Aranda brings attacking defense to Wisconsin
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
LOGAN, UTAH--Whether you talked to defensive linemen or linebackers or members of a revamped secondary during spring practice, the sense of anticipation was palpable.
Dave Aranda, entering his first season as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator, guaranteed the Badgers would not be reactionary under his watch.
They would attack.
Remember that all defensive coordinators talk about being aggressive.
Yet the players who flourished under Aranda in his lone season at Utah State predict the UW players will find Aranda backs up his words with action.
“He doesn’t believe in ‘bend but don’t break,’” linebacker Jake Doughty said. “He wants to put pressure on people. If you have an offense that can just sit back there all day, they’re going to eventually score points.
“He wants to attack. He wants to get pressure on the quarterback every single play, regardless of the circumstances. That is his mind-set, to come from every angle so they don’t know where you are coming from.
“He is not very reserved. He wants to get the defense going and be the baddest of the bad.”
Doughty and fellow linebacker Zach Vigil were first-year starters last season at Utah State.
Gary Andersen brought Aranda to Utah State from Hawaii before last season. Aranda immediately installed a 3-4 scheme that featured blitzing by linebackers and defensive backs, line stunts, late shifts and zone blitzes.
The result: Utah State finished in the top 15 nationally in four major categories.
The Aggies finished seventh in scoring defense (15.4 points per game), 13th in rushing defense (113.8 yards per game), eighth in pass-efficiency defense (14 interceptions, 12 touchdowns, 54.1% completion rate, 5.7 yards per attempt) and 14th in total defense (322.1 ypg).
Those rankings marked an average improvement of 39 spots from the 2011 season.
Doughty was a first-team all-Western Athletic Conference performer. He finished second in the WAC and led the Aggies in tackles with 109 (8.4 per game).
Vigil was a second-team all-WAC pick. He finished second on the team and fifth in the WAC in tackles with 105 (8.1 per game). That included 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for loss.
Both linebackers described Aranda as exhibiting a quiet, professorial persona during practices, meetings and games.
“Coach Aranda first and foremost is very, very smart,” Vigil said. “Instead of being really, really vocal, he was more of a thinker.
“You could see him contemplating, looking at things more than other coaches. Defensive coaches typically are screamers, and he wasn’t.
“I personally really like that about Coach Aranda.”
Aranda’s professorial demeanor struck a chord with Doughty, too.
“He talks to you one-on-one, man-to-man,” Doughty said. “The whole screaming thing can only go so far. He gets to know you on a personal level and he is genuinely interested in your input on things.
“He will ask players how they view a new scheme or a wrinkle for an opponent.”
The key to Aranda’s defense, according to both players, will be deception.
Throughout the spring UW used three-, four- and five-man fronts and brought pressure from a variety of spots.
Those images stirred fond memories for Doughty.
“A lot of defenses, what you see is what you get,” he said. “What we ran…it was like we’d show something one way and then bring something completely different the other way.
“We’d start off in a certain package or a grouping and by the end of it we would change.
“It is more of a chess game when he plays. It’s not just mano a mano. There is more of a mental aspect to it.
“I feel like a lot of teams just bash each other’s heads. Well, the bigger, (stronger) team is going to win. If you show different looks they’ll mess up.”
The goal is to keep the linemen and quarterback guessing and wondering how many defenders will rush and from where.
“The O-line might slide the protection one way and leave an area of vulnerability on the opposite side,” Doughty said. “You have pressure coming form a different way that no one picks up.
“And it makes it really confusing for quarterbacks.”
A bonus is that Andersen embraced a similar philosophy during his four seasons as defensive coordinator at Utah.
The 2008 Utes confused favored Alabama en route to a 31-17 victory in the Sugar Bowl to finish 13-0 and No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.
That Utah team finished 11th nationally against the run, 12th in total defense, 12th in scoring defense and 20th in pass-efficiency defense.
“They both like the mental aspect of the game,” Doughty said. “Getting both of them in the same place is nice, trust us. I’m bummed but Wisconsin is lucky to have them.”