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October 17, 2013Follow @JohnVeldhuis
MADISON, Wis. - Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda isn't one to turn down a helping hand or extend one of his own.
Earlier this year Aranda met with Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers to pick Capers' brain and share his thoughts on stopping the read-option, which really hurt the Packers in their playoff loss to Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers last season. Aranda also reached out to former Wisconsin coaches Chris Ash and Andy Buh before the Badgers took on Ohio State to get a feel for how they game planned for Braxton Miller a year ago.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Aranda has kept calling fellow coaches to pick their brains this week before the Badgers head down to Champaign, Ill., for a game with the Illinois Fighting Illini. Aranda said he reached out to coaches who have played the Illini and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase this season, especially now that Scheelhaase is thriving in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system.
Scheelhaase and the Illini are making a concerted effort to pass the ball more often this season, and Aranda said that's something his team will need to watch early on in the game.
"I think [Scheelhaase] ran more when he was younger," Aranda said. "I think they're trying to get him to stay in the pocket. A lot of the guys I've talked to this year say he'd rather throw it than run it."
That plays to Illinois' advantage, since Scheelhaase is having his best season yet as a passer. His 64.2 completion percentage is the highest of his career so far, and he's on the verge of surpassing last year's passing yardage in what would be just seven games. Aranda said the Illini aren't afraid to break from tradition and pass where some teams would run, which keeps teams on their toes.
"On first down they do a great job of throwing on first down and moving the sticks," Aranda said. "I think his pass efficiency on first down is very high, and that's when most people are thinking run. If he gets rolling it's a difficult offense."
Aranda said he reached out to Southern Illinois, Cincinnati, Washington and Miami (OH) to pick their brains about playing Scheelhaase, but he also has an important resource already on Wisconsin's staff. Wide receivers coach Chris Beatty was Illinois' co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season, and Aranda said Beatty gave the defense his take on the Illini's personnel, which varies play-to-play and can trip up teams that aren't paying close enough attention.
"There's multiple personnel groups and they'll go in and out of them," Aranda said. "From 22 personnel to 10 personnel to five wides to 12, so on and so forth. Getting our right people on the field and not having to take a timeout and hurt us that way is a concern."
"They're a big play team, and we've been hurt by big plays. Especially in that first half they jump on people early, there's a whole lot of trick plays. So we have to really play the principle with the defense. It's not a week where we can say 'this set equals this.' You have to play your fall camp rules."
Time will tell if Aranda's first-hand scouting reports help the Badgers contain Scheelhaase and the Illini on offense this Saturday, but if the Badgers can keep another high-flying spread team in check it might leave Aranda with a couple extra voicemails on his phone, instead of the other way around.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.