It’s a common misconception that the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense is simple.
While the No. 13 Badgers (9-2, 6-2) do rely on the ground game, there are intricacies to blocking and deceiving a defense that go into making those runs success.
However, Saturday’s home finale against Purdue showed that UW isn’t afraid to switch things up offensively to generate a spark. The jet motion and jet sweeps were again a major part of the offense — used on 17 of 74 snaps, or 22.9 percent — but the wildcat formation was an even bigger threat to the Boilermakers.
On eight wildcat snaps, the Badgers scored twice and picked up six first downs.
Let’s take a step inside the film room to see what UW did to be so effective in the wildcat.
Situation: Second-and-1 at Purdue’s 27, early first quarter
Play: Cruickshank rushes for 27 yards, touchdown
Breakdown: From the start of this clip, you can see the confusion the wildcat formation causes the Purdue defense. Look at defensive end Derrick Barnes (55) at the top of the line of scrimmage — he raises his arms and basically shrugs toward the sideline.
Aron Cruickshank (1) takes the snap and fakes the outside handoff to Jonathan Taylor (23), and that draws the attentions of two linebackers, who flow over top of the line and try to get outside to tackle Taylor. Center Tyler Biadasz (61) drives his man off the line and into Barnes, taking out two defenders with one block, and the right side of the line gets a good seal to create a crease that Cruickshank runs through after pulling the ball away from Taylor.
From that point, it’s a display of Cruickshank’s explosiveness and athleticism. He burst through the line, makes a slight cut to the right, then runs by two defenders at the 20-yard line. He’s untouched from there en route to the end zone.
Arguably the best part of the play is Taylor celebrating the score when Cruickshank is at the 15-yard line.
Situation: Third-and-2 at UW’s 33, late first quarter
Play: Groshek rushes for 3 yards
Breakdown: Not every play from the wildcat has to be a chunk play to be effective.
This version of the wildcat, with Groshek taking the snap and Jack Coan (17) split wide, creates a 10-on-10 situation in the box. UW trusts its line to win those scenarios and you can see why. Jason Erdmann (78) and Tyler Biadasz get great surge and create a hole, and fullback Mason Stokke (34) lays a solid block after faking like he got a handoff.
Groshek cuts to his right, and gets wrapped up around his ankle. He falls forward for the extra yard to get a first down and keep the drive alive. Groshek does the same thing on the next drive on third-and-short.
But when he watches this play back, he’ll wish he followed his fullback. Look at the seam between Stokke and the three linemen to his left — Groshek would’ve had a head of steam and one man to beat for a big play.
Situation: First-and-10 at the Purdue 32, middle second quarter
Play: Cruickshank rushes for 3 yards
Breakdown: Purdue’s linebackers learned from their mistakes earlier in the game.
Instead of flowing hard over the line, they’re patient and waiting for Cruickshank to make his read. That’s made possible because Barnes (55) does his assignment correctly and follows Taylor. The blocking by UW’s offensive line is solid, but Purdue linebacker Ben Holt slips by the block of David Moorman (68), who pulled on the play. Holt gets to Cruickshank’s legs and slows him down, and a handful of Boilermakers pursue and get in on the tackle.
Badgers offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and coach Paul Chryst have done well this year at adding layers to plays as they progress, and eventually I believe we’ll see a pass from Cruickshank out of the wildcat. But for now, the package is still run-only.
Situation: Second-and-1 from UW’s 36
Play: Cruickshank rushes for 17 yards
Breakdown: When you hear people talk about the chess match of football, the last two plays in this article are a great example of that metaphor.
Purdue adjusted to the power run with Cruickshank at quarterback, so Rudolph and Chryst call a counter and catch the Boilermakers completely off guard. The inside linebackers flow with the pulling guards, so once Barnes commits to Taylor on the fake, Cruickshank pulls the ball and has a ton of empty space in front of him.
This play also will serve as a teaching moment for Cruickshank, a sophomore. He needs to get out of bounds here to allow the Badgers to keep their final timeout.
However, it worked out in the end, as a quick pass set up Zach Hintze’s 62-yard field goal before halftime.
Situation: Second-and-goal from Purdue’s 6
Play: Groshek rushes for 6 yards, touchdown
Breakdown: Again, the Badgers create a 10-on-10 situation and trust its line to win.
However, the key to this play working was Groshek’s selling of the fake handoff to Stokke. Look at the two defenders in the backfield, Barnes (55) and Jaylan Alexander (36). Their eyes are on Stokke because even after Groshek fakes the handoff, he hesitates a split-second to truly sell it. The fake is so good that it freezes Brennan Thieneman near the 1, and being flat-footed prevents him from getting an angle to stop Groshek on the way to the goal line.
Groshek was also a quarterback in high school, winning the WIAA Division 5 state championship with Amherst in 2015, but he cracked a joke about him not making any reads on this touchdown.
“For the most part, yeah, it’s a simple read because I’m not giving it to Mason,” he said. “He knows it, too.”