MADISON - Pinned against its own goal line on its opening drive in Saturday night’s contest against Hawaii, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst decided it was the perfect time to execute the new formation he installed earlier in the week.
It may have been new to most of his players, but had a distinct vintage feel to the upperclassmen and the program’s long-time fans.
Of the 326 rushing yards gained in the 28-0 victory against the Rainbow Warriors, roughly 196 came from the newly instituted two-fullback set out of “31” personnel (three running backs, one tight end) or “32” personnel (two running backs, two tight end).
“We knew it was going to be a physical game and it’s a physical way to run the ball out of that formation,” said sophomore fullback Austin Ramesh. “A lot of guys at the point of attack, and I think we did well playing physical.”
Chryst, fullback Derek Watt and a host of other players were honest in that the Badgers weren’t planning on using it as much as they did (29 carries). But after that formation was the catalyst on that opening drive, a 16-play, 97-yard march that chewed 8 minutes, 9 seconds off the clock, UW was going to keep running it if Hawaii wasn’t going to stop it.
It was a new wrinkle that contributed to a rushing performance reminiscent of past seasons, especially with UW scoring three of its four touchdowns out of the look.
“It's a nice formation,” said redshirt junior running back Dare Ogunbowale, responsible for one of those scores. “It gives the defense a lot of things to think about.”
Wisconsin set up in the look right out of the huddle or used a variety of motions pre-snap, the latter preventing the Warriors much time to adjust to the offense overloading one side of the formation right before the snap.
It gave a big edge in short-yardage situations, as UW scored two two-yard touchdowns from tailback Taiwan Deal against a stacked front of the Warriors with the “32” personnel.
“Those packages really give us options,” said junior right guard Walker Williams. “It allows us to game plan around things where we can put people at the point of attack, really mix it up and get after defender’s legs. We’ll be coming down power, power, power and then we’ll run a dive play where we put both tackles out on linebackers and fullbacks will come down and cut those defensive ends. It gives them something to think about it instead of them just teeing off on us on some of those plays.”
With the starters in the game until late in the second half, Wisconsin gained at least three yards on 17 of its 19 plays run out of the two-fullback set. The Badgers also gained at least six yards on 12 occasions, not home runs but plays that routinely wore down the defense.
“Hawaii’s defensive line is pretty aggressive and they definitely stress you at different points in the game, but the big emphasis Coach Rudolph made for the offensive line is taking a step every week, always progressing and getting better,” said Williams. “We’ve been making steps every day, and we plan on working to keep making steps as we go into Big Ten play.”
Running it successfully against a team from the Mountain West Conference is one thing, doing against a physical Big Ten front is something completely different. It’s unclear how much Wisconsin will use it against Iowa (4-0) in the conference opener Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, but it will almost certainly be in the conversation against a Hawkeyes defense giving up only 84 yards on the ground, fourth best in the conference.
That’s great news for Ramesh, since the formation was finally his chance to get on the field. Missing the first three games of the season because of both hamstring and concussion issues, Ramesh had been chomping at the bit to make his season debut and prove to the coaching staff that he can fill the void for Watt in 2016.
“Confidence is a huge thing and (Saturday) was big for me,” said Ramesh. “I got a lot of reps, I got to block somebody else besides my team and it feels good. I am ready to get out there and contribute.”