Could new look D be the difference for Wisconsin? That's what Andersen and Co. are hoping for!
(Photo Courtesy: USAToday Sports)
Aggressive - it's fair to say that's an adjective not often associated with the Big Ten (outside of it's TV dealings) and for good reason. When you think of the conference you think of plodding offenses and base 4-3 defenses that rely on physicality and being assignment sure to win games. However, over the past few years this conference has seen that word, aggressive, apply to more and more of it's offenses as the spread spreads to Big Ten country. In 2013 though, there's one team that will be bringing that word to the defensive side of the ball - Wisconsin.
It should make sense for a team who's named after one of the most aggressive animals out there, the Badger. However since the dawn of the Barry Alvarez era in 1990 the Badgers have been the poster child of what old school Big Ten football was all about. 2013 ushers in a new era with Bret Bielema off to Arkansas and Gary Andersen now in charge of things in Madison and that means something new this way comes.
Chances are that if you tune in to a Badger game in 2013 you may not recognize the team on the field. Not because the offense is changing much (why fix it when it ain't broke, right?), but because the defense that will be played is something the Big Ten hasn't seen in a long, LONG, time - the 3-4 defense.
For those in Badger nation and those that follow the conference seeing, writing, and talking about this style of defense is something that will take some getting used to for sure, but for coach Gary Andersen and his defensive coordinator Dave Aranda it's what they believe in.
It's also something that opposing teams will have to get used to and that could be the ultimate weapon Wisconsin has going into games this season. The 3-4 defense of Andersen and Aranda is all about pressure and being aggressive. Whether that's blitzing from unique areas, using the secondary differently, or being able to transition from 3-4 to 4-3 whenever needed, opposing teams in the Big Ten will have to spend extra time in prep for Wisconsin's defense and that means less time focused on themselves offensively.
That's unique in and of itself in the Big Ten. Usually it's defenses are having to react to what an offense does leading up to games in the Big Ten. After all, that whole spread thing at Indiana, Northwestern, and now Ohio State is designed to do just that. At Wisconsin in 2013 it's all about flipping that thought on it's head and forcing the offense to be the one reacting.
Wisconsin's secret to it's success on defense over the past few years is also what leads a lot of those that cover the team to think this transition may be a lot smoother than at some other places (see the Rich Rod era at Michigan trying to install the 4-2-5 defense). UW has had to use a ton of players along the defensive line and at linebacker over the past two seasons and that's led this team to a roster that is both deep and experienced. It's also shown the versatility of guys like Pat Muldoon, Ethan Hemer, and Warren Herring along the line and when you can legit go two deep there it makes a big difference in being able to stay aggressive for a whole game.
However, the biggest reason to like what could happen with the Badgers defense, one that ranked in the top 25 of every major team defensive statistical category last season, is one man - Brendan Kelly. Kelly is the picture of the versatility Aranda and Andersen are hoping will lead to even bigger things out of this team. He was a defensive end under Bielema, but was used as a stand up pass rusher in certain circumstances. This year he'll be standing up full-time as a linebacker and with his knowledge of both the stand up pass rushing game and playing with his hand in the ground he allows for UW to really change up it's looks with ease and confidence.
Keeping teams guessing and reacting to you on defense, instead of the other way around, is a major advantage and if the Badgers want to be successful in 2013 it has to start with what their defense brings to the table. If Andersen and Aranda are right in their thinking this new scheme could be the key to a Badger four-peat as Big Ten champions.
Now, yes, we haven't seen UW play a down of football in the new scheme outside of the annual spring game and this is all theoretical talk - but hey it's June and we're allowed to talk in big, abstract concepts. When it comes to each and every week this season the Badgers are very likely to throw something at opponents that they've rarely, if ever, seen before and for at least this season that could be advantage Wisconsin more often than not.