MADISON, Wis. - The Badgers know what the BYU Cougars want to do when they have the ball. The Cougars are going to try and run as many plays as possible, wearing down their opponent's defense in the process.
So far the Cougars are hitting their target- they're running just under 90 plays per game, which currently leads the country through eight games. And while the Badgers have lined up against other high-speed offenses so far this season, BYU's offense runs a good bit faster. Ohio State averages about 75 plays per game through nine games, with Arizona State clocking in at 82 plays per game through eight games.
But even though the Badgers are currently fifth in the nation in yards per play allowed, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda still sees room for improvement, especially against a team that wants to wear them down. Aranda said he thought his defensive game plans were off base against the Sun Devils and Illinois in particular, and his team needs to make a big shift after playing the Iowa Hawkeyes last week.
"There's a lot of lessons learned. From being too complicated at Arizona state- I look at myself that way," Aranda said Wednesday after practice. "When teams are going fast thugs have to be simple. At Illinois I think it was too basic, too conservative. We need to be more aggressive. So you take those lessons and try to apply them. BYU has a scary good offense. They move the ball on people, they get people tired."
In addition to BYU's quick tempo, Aranda said his defense will also have to contend with an offensive system that's harder to predict. Aranda said some teams allow him to base defensive calls on a team's personnel or other factors, but the Cougars throw a wrench into that system.
"It's a paint-by-numbers [against Iowa or other teams]," Aranda said. "It's a new series, it's this personnel, it's this hash. All of those things kind of add up to a call.
"[BYU] is similar to Illinois except it's a lot faster in that there's not a whole lot of rhyme or reason to the plays. It's just a bunch of plays. So as opposed to a paint by number type of picture there's a white canvas. Paint something. The lesson there is to be aggressive as best you can."
As if that weren't enough, Aranda also has to find a way to stop BYU quarterback Taysom Hill, who completed 66.7 percent of his passes against Utah State last year and rushed for 80 yards in BYU's 6-3 win. Aranda said Hill has a knack for turning negative plays into positive ones, meaning that even the best defensive call can only do so much.
"The quarterback adds another dimension there," Aranda said. "You can do everything right and he'll make you wrong. We played him last year at Utah State and we could not tackle him. The most infuriating thing about him is it's 3rd and 4 and you've got him for a loss and he gets 5 yards."
And when Hill gets in a zone and BYU's offense starts to hum it can cause problems for the Badgers, who will need to sub players in and out of the game to manage reps and make sure they're not exhausted by the fourth quarter. The Badgers had communication issues at times against Arizona State, Ohio State, and most recently against Illinois, where they were flagged for an illegal substitution a few drives after they lost Chris Borland for the game with a hamstring injury.
The Badgers expect to have Borland back this week, but Aranda said in the end he and his defense are going to need to have the right players on the field playing the right call if they want to hold off a tough opponent at home.
"If you're not communicating, if you're not on the same page, it's tough to operate," Aranda said when asked about the challenges of playing a high-tempo team. "But if you communicate, if you're on the same page, if you use your hand signals, if you signal on and off the field, then we'll have 11 guys on he field at the right time. And have those 11 guys play the same thing at the same time."
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