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September 4, 2013

Badgers need to stop 'true' spread

MADISON, Wis. - Tennessee Tech will put Wisconsin's new 3-4 defense to the test on Saturday when the Golden Eagles take the field for their first offensive series. Because unlike other "spread offenses" that focus almost exclusively on quick hitting passes, the Golden Eagles adhere to what Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said is a "true" spread offense.

"They give you everything that they can possibly do to spread the field north and south and east and west," Andersen said Monday during his weekly press conference. "You have to be on guard, and you have to be prepared to tackle well in space because there's going to be some plays that the ball is going to be thrown out in space, and you're going to have to make plays."

In a "true" spread, the offense spreads out wide receivers and other players across the field to make the defense account for each player, which ideally creates both passing and running lanes.

But unlike other teams that have popularized the spread in college football, the Golden Eagles are still committed to attacking defenses on the ground. They ran for 323 yards on 46 carries against NAIA opponent Cumberland in their first game of the season, where they scored 63 points.

The Golden Eagles also like to run their offense at a quick pace, which presents potential substitution problems for the Badgers.

Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said the Golden Eagles will likely try to keep the ball on their side of the field, which would give the Badgers less time to sub players in and out of their front seven, or change their personnel in general if Tennessee Tech gets in to a grove.

"They're a fast tempo," Aranda said Wednesday. "We're expecting it to be quick. They will spread it out, and they will screen after screen after screen, keep the ball on their sideline."

Ultimately Wisconsin's success against Tennessee Tech will likely come down to how well they contain quarterback Darian Stone, who plays a crucial role in directing the Golden Eagles' spread attack.

"They'll read the defensive end whether to give it or to pitch it, they'll read the inside linebacker to give the draw or to throw the pop pass behind him, they'll read the outside linebacker whether to give the zone or throw the screen," Aranda said. "It's an efficient offense when you combine that read component with going fast."

To contain Stone, who completed 8-of-11 passes for 143 yards and rushed eight times for 31 yards against Cumberland, the Badgers will have to negate some of his strengths, just like they did to Mike Wegzyn of UMass.

"We have to be able to mix in our different looks so he's not sure how we're playing him," Aranda said. "He's a good player, and the offense revolves around him. It'll be a good test for us."

It will be a unique experience for the Badgers, who won't see an offense quite like this in the Big Ten season. It's easy to compare Stone with other players like Braxton Miller, but in the end the Badgers need to focus on stopping a true spread team before they can worry about how Stone and the Golden Eagles will compare to Miller and the Ohio State Buckeyes down the road.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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