The University of Wisconsin football team is coming off a bye week, so this edition of Badgers Film Room is going to be a bit different.
There’s an old adage in combat sports that styles make fights, and Saturday’s matchup between No. 16 UW and No. 18 Iowa pits two teams with such similar styles that it might feel like they playing against themselves. Both the Badgers and the Hawkeyes pride themselves on being physically dominant, and winning with running and defense.
However, both offenses have scuffled at points this season, so the defenses have taken center stage. Even after UW’s blowout loss to Ohio State, both defenses are top 20 of most major statistical categories.
So let’s take a step inside the film room and see some of the key concepts the Badgers have to be ready to stop — on both sides of the ball — against the Hawkeyes.
The I-formation run
This game is going to be a test of physicality — “real football” as UW senior linebacker Chris Orr said.
Iowa lives in the I-formation, and uses tight ends and fullbacks any chance it can. This will be the first game since Michigan State on Oct. 12 that the Badgers face a team operating primarily under center. One benefit for UW is that it will get to use its nose tackles, Bryson Williams and Keeanu Benton, more in base defense against Iowa, but the entire defense needs to tackle better to handle that physical presence Iowa brings.
This run is a good example of how the I-formation can still create explosive plays. Penn State has an extra man in the box, safety Lamont Wade (38), but he comes too flat toward the running lane and doesn’t have a chance to meet Iowa tailback Tyler Goodson (15) in the hole. It’s an old-school scheme, but when it’s blocked correctly, Iowa’s offense can create big plays in the run game.
Nate Stanley’s mobility
Menomonie native Nate Stanley isn’t lighting it up for the Hawkeyes this season, but he’s been at his best when he’s been on the move with designed rollouts and bootlegs.
UW senior linebacker Zack Baun called Stanley a Ben Roethlisberger-type of quarterback, calling him a gunslinger and hard to bring down even when you think you have a shot on him. Iowa’s offense has averaged just 15.25 points in the last four games, but Stanley can still do damage if UW isn’t smart.
This play shows how Stanley reads the rush while keeping his eyes on his receivers. Once the defensive tackle swims for an inside rush, Stanley steps through the hole, then makes an accurate throw on the move for the first down. Given how well the Badgers have gotten after quarterbacks this season, I’d expect Stanley and the Hawkeyes to move the pocket and launch point often.
Nate Stanley’s confidence
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Baun is right on when he calls Stanley a gunslinger. Stanley has a big arm, and can challenge defenses down the field, but he’s also one to put the ball up for grabs in an attempt to generate big plays.
His three interceptions were killers against Michigan, and he threw picks against Penn State and Purdue as well.
The play above shows Stanley throwing a jump ball for Tyrone Tracy Jr. (3) against Michigan’s Lavert Hill (24). Hill is one of the best corners in the conference, and Tracy Jr. never has Hill beat on this route. Stanley overthrows it a touch, and Hill comes away with the interception to halt an Iowa drive that was in scoring territory. UW’s secondary has to be ready for deep shots, but also know there will be chances to cause turnovers.
The Hawkeyes don’t blitz a ton, saving those packages for third-and-long situations. Instead, they trust their front four to get pressure and make life difficult for quarterbacks by dropping seven players into pass coverage.
Iowa lost to Penn State in the game I pulled these clips from, but Penn State’s one of the better offensive lines the Hawkeyes have played, so this is an example of how effective that four-man rush can be. When you watch these plays, note how each player maintains his pass-rush lane and gap integrity — that makes it extremely difficult for quarterbacks to move out of the pocket and put stress on the defense.
On the first play, all four linemen — A.J. Epenesa (94), Brady Reiff (91), Chauncey Golston (57) and Cedrick Lattimore (95) — maintain their gaps and the coverage forces Penn State’s Sean Clifford (14) to step up and attempt to buy time. Lattimore and Reiff collapse the pocket when Clifford steps up and tag-team for the sack. On the second play, Golston gets by the center once the guard leaves the double team, and Clifford again has to step up into waiting defenders. UW quarterback Jack Coan will have to be smart in the pocket to avoid these sacks.
A.J. Epenesa off the edge
Epenesa is one of the best 4-3 defensive ends in the nation, and plays like former Hawkeye Adrian Clayborn. He’s a load for tackles with his size (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) and strength, and a motor that is impressive for a man his size.
He moves around the line some, but not like the Badgers saw against Chase Young and Ohio State — that means left tackle Cole Van Lanen and right tackle Logan Bruss will need to have their ‘A’ games for the Badgers to keep Epenesa away from Coan.
The play above shows Epenesa facing Michigan’s Jon Runyan Jr., one of the best tackles in the Big Ten. Runyan Jr. wins the initial block, but Epenesa throws him to the ground with his second move and gets the sack. That’s the kind of power Van Lanen and Bruss have to deal with Saturday.