MADISON - Barry Alvarez has been a head coach for 196 games and will be coaching for the second time in three years on an interim basis. Dave Aranda is one of the hottest assistants in the country, but has yet to run his own program.
Even though they are on the opposite ends of the coaching spectrum, the two have one thing in common – regret – that they hope they can resolve when No.17 Wisconsin plays No.19 Auburn in the New Year’s Day Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
Both are coming off frustrating losses in their last game, and both put some of the blame on their shoulders.
For Aranda, Ohio State’s 59-0 throttling in the Big Ten championship game that happened Dec.6 feels like eons ago instead of less than three weeks after the coaching shakeup but still creates a pit in his stomach.
Winning its final seven conference games to win the Big Ten West Division title, Wisconsin entered Indianapolis allowing only 16.8 points (fourth in the country), 103.8 rushing yards, 156.6 passing yards and 260.3 total yards per game (second in the country).
Ohio State obliterated those numbers, putting up 301 rushing yards and four touchdowns, 257 passing yards and three touchdowns and 558 total yards, delivering UW its first shutout since the 1997 season opener.
“First of all, I take responsibility for that loss,” said Aranda. “It’s a hard tape to watch … There’s a lot of motivation in that tape.”
“I should have had more change ups (in the play calling) than we had. I take responsibility for that…What’s unfortunate about that game was the deep balls undressed us a little bit and shook us, and it took us awhile to get back.”
The lack of confidence was easily noticed. The Badgers’ defense had a three-and-out on their second series and then went the six drives without one. By the time UW stopped Ohio State in the third quarter, the Buckeyes had seven offensive plays over 20 yards, including three touchdowns of over 40 yards, and the game was all but over.
Although the two games weren’t exactly similar, Aranda compared the Big Ten title game loss in a lot of ways to the 31-24 loss to Penn State in the regular season finale last season. In that game, quarterback Christian Hackenberg passed for 339 yards and four touchdowns and tailback Zach Zwinak rushed for 115 yards as Penn State bludgeoned a UW defense that felt it was pretty stingy.
“Going into the Penn State game a year ago, we were very successful prior to the game at doing certain things,” said Aranda. “There were tendencies that were built up. We were going to do those things, we were good at them and going into that Penn State game, let’s do what we’ve been doing (because) we’ve had success.”
One of the strengths Wisconsin had going into the Ohio State game was man coverage, a trait that was blown up early and often with quarterback Cardale Jones hitting six 20-plus-yard pass plays against virtually every one of UW’s cornerbacks.
The other problem for Aranda was Ohio State completely altered its game plan. The Buckeyes relied on the quarterback run play roughly 65 percent of the time, according to Aranda, but Jones – in his first career start - only ran the ball eight times for nine yards.
That didn’t mean Jones didn’t fake the run, resulting in Ohio State throwing the ball over the top and taking advantage of single coverage.
“They had no intentions of running the quarterback,” said Aranda. “We were deflated after balls were being thrown over our head. That was disappointing to see.”
Not So Rosy
Alvarez has won 118 games over his 16-plus seasons, including eight bowl games, but it was the last bowl game he coached that still bothers him.
Asked by the senior class to coach the 2013 Rose Bowl after hand-picked successor Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, Alvarez obliged, knowing he didn’t have a real solid relationship with those players, but regrettably took more of a passive role to allow the assistant coaches make calls or adjustments.
“I won't be afraid to insert myself more,” said Alvarez, who is stepping in for Gary Andersen, about the Outback Bowl. “I was a little reluctant last time. I kick myself now because I was reluctant. That's one thing I won't hesitate to do this time around.”
Alvarez was referring to the play calling but wouldn’t comment further, but does admit the relationship with the assistants are more at ease this time around.
After Bielema sudden decision in 2012, Wisconsin’s assistants were left scrambling for jobs. Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge followed Bielema to Arkansas; Matt Canada and Eddie Faulkner joined former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren at North Carolina State; Zach Azzanni went to Tennessee and Andy Buh heading to California. Only Thomas Hammock, Bart Miller and Ben Strickland remained for Andersen to interview.
This season only Chad Kauha'aha'a and T.J. Woods have signed up to followed Andersen to Oregon State, leaving the impression that many assistant coaches want to stay with the program. That has led to fewer secretive phone calls and closed-door conversations and more effort on the game planning.
“I can manage the game,” said Alvarez. “They're doing the coaching. I'm not going to insert myself in a lot of places, because I haven't built that trust and relationship with the kids--I don't know a lot of them that well and same thing with the assistants.
“I think the last time gave me an opportunity to go through it. I think communication is import. I think we have communicate well with what everybody’s responsibilities are.”
Knowing the Outback Bowl will be a physical football game, Alvarez has spent the better part of Wisconsin’s bowl practices on campus getting the team prepared for smash-mouth football. While Andersen was all about speed and sleekness, Alvarez has been pushing the players to add strength, size and physicality through upper and lower body workouts, while pushing the conditioning factor to try and match the Tigers’ speed.
“We’re getting our heart rate back up because we haven’t been running around too much,” said sophomore tailback Corey Clement. “We’re facing another high-octane team, so we’ve got to be ready for them coming from the SEC.”
The practices leading up to Christmas break were up-tempo and hard-hitting to try to simulate game speed and getting players used to tackling again. That is expected to continue when Wisconsin begins practices on-site Saturday.
“We’ve got to get some strength back and how we’re going to condition for the game,” said Alvarez. “We’re going to go back to things I did in preparing a team. We’re going to be more physical at the start of practice down there.”
Alvarez knows a thing or two about winning these type of games. His final win in his final game as a head coach came in the 2006 Capital One Bowl against Auburn, who was a double-digit favorite but couldn’t compete against Wisconsin’s near-flawlessly-executed game plan that held them to 10 points and 236 yards.
“That’s a good way to go out,” said Alvarez. “It was one of the better wins. That was a very good team that we played. That was probably as well as any of my teams ever played. I really thought they played exceptionally well.”
Looking back Aranda could see the Ohio State loss coming, saying he needed to do more ball drills with his players, who either got beat off the line or struggled locating the ball in the air.
Auburn has a vertical passing game similar to Ohio State’s and a quarterback that reminds Aranda of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who lit up Wisconsin’s secondary to the tune of 312 and three touchdowns (he caught one, too) in the Gamecocks 34-24 victory in last year’s Capital One Bowl.
Quarterback Nick Marshall averages 192.9 passing yards per game and has 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He has four wide receivers with 20 catches or more who have combined for 129 catches, 2,050 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Aranda, who also criticized his own play calling against the Buckeyes, said pressure from the front seven will be critical to helping out the secondary, especially blitzes that force Marshall to make quick decisions while keeping him contained in the pocket. UW only sacked Jones once in Indianapolis.
Over the weekend, while the offense worked outside, the defense worked inside the McClain Center strictly on defending deep passes, trying to continue to address the issues that popped up against Ohio State since they are problems that will likely be presented again.
“There’s some things that need to be cleaned up there, and we’re thankful that we have the time to clean it up,” said Aranda. “Corners were out early just working on those things … but we need to create pressure. The games that we’ve won and played well we’ve had pressure. The games we have not played well we have not created pressure. It had to be manufactured pressure.”