Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Three reasons behind Wisconsin's surge
By Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin's offense isn't new. It's just better. A lot better.
The Badgers have been rooted in the same offensive principles for years: the power run, bruising line play, an effective play-action game, efficient quarterbacking, tight ends and receivers who catch (passes) and throw (blocks).
"When we go recruit these guys, they know who we are," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst told me this week. "We haven't changed."
What has changed this season are the results. Wisconsin's offense has gone from pretty good to virtually unstoppable.
The efficient play of Scott Tolzien is one reason the Wisconsin offense has been on a roll this season.
The numbers don't lie (thanks to the Wisconsin sports info staff for these notes):
Wisconsin leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally in scoring at 40.9 points per game. The Badgers will easily eclipse the team single-season scoring record of 34.3 points per game set in 2005.
The Badgers are even more potent in Big Ten play, averaging 41.7 points. Since 1936, only four Big Ten teams have averaged at least 40 points per game for an entire conference season. Wisconsin has scored on 45 of 71 possessions (63.4 percent) in league play, not including five possessions on which it ran out the clock to end the half or a game.
During its current six-game winning streak, Wisconsin has outscored its opponents by more than 22 points per game (44.7-22). The Badgers have averaged 240.7 yards on the ground, while quarterback Scott Tolzien has completed 78.6 percent of his passes. Wisconsin has converted 54.1 percent of its third downs (33-of-61) and scored touchdowns on 83.9 percent of its red zone opportunities (26-of-31).
Wisconsin ranks second nationally in red zone touchdown percentage (79.3 percent). In Big Ten play, the Badgers have converted 28 of their 33 red zone trips into touchdowns (84.8 percent). Wisconsin ranks ninth nationally in red zone scoring (91.4 percent) and has gone 41-for-42 in its last eight games.
The Badgers lead the Big Ten and rank 10th nationally in third-down conversion percentage (51.3).
Wisconsin already has set a team record with 41 rushing touchdowns
How has this happened? Here are three reasons.
1. Experience and depth
The Badgers aren't lacking in any area of their offense.
They have three senior starters along the offensive line in left tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard John Moffitt and center Bill Nagy. Carimi, an Outland Trophy finalist, and Moffitt have combined to start 87 games in their careers.
"The neat thing about it is it takes everyone to be a part of it," Chryst said. "Everyone can really take ownership for what's happening."
2. Running back depth
Most teams would be in trouble if they lost the league's offensive player of the year for a few games. Not Wisconsin.
Clay's knee injury hasn't slowed down the Badgers' run game one bit. In fact, Wisconsin is putting up even better numbers without him -- not a knock against Clay, just a fact -- by rushing for 695 yards and 12 touchdowns in wins against Indiana and Michigan.
Wisconsin is the only FBS team to have three backs with at least 600 rushing yards: Clay (929), freshman James White (895) and Ball (686). All three players have recorded 13 rushing touchdowns this season.
While White has emerged as the Big Ten freshman of the year front-runner, Ball has provided the biggest lift. An afterthought in the first half of the season, Ball stepped in after injuries to both Clay and White and has 467 rush yards and nine touchdowns in his last three games.
"Montee was a big part of what we were doing in the second half of last season, and Montee has continued to improve," Chryst said. "You've got to give him a ton of credit for not getting caught up where he is on the depth chart and keeping his focus."
3. Scott Tolzien
Wisconsin has mass-produced elite offensive linemen, running backs and tight ends in recent years, but the quarterback position has been more of a headache.
Tolzien came out of nowhere to win the starting job in 2009, and he has taken his game to another level this fall. The senior leads the nation in completion percentage (73.9) -- he completed 24 consecutive passes before an interception last Saturday -- and has completed 78.6 percent of his passes during the current win streak.
Tolzien is on pace to set team records for career pass efficiency (151.2 rating) and career completion percentage (68.2). He has done his best work in clutch situations, completing 23 of 27 passes with 12 touchdowns and only one interception in the red zone, and completing 40 of 57 passes for 492 yards on third down (rating of 150.8).
"He's playing his position as good as anybody in college football," head coach Bret Bielema said. "What he's done in the red zone, it's just unbelievable. And ball-security wise, being able to come through in clutch situations, has been really unparalleled by anything I've ever witnessed."