The University of Wisconsin football team’s offensive line was frustrated with how it’d played in October.
It wasn’t getting the push it wanted in the run game, so Badgers’ star running back Jonathan Taylor couldn’t dominate games like they know he can. But Saturday against Iowa was a vintage performance by Taylor and the offensive line. The front five controlled the line of scrimmage from start to finish, and its blocking in conjunction with a terrific performance from Taylor was enough to hold off the Hawkeyes.
Let’s take a step inside the film room to see what the Badgers did to get their run game cooking once again.
Situation: First-and-10 from UW’s 24, middle of second quarter
Play: Jonathan Taylor rushes for 5 yards
Breakdown: Iowa has been consistent with a four-man defensive line all season, and it was against the Badgers on Saturday. But UW used that to its advantage by using pulling linemen — oftentimes junior center Tyler Biadasz (61) because he was uncovered — to give Taylor a lead blocker or two.
Watch here as left tackle Cole Van Lanen (71) and tight end Jake Ferguson combine to turn the edge and make the route Biadasz runs to lead Taylor shorter. Once Biadasz engages with safety Geno Stone (9), Taylor can cut inside and gain yards. He’s first contacted 3 yards down field, and powers through the hit for a 5-yard gain.
Now, 5 yards isn’t astounding, but UW had been struggling on first down in recent weeks and was putting itself in difficult positions to churn out first downs. Being in second-and-5 keeps the whole playbook open and keeps the Badgers on schedule. They did this time and again against Iowa — excluding the kneel-downs to end the game, UW’s first-down runs averaged 7.9 yards.
Situation: First-and-10 from UW’s 29, middle of first quarter
Play: Jonathan Taylor rushes for 11 yards
Breakdown: This is a wrinkle off of a base play in UW’s offense, but I expect we’ll see it more down the stretch of the season.
Kendric Pryor (3) comes in jet motion, a play that defenses have to prepare for each week against UW. Instead of giving Pryor the ball on the sweep, Jack Coan hands off to Taylor. But watch how the blocks of tight ends Cormac Sampson (85) and Jake Ferguson (84) fake out the defense on the right side of the line. They block as if the sweep is coming, which influences Chauncey Golston (57) to come up field and essentially take himself out of the play.
The scheme creates three-on-three down blocks for Van Lanen, David Moorman (68) and Jason Erdmann (78), while Biadasz and right tackle Logan Bruss (60) pull around. Taylor stays patient in the backfield to allow Biadasz and Bruss to come through the hole, and the surge those blocks create let Taylor get a running start at the hole.
He’s got a full head of steam by the time he’s contacted at 7 yards, and Taylor’s hard running turns it into an 11-yard gain.
Situation: First-and-10 from UW’s 25, middle of fourth quarter
Play: Jonathan Taylor rushes for 36 yards
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Breakdown: This is the kind of old-school football that UW and Iowa pride themselves on, and the plays the Badgers controlled to win the game.
It starts with the left side of the line walling off their men, creating a natural lane for Taylor to follow. Watch how Erdmann (78) climbs to the second level, but stays in control in order to lock up with Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert (32). Bruss pushes Golston through the hole as fullback Mason Stokke (34) arrives to deliver the last key block to spring Taylor to the third level of the defense.
From there, it’s Taylor being Taylor. He spins away from Jack Koerner (28) and then turns on the jets for a big gain.
This is clinic tape for how to run out of the I-formation, which UW did to ice this game. This drive turned into the winning field goal.
Situation: First-and-10 from UW’s 25, late fourth quarter
Play: Jonathan Taylor rushes for 7 yards
Breakdown: This is the first play of the drive on which the Badgers chewed up the remaining clock. Biadasz, Van Lanen and Taylor all said that when the Badgers got in the huddle, they knew they weren’t giving the ball back to the Hawkeyes.
They start off the pivotal drive with another strength-on-strength, I-formation run. The keys to this play are the blocks from Biadasz and Stokke, and the patience of Taylor. Biadasz gets to linebacker Dillon Doyle (43) and takes him for a ride for 3 yards. Stokke does enough to create a lane by locking up with Colbert, but Colbert falls off the block to make the tackle.
Taylor said he and the line were on the same page Saturday, as he allowed them to make blocks before committing to a hole, and this play is a good example. Watch his slight hesitation as he reaches the line of scrimmage — waiting just that split second allowed the lane to open up and he could gain 5 yards without being touched.
It’s clear the bye week got the Badgers focused on executing these little details correctly.
Situation: First-and-10 from UW’s 35, late fourth quarter
Play: Jonathan Taylor rushes for 42 yards
Breakdown: Just look at that hole on the left side between Van Lanen and Ferguson.
A hole that big in an obvious running situation, to me, suggests someone on Iowa missed an assignment. Whether it was A.J. Epenesa (94) going inside when he wasn’t supposed to, or a linebacker or safety not filling that gap, something was off here with the Hawkeyes.
Either way, UW took advantage. Stokke comes through the hole and takes on Colbert with great technique, his helmet on the side of the hole so Colbert couldn’t come across and slow Taylor down. Biadasz gets enough of Doyle to prevent him from making the play, and Taylor makes a masterful cut inside Stokke’s block to make Koerner wrong for going outside.
Taylor explodes for the big gain, and UW gets one more first down to seal the win.
If the Badgers’ offensive line can continue this kind of play, UW is in business. However, after watching this tape, I’d highly doubt another opponent stays with a four-man line and fails to adjust as the Hawkeyes did.