UW coach frustrated by defensive lapses
“I’m frustrated we had opportunities to win two games on the road against quality opponents, and we pretty much gave it to them,” Wisconsin’s first-year defensive coordinator said.
“They earned some things because they made plays, but we had opportunities to win two game games on the road against quality opponents.”
Failure often leads to frustration.
And there is no doubt that UW’s defense has failed in two critical areas in the last two games, losses at Michigan State and Ohio State.
As UW (6-2, 2-2) prepares for a critical Leaders Division game against Purdue (4-4, 2-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, the areas of concern are explosive plays and third-down plays.
Consider the evidence:
UW surrendered a total of 756 yards in the two losses, 399 at Michigan State and 357 at Ohio State. Of that total, 370 yards came on 11 plays, or an average of 33.6 yards per play.
That means the last two opponents gained 48.9 percent of their yards on just 8.3 percent of their plays (11 of 133).
“The last two weeks we played three and a half quarters instead of four quarters,” Ash said. “As the leader, I’ve got to find a way to get us to play four complete quarters.”
UW entered the Michigan State game limiting opponents to a success rate of 32 percent on third downs.
Michigan State crushed that number by converting 50 percent of its third-down chances (8 of 16), and Ohio State was even more efficient at 55 percent (11 of 20).
Hidden within those numbers is the fact UW didn’t force enough third-and-long situations.
Michigan State faced third and 6 or longer nine times and third and 5 or less seven times. The Spartans were 3 of 9 (33.3 percent) in the former category and 5 of 7 (71.4 percent) in the latter category.
The disparity was more pronounced at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes faced third and 6 or longer seven times and third and 5 or less 13 times. They went 2 of 7 (28.6 percent) in the former category and 9 of 13 (69.2 percent) in the latter category.
Overall, Michigan State and Ohio State went 5 of 16 (31.3 percent) on third and 6 or more and 14 of 20 (70 percent) on third and 5 or less.
UW’s defense must be stouter on first and second down to force more third-and-long plays.
The inability to limit big plays is rooted elsewhere.
“Basically either a wrong alignment or assignment or a lack of communication,” UW coach Bret Bielema said. “Those are the two most common things that you’ll find on any defense.
“And I think even in wins that ratio would still be there. There’s four or five plays that you’re going to want to take back. It’s just that everything is magnified 100 times over after a loss.”
Three plays stand out from the loss to Ohio State—the game-winning touchdown pass, which has been dissected from every angle; Dan Herron’s 57-yard run on the Buckeyes’ first offensive play of the third quarter; and Braxton Miller’s 44-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Herron’s run, which set up the Buckeyes’ first touchdown, was a simple off-tackle play to the tight-end side of the formation.
The problem started when left defensive tackle Patrick Butrym got pushed so far to the outside by Ohio State’s right guard that he was stacked behind left end Brendan Kelly, opening a wide seam.
Linebacker Mike Taylor, who played a fabulous game and finished with 22 tackles, got buried to the inside by the right tackle, widening the seam.
“We ended up having two guys in a gap because of what happened and it popped through,” Ash said.
Miller’s 44-yard run was a simple option play to the left, a play the Buckeyes hadn’t shown to that point.
Kelly took an inside charge and got hooked by the left tackle. Tight end Jake Stoneburner was a lead blocker and first went at cornerback Marcus Cromartie.
Perhaps sensing Cromartie was playing the pitch man (Herron), Stoneburner adjusted and turned inside to block strong safety Shelton Johnson.
Taylor, the weak-side linebacker, was lined up almost even with the center on the play, with linebackers Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong to his left.
Taylor tried to move down the line to his right but was blocked by the left guard and could not fill the hole.
With Kelly, Taylor and Johnson blocked and Cromartie playing the pitch man, Miller popped through a hole and scored untouched.
“There were about four guys who had an opportunity to play the play better,” Ash said. “That is just kind of the theme right now.
“We have a lot of good snaps from a lot of good people. It is the two or three (bad snaps) that people have that are adding up and getting you.”