Scouting Wisconsin

Wisconsin's visit to Ohio Stadium on Saturday night should tell us a lot about both teams. Until then, all we can do is take a look at what the Badgers have done so far on the field this season with this scouting report.

Wisconsin will enter Ohio Stadium on Saturday night with some gaudy numbers on both sides of the ball, but the Buckeyes will represent only the Badgers' second big test of the season – and they failed the first.

We can talk more about matchups later in the week, though, since the game is still more than 48 hours away.

On offense, Wisconsin hasn't changed a lot, which is probably a result of personnel more than anything else. New head coach Gary Andersen inherited a couple of very good running backs, a solid offensive line, a bunch of good tight ends and almost nothing at wide receiver outside of one long-time star.

By now I'm sure you know the story of the Badger backfield – James White is the starter but Melvin Gordon has been the bigger star so far this season. They are in a similar mold but not quite the same. White, a senior who leads all of college football in career rushing yards by an active player, is smaller and shiftier at 5-10, 195, while Gordon is bigger (6-1, 207) and more of a slasher.

There is a lot to like about both of them as they are utilized in a variety of ways, and they repay their coaches' creativity by taking advantage of the situations they are in.

I don't think either is as good individually as Montee Ball, though, because he was a truly complete back while I look at White and especially Gordon as mostly home run hitters (That is more praise for Ball than a knock on the other two). White is a very good receiver who will play in the slot and catch screen passes while Gordon is more of a traditional running back.

Gordon is a very smooth runner with great acceleration. He has a nice hesitation move that gave Purdue "tacklers" (a term I would use loosely given their technique) a lot of trouble. He's strong enough to run through arm tackles, though it remains to be seen if he is an elite tackle breaker.

There is no doubt he will make a defense pay for failing to cover a gap or losing leverage, and he reads holes well.

The line looks good, maybe not great. I think it's a little more athletic than roadgrading, which fits the backs they have well. Nobody jumps out as a real mauler or a liability.

Schematically, they still run some zone but use the "power" play ("Dave" in Jim Tressel parlance) a lot, and the guards are good at getting out in front and causing interference for Gordon and White to pop through. This lets Gordon get downhill faster than the zone play, which is perhaps better for the more nimble White.

The plethora of tight ends and fullbacks Bret Bielema left behind in Madison are also very useful for this scheme, although No. 1 man Jacob Pedersen is questionable with a knee injury. He is the biggest threat in the passing game, but the rest of the group doesn't leave much lacking as blockers.

Pedersen could be a big loss in the passing game because there is not much there – almost nothing outside of Jared Abbrederis, actually, particularly at wide receiver where their No. 2 and 3 options are hurt and could be out. That would be Jeff Duckworth, an Ohio native who has had a couple of big moments in his career but never been a consistent threat, and Kenzel Doe, a shifty little guy who has carved out a nice niche as a return man but caught only 20 balls in his career.

Abbrederis is very good, of course, and they move him all over the field. He can play outside or in the slot, runs precise routes and plays the ball very well at 6-2.

They will hand it to Abbrederis at times, too, and both Gordon and White are capable of running or receiving out of the slot, so as in the past there is more than one place the Badgers can attack on the ground. (They actually ran what was pretty much a straight wing-T trap against Purdue for Gordon, who was lined up at wing.)

Quarterback Joel Stave is a big guy with a strong arm, but he's erratic. He missed a lot of throws against Purdue, including a deep ball on which Abbrederis was 10 yards away from any defender but couldn't get under it to haul it in. He was 12 for 19 against Purdue with a really bad interception after completing only 15 of 30 passes against Arizona State.

Stave is not a runner, but he is mobile enough to be effective on bootlegs, which they use a lot. He can escape the rush and find a receiver if he can execute the throw, and he isn't easy to bring down.

Defensively, the Badgers have moved to a 3-4 that fits the personnel better than I thought it might before the season.

They are very experienced up front with six or seven seniors possibly starting in the front seven. Beau Allen is very impressive at nose guard, where he is not only huge but pretty mobile and able to shed blocks, and his backup Warren Herring made a couple of nice plays against the Boilermakers. I also like Cincinnati native Pat Muldoon a lot at one of the end spots while the other will be filled by Ethan Hemer or Tyler Dippel, both of whom are solid if unspectacular seniors.

At outside linebacker, senior Brendan Kelly could be out with an injury, but I'm not sure how good a fit the former end is there anyway. His backup, sophomore Vince Biegel, offers more potential, while the other starter is senior Ethan Armstrong, who is a former walk-on who can pile up tackles but doesn't do much to jump off the screen.

Inside, Chris Borland is a really instinctual linebacker who runs well. He only lacks height, but he makes up for that with his overall athleticism and nose for the ball. I was really impressed with senior Conor O'Neill against Purdue, but he might not start as Derek Landisch is possibly ready to return from injury. O'Neill has shown good instincts and the ability to run inside out and make plays on the perimeter while starting two of the past three games.

Safeties Dezmen Southward, a senior who had eight tackles for loss last season, and Michael Caputo, a sophomore who is second on the team with 20 tackles, are both very willing to attack the line of scrimmage and can bring some thump.

The Badgers are very young at corner, where freshman Sojourn Shelton has been impressive though suffered some growing pains and junior Peniel Jean could be out with an injury that would put sophomore Darius Hillary on the field.

Schematically, I haven't seen them blitz a lot in early downs, but they have a no-down-lineman package that can make them very deceptive if you get behind the chains, something that happened to Ohio State a lot last season.

They're not afraid to play man, even against a spread passing team like Arizona State, but they also gave up 352 yards doing so. It will be interesting to see how they approach a team with a run threat at quarterback. One time notably the Sun Devils hurt them with a zone read or draw up the middle on third-and-long when the Badgers blitzed and played man coverage, leaving the middle of the field vulnerable to a big run.

Overall, this looks like a good, not great team as far as talent goes. They've looked great against overmatched opponents but lost to Arizona State in a game that probably wasn't as close as the score given that the Sun Devils had a drive that stalled inside the five with no points and they gave up a touchdown on an errant punt snap.

But Ohio State hasn't faced murderer's row, either, and the Buckeyes haven't gone up against this type of attack this season, so a lot of questions should be answered Saturday night.

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