MADISON, Wis. - A few other reporters and I met with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda after practice on Wednesday, before many of us headed over to the Kohl Center for Wisconsin's exhibition basketball game against UW-Platteville.
Here are a few of the highlights from the cerebral assistant coach, who masterminded Wisconsin's switch to the 3-4 defense in his first year on campus.
-- Aranda said Iowa's tight ends are a big key to their passing game, which is methodical and rarely hits on a lot of big plays. But the Hawkeyes do use a lot of play action in their offense, especially on short third downs.
"They love the stick route, which our offense runs as well. They'll run it to the three-receiver side, the No. 2 receiver will run in to the flat, and the tight end will run five yards, push off on a linebacker or safety, and basically the No. 2 clears it out for that tight end," Aranda said. "You've got to get hands on them and you've got to be physical with them."
"Their conversion rate on third down is close to 49 percent. So much of that is because they get it to where it's 3rd-and-4 or 3rd-and-3, and against a safety or a linebacker it's 1st-and-10. We have to be able to win first and second down to get a longer third down."
-- Offensively the Hawkeyes were rather limited last season. They scored just under 20 points per game and gained about 310 total yards per game, ranking second-to-last in the Big Ten in both categories. Both measures have picked up a bit this season, though. The Hawkeyes are scoring 27.4 points and 397.6 total yards per game so far this season, and Aranda said that while the Hawkeyes don't give teams a lot of looks, they excel in the packages an plays they do use.
"They do such a great job with the stretch [run] game," Aranda said. "They don't do a lot, but what they do they do very well. There's not a truer statement for anyone that we've played or anyone we will play. They're simple in their run game, but they execute. We have to play with our hands, we've got to be square, we can't give up the line of scrimmage."
-- Aranda said senior linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring) did not practice on Wednesday. Borland sat out of Tuesday's practice as well, and Aranda said they're probably going to test the senior on Thursday. Aranda said he's not normally fond of playing someone with just one day's worth of practice, but he'd make an exception for Borland. It helps that offensively the Badgers and Hawkeyes are cut from the same cloth, and Aranda said Borland has taken notes on the new things the Badgers are planning for Iowa.
-- In the same vein, Aranda said he and the coaches have been working with the backup linebackers in case Borland isn't ready to go on Saturday. Marcus Trotter has worked with the first team with Borland unavailable, and Aranda said Derek Landisch and Ethan Armstrong will also get reps at the inside spots.
Armstrong moved inside against Arizona State earlier in the season to give the Badgers a little more athleticism against a spread offense, but it sounds like for the most part the Badgers won't rotate in and out of a lot of different packages against the Hawkeyes.
"When I look at our team, I feel like we can go in right now and play an Iowa or a Wisconsin. We're built for that," Aranda said. "But I think when you get to some of these spread teams it's better to have matchups. With that being said, when they're in big and regular field personnel, we'll go big and when they're in small it benefits us to go small."
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