over from his linebacker spot, but he also tries to go inside Dobbins, so even a half-hearted block is enough to get the job done. This give Fields, and more importantly his receivers, even more time against the secondary.
Hill is covered fairly well by safety Madison Cone (31), but as Fields buys time, Hill spins around in the end zone, Cone falls down and tries to grab Hill, but Hill fights off the contact is wide open for the score.
Situation: Third-and-18 from the OSU 37, early fourth quarter
Play: Justin Fields pass complete to Binjimen Victor for 28 yards
Breakdown: All in all, I thought UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard did well against the Buckeyes, especially as he had to deal with injuries to linebackers (Orr and Noah Burks) for most of the game. That said, I don’t get this call.
The Badgers rush three, and even though Baun gets a little heat on Fields when he makes a move to the inside, Fields can throw with a clean pocket. At this point the game, fatigue in the secondary is evident, and Rachad Wildgoose (5) takes a bad path to the throw. He’s trying to undercut it and maybe intercept it, but he’s not even in a position to jump for a deflection. That angle also takes him out of contention to make a tackle. Then, more missed tackles lead to a big play.
Perhaps his pass rushers were just as tired and Leonhard didn’t want to tax them with another blitz on third-and-18, but the Buckeyes took advantage of zone coverage on the play. Even if Victor is tackled after the catch, OSU likely goes for a fourth-and-short on a drive that could ice the game.