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August 28, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
MADISON, Wis. - If UMass' offense turned any heads during Charley Molnar's first season as head coach, it was for the wrong reasons. The Minutemen scored fewer points per game than any other team at the FBS level, including five games where they scored seven points or less.
Advanced statistics don't do UMass any favors, either. The Minutemen had an offensive F/+ rating of -18.8 percent according to FootballOutsiders.com, meaning that UMass' offense was almost 19 percent worse than that of an "average" team. When you combine that woeful rate with a dreadful 3rd down conversion rate (36.59 percent) and a red-zone efficiency rating of just 68.75 percent, it's not hard to see why odds makers have the Wisconsin Badgers as 45-point favorites for Saturday's game.
But Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said the Minutemen will still present an important challenge for his players, who haven't put their new 3-4 scheme into action against another team yet. The Badgers have been playing the Badgers for the past few months, and Aranda said making such a sudden shift could be difficult.
"[UMass] is a spread attack," Aranda said Wednesday after practice. "They use angles and they use the whole field. Just those things are so different from what we've seen in spring and what we've seen in fall camp. Two weeks is cutting it quick in terms of changing from, say, a tank war to an aerial dog fight. From that respect, yes I think they're difficult."
"The way that they spread the field and the way that they get you to I.D. yourself, that's a challenge. It'll be a good opportunity for us to kind of get indoctrinated against that type of offense and what we need to do to defend it."
The Badgers have the benefit of studying film of UMass' offense from last season, but they still have to deal with a certain level of uncertainty. The Minutemen hired a new offensive coordinator in John Bond, who coached previously at Georgia State and Northern Illinois. Bond's system at Georgia State leaned on the run a tad more often than UMass did last season, but both offenses passed the ball just about as much as they ran: UMass had a 48/52 run-to-pass ratio last season, and Georgia State ended up with a 50/50 split.
Aranda said it's tempting for him to go back and keep watching film or UMass and Georgia State from last season, but he doesn't want to outsmart himself during this week's game prep.
"You always feel as a coach that there's always something [else to see], and then the concern is that you're chasing ghosts, that type of thing," Aranda said. "The issue here is there's a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach, so we're trying to find things that they liked that they may bring. You're trying to measure that against the head coach that really ran the offense last year.
"Between all those things you're really making your plan off of what you see, but you also have plans if things come up that are not what you see. There has to be kind of a detailed 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' in terms of 'I'm emphasizing this, but I'm holding this in my back pocket.'"
And as for playing a "vanilla" defense against what could be an over-matched opponent, Aranda said the Badgers wouldn't hesitate to use their new base defense. Aranda said if his defense gets the concepts of the new 3-4 down soon, it would be easier for them to build off of their base and unveil different ways of attacking offenses during the regular season.
"Most of our stuff kind of plays off each other," Aranda said. "The concepts are always there, you just kind of build things off of each other in terms of changing this rusher for that rusher. We'll do what we do, and then as it goes whatever we've shown we'll build off of it. It should be a good mix moving forward."
But if the Minutemen's offensive performance doesn't take a significant leap against the Badgers, Aranda can probably save his new defense's biggest wrinkles for a rainier day.
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