MADISON - It was a game that keeps defensive coordinators up at night, and the main reason why it is seared into the mind of Dave Aranda.
It’s a game Aranda can recall two years after the fact not only for how things unraveled so quickly, but because it’s the perfect example of what can happen when a solid defense makes a mistakes against an up-tempo offense.
“What pace teams do is take the momentum that’s in any type of college football game … (and) injects momentum with a whole bunch of steroids in it,” said Aranda. “(It) just blows it up, because everything happens so much faster.”
Aranda had a solid defense at Utah State in 2012, a unit that had given up only 15.5 points through its first 10 games. That included four games where the Aggies gave up seven points or less and two losses where the defense played well enough to win (16-14 at Wisconsin and 6-3 at BYU).
In week 11 at No.19 Louisiana Tech, a team that utilized its fast-paced offense to lead the nation in scoring offense (51.5 points per game) and total offense (577.92 yards per game), Aranda’s scheme held the Bulldogs to 176 first-half yards and only three points, allowing the Aggies to build a 27-3 lead in the third quarter.
When the final whistle blew, Utah State needed overtime to win 48-41, seeing Louisiana Tech finish with 629 yards of total offense, 297 of which came in the fourth quarter when the Bulldogs ran 45 plays.
“That’s what pace does,” said Aranda. “Everything is fitted up, everything is great, one bad thing happens and it’s very easy for one bad play to roll into three bad plays, six bad plays. All of a sudden it’s a drive with 12 bad plays. That’s the challenge.”
Bowling Green (2-1) will provide a similar test to No.19 Wisconsin (1-1) this weekend, as the Falcons’ offense has been flying at a high tempo under first year coach Dino Babers. Averaging 85 plays per game, Bowling Green has scored over 30 points in its first three games with a passing attack averaging 324.7 yards per game and running for 196 per game.
In its 45-42 win over Indiana last weekend, Bowling Green ran 113 plays, threw 73 passes and registered 571 total yards. A lot of those yards, according to Aranda, were the result of missed tackles in the open field. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said earlier in the week the Badgers missed over 15 tackles in their 37-3 win over Western Illinois Sept.6.
“You saw all the open field tackles that were made or missed (by Indiana) and how that changed the game,” said Aranda. “We’re going to need gang tackling. We’re going to need people swarming to the ball.
Wisconsin typically rotates a variety of sub-packages on any given week for certain downs and situations, but the Badgers this week have installed specific packages for the wide variety of different formations Bowling Green can run. The thought process in that instance is getting personnel in the right position on the sideline to react whether the Falcons substitute or not.
“We have to make sure to sub fast enough,” said senior linebacker Marcus Trotter. “Our goal this week is play great defense (and) communicate. If we can communicate and lineup, we should be fine.”
In addition to the new packages, Wisconsin has been preaching and practicing at a faster pace for the last two weeks. In order to try and simulate Bowling Green’s speed, the Badgers have had two scout teams working simultaneously against the defense to run plays within seconds of each other. The idea, according to sophomore cornerback Sojourn Shelton, is to practice at a faster pace than the game itself.
“Having that bye week last week, we’ve had a chance to watch a lot of film on those guys,” said Shelton. “We should be prepared. Overall it’s a matter of getting the call, slowing thing down and having fun, and playing fast.”
Last season Wisconsin faced two of the four fastest-operating offenses in the FBS at the time of the game — BYU was No. 2 nationally at 19.2 seconds per play and Indiana is fourth at 19.5 – and the held both teams to a combined 20 points in consecutive weeks.
That was with a senior-leaden unit, however, which makes Aranda anxious for how his young defense will respond, especially since it’s a smaller, faster group that the Wisconsin coaching staff is starting to recruit to in order to slow down the up-tempo offenses.
“It’ll be interesting to see,” said Aranda. “We’ll have a good amount of speed out there. Always concerning when teams go fast with personnel, substitutions, packages, people running in and out. I think we’ve got it about as tight as we can get it. The majority of our speed will be out there full time.”