Fresh takes: Ludwig's Badger offense shows versatility
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--Andy Ludwig’s playbook is growing.
Ludwig, six games into his first season as Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, showed several new looks in UW’s 35-6 victory over Northwestern on Saturday and most were successful.
“He said it when he got here that he was going to put the ball in his best play-makers’ hands,” UW tailback James White said before practice Monday. “If you show him in practice you can make plays, he is going to create plays to get the ball to you in space.
“That is all you can ask for, to get the ball and go make a play for your team.”
UW (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) faces host Illinois (3-2, 0-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday but first a review of the new wrinkles Ludwig used last week.
Wildcat returns: UW was without wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (head injury) when it had a first down at the Northwestern 14 in the second quarter. For the first time this season the Badgers deployed the wildcat formation with White in the shotgun.
The play never got off, however, because tight end Jacob Pedersen moved before the snap and UW was penalized 5 yards.
“It was partially my fault,” said White, who took direct snaps in UW’s “barge” formation last season. “I’ve got to be louder with the count so everything works out.”
Fullback Derek Watt was lined up in the backfield with White, and freshman tailback Corey Clement was lined up wide right and came in motion before the snap.
“Would have seen a little more of that but obviously we weren’t prepared to run it correctly with what took place,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “So we’ll have to hone in on that a little bit more. I think it is something that will definitely help us as we move forward.”
In good hands with Gordon: On the next play, tailback Melvin Gordon was lined up wide left. Rather than come in motion, however, Gordon stayed wide and caught a quick pass from Joel Stave. Gordon gained 5 yards to the 14. It was his first reception of the season.
“That’s coach Ludwig getting creative,” analyst Chris Spielman said during ABC’s telecast. “You don’t have Abbrederis so let’s put Gordon out there and let him get in space and work one-on-one. That’s a nice adjustment by that whole Wisconsin offensive staff.”
Bootleg with a twist: On third and goal from the 1 in the third quarter, UW ran a bootleg with Stave hitting Pedersen for a touchdown.
The difference was that Pedersen, lined up on a wing to the left at the snap, came across the formation behind the offensive line.
That gave him a clear path to get into the route and made it easier to hide from the defense.
Stave faked a handoff to White and rolled right. Linebacker Drew Smith rushed hard up the field and was within 2 yards of Stave when UW’s quarterback released the ball. Pedersen made the catch at the 2 and, without breaking stride, scored easily.
“Little scheme changes can cause confusion for a defense,” Spielman said during the telecast. “A normal bootleg is run (beyond) the line of scrimmage. They’ll run it behind the offensive linemen so he can hide and come wide open.
“This is a good job of being patient and Stave delivering the ball on target so he can catch on the run. … Outstanding call by Andy Ludwig.”
Install the screens: UW gained 11 yards on a screen to Pedersen late in the first quarter and then in the fourth quarter ran a new screen to Clement.
On the latter play, UW face third and 8 from Northwestern 44. The Badgers deployed three wide receivers left and Pedersen wide right.
Stave, lined up in the shotgun, took the snap and made a hard fake to the left as if he was going to throw a screen to Kenzel Doe.
He quickly turned back to the right and hit Clement for a 9-yard gain. The play wasn’t blocked well, but Clement broke a tackle at the Northwestern 45 and picked the yardage needed for the first down.
“I just think the playbook is able to grow a little bit,” Andersen said when asked about the new looks. “The challenge every single year … is to use the best 11 kids. That doesn’t necessarily mean just on that side of the football. It is by package. And then you build from there, the play selection you have, to put the ball in the kids’ hands or do what you do best.
“And it is Year 1. You’ve got to have a foundation and a base offense before you can continue to build on that. But I know they build on it every single week.”