Badgers' offense producing more big plays
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--The growth has been modest but irrefutable.
UW’s offense, which generally had to grind down the field for scores and averaged less than 30 points per game in 2015 and ’16, has shown more big-play ability through four games this season.
“As an offensive lineman I’m going to say we’ve protected better than we have in the past and we’re run-blocking better than we have in the past,” junior left tackle Michael Deiter said. “That is all part of it.
“And I think we’ve got some really special playmakers around us right now, young guys and some older guys that can make big plays.
“But I still think we’re just scratching the surface. There’s a lot more big plays to be made.”
The next opportunity comes when No. 8 UW (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) faces Nebraska (3-2, 2-0 Big Ten) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
UW, which averaged 28.4 points per game last season and 26.8 in 2015, enters Saturday third in the Big Ten in scoring at 40.8 points per game. Like last season, UW leads the Big Ten in time of possession. The difference is that this season UW has more playmakers.
Last season UW’s offense generated 16 plays of 20 yards or more through the first four games, 13 passes and three runs.
The longest was a 47-yard pass play, and nine of the plays gained 20 to 29 yards. Four gained 30 or more.
The average of the three runs was 28.3 yards.
Through four games this season UW’s offense has generated 18 plays of 20 yards or more, 13 passes and five runs.
The longest is a 64-yard run by freshman Jonathan Taylor against Florida Atlantic. Six of the plays have gained 20 to 29 yards, seven have gained 30 or more and two have gained 50 or more.
The average of the five runs 36.6 yards.
Some of the big hits on the ground have been the result of excellent blocking near the line of scrimmage and downfield. That was the case on Taylor’s 64-yarder.
Other times the blocking has been below par but a runner has made multiple defenders miss. That was the case on Taylor’s 29-yard touchdown run against Florida Atlantic, when he eluded five would-be tacklers.
“He is just different,” freshman wide receiver Danny Davis said of Taylor. “I don’t know how to explain it. That boy is just a different animal.”
Taylor has three of the five runs of 20 yards or more – 64, 41 and 29.
Davis has six catches in four games. Three have been big hits – 32, 35 and 50 yards.
“They play with a lot of maturity,” offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph said of Taylor and Davis. “They play with a lot of confidence. They embrace the responsibility. That is where you feel confidence from coaches to put them in those roles.”
What ingredients are essential to designing and executing big plays?
“One, you’ve got to be confident enough when you’re designing something that everyone can handle their job,” Rudolph said. “I think the majority of the group…they can handle things. And I think you have playmakers that are emerging.”
UW averaged 5.5 yards per play last season. Through four games this season the number is 6.6.
Five Power Five programs are averaging at least 5.0 yards per rush and at least 9.0 yards per pass attempt.
They are Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington, Oregon and UW.
“I think people are playing the run really hard and that gives us opportunities,” right guard Beau Benzschawel said, referring to play-action passes. “We’ve also had some explosive run plays and that is just everybody finishing their assignments. That is the biggest thing.”
What type of defense will UW face Saturday in Lincoln?
The Cornhuskers struggled early under new coordinator Bob Diaco. They allowed 497 yards and five scores in a 43-36 victory over Arkansas State in Week 1 and six touchdowns in the first half of a 42-35 loss at Oregon in Week 2.
However, the defense has allowed a total of 23 points in the last 14 quarters.
The competition in the last three games – Northern Illinois, Rutgers and Illinois – hasn’t been elite.
No one is arguing the defense is a dominant unit.
But Nebraska has allowed just one play of more than 20 yards in the past three games, including none in the past two weeks, and has surrendered just two runs of more than 20 yards.
Overall Nebraska has allowed 12 plays of 20 or more yards in five games.
“They’ve done an outstanding job these last few weeks,” Rudolph said. “You look at some of the numbers they’ve produced. I think they are getting more comfortable. I think it will be a great challenge for us.”