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Why the Badgers believe the offense can create more explosive plays this season
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Why the Badgers believe the offense can create more explosive plays this season

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So many of the issues that hampered the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense a season ago had a clear answer.

Why did the passing attack struggle? The Badgers were without their top two receivers and the younger players at the position weren’t ready to step up.

Why’d the run game get slowed? Teams could load the box to stop it and churning out yards became harder to do without a transcendent player in the backfield such as Jonathan Taylor.

Badgers coach Paul Chryst says big plays come from both deep throws and everyone doing the little things to make the average play pop

But arguably the offense’s biggest issue last season — the inability to create big plays — well, that one had a number of layers to it.

No. 12 UW will likely have to generate some of those chunk plays that were elusive last season for it to open the season with a win Saturday against No. 19 Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium.

“Our mindset is we just want to change the perspective of Wisconsin,” said senior receiver Kendric Pryor, who’s healthy after missing four-plus games last season due to a concussion.

“We’re known for grinding it out running it, but we’re having this mindset this spring and this summer, in this camp to try to change that narrative around here. We’ve got some guys at receiver, at tight end that can go make a play that can open the run game up for Jalen (Berger) and Chez (Mellusi) and just have them do their thing.”

Let’s address just how plodding the offense got last season before diving into solutions the Badgers may have. UW’s 4.9 yards per play average was 11th in the Big Ten Conference and the worst mark for the program with Paul Chryst as the coach or offensive coordinator. The previous low for UW offenses with Chryst as coach or offensive coordinator was 5.3 yards per play in 2015, and that team went 10-3.

The Badgers had 94 of their 495 plays (18.9%) gain more than 10 yards, 38 (7.7%) gained 15 or more and just 19 (3.8%) gained 20 or more yards. UW’s rate of 30-plus-yard plays — 6 of 495, or 1.2% — ranked last among 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.

Getting Pryor and fellow senior receiver Danny Davis back in the lineup should help UW’s chances of creating explosive plays. Despite only playing in two games last season, Davis led the team with an average depth of target of more than 17 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. Pryor averaged nearly 15 yards per catch a season ago and showed throughout training camp better chemistry with quarterback Graham Mertz.

Having Davis and Pryor back also will open up things for sophomore Chimere Dike, who can play both in the slot and outside positions to attack defenses.

Mellusi, a transfer from Clemson, won the starting running back job during training camp and could be another big-play threat. His speed when he gets into space will be a weapon, but his ability to shed tacklers has yet to be seen at UW — only one portion of a training camp practice open to reporters featured live tackling. Mellusi said UW running backs coach Gary Brown has challenged him and the rest of the backfield to create more explosive plays.

“He says take the shackles off our game,” Mellusi said. “That kind of resonated with me during fall camp — who can take the shackles off their game? Of course, you need to stay true to the scheme, but we’re athletes and we need to make things happen.”

Chryst, who will be the play-caller this season after associate head coach Joe Rudolph handled the duty last season, agreed UW’s struggles in creating chunk plays had multiple reasons. But he said the Badgers also can create chances for themselves with each player executing on a given play — putting his “All 11” mantra into action.

His responsibility as a play-caller is to make sure there are opportunities available for Mertz and other players to break off big gains but do so while maintaining balance in the offense.

“I think a lot of people think explosive plays like, OK, we’ve got to throw the ball down the field or we’ve got to create maybe a special,” Chryst said.

“I think that you’ve got to try to coach and play good football and I think if you do that, then the big plays or explosive plays become a byproduct of it. … I think you’ve got to be careful chasing it. But I think you certainly have to be opportunistic when they are presented that you feel confident you can you can take advantage of it.”


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