Once the fourth quarter arrived between Wisconsin and Nebraska last week, Badgers coach Paul Chryst saw a clear path to the finish line.
Hand the ball off. Hand it off again. Then, hand it off some more.
The numbers are well-documented by now.
The Badgers ran on 30 of their final 32 plays. They ran on all 22 in the fourth quarter.
In all, they ran it 49 times for 353 yards.
Husker defensive coordinator Bob Diaco on Tuesday called freshman running back Jonathan Taylor’s 75-yard touchdown run shortly before halftime “a ridiculous play — completely preventable,” and lamented assignment and technique breakdowns throughout the game.
That fourth quarter, though, really stuck in his craw. Even though everybody knew what was coming, Wisconsin still averaged better than 6 yards over 21 bruising carries that totaled 13 minutes, 14 seconds before a final kneel-down bled the clock to zeroes.
“It’s unfortunate it got to ground and pound,” Diaco said. “When it gets to ground and pound, based on score, time and timeouts, any offense — and in particular, one of the best rushing offenses in the country historically … you’re playing against Navy, Army, some of these teams that really know how to run the ball like Wisconsin, they get to ground and pound and it’s very hard.”
That does not mean, of course, that the Blackshirts will sit idly by if another team tries to do the same thing.
“Even all those plays in the final 19 minutes of the game — it really was two scores (allowed by the defense) until that point — but even after that, every single play is correctable,” Diaco said. “It’s not players, it’s plays, and plays are correctable. You watch it, you grade it and you’re encouraged. You can’t help but be encouraged, I would think. I’m disappointed, I don’t want to minimize that for Husker Nation, but encouraged about the future.”
The immediate future is coming fast and includes another potent — though much different — rushing attack. No. 9 Ohio State is second in the league in rushing offense (245.8 yards per game), joining the No. 7 Badgers as the only two Big Ten schools averaging 200-plus on the ground per game.
They just go about accumulating their yards with different looks than UW did.
“A lot of skill position and a lot of speed,” said sophomore linebacker Mohamed Barry. "(Paris Campbell, J.K. Dobbins), all of them. A great quarterback, smart quarterback. (J.T. Barrett) knows the offense Urban Meyer is trying to execute."
Just like a power run game requires discipline to defend, though, so too does a read-option-based system.
“Eye discipline and systematic clarity, I think that’s a big deal,” Diaco said. “Not just trying to throw a bunch of stuff at things, but that the players know their job on each down, because the players need to have the dive, the alley, and the force (inside, outside and edge) defended on every down.”
Typically against read-option, defenders have specific assignments. One player is responsible for the quarterback, another for the running back and somebody else for the pitch man if there is one. The Buckeyes will stress that framework by reeling off plays fast, with athletic linemen who can get to the second level and block and — maybe most difficult — the ability to show read-option and then pass the ball instead.
“With the ability to throw the ball down the field as it looks like runs, that’s the next element,” said Diaco, who earlier this season said run-pass option was born partially because of a rule change involving linemen 3 yards down the field that he called, “the most inequitable rule in the history of college football.” He said, “The defensive backs have to have clean eyes and be on their work as it pertains to the receivers and the front needs to be on their work as it pertains to dive, alley and force.”
Barrett orchestrates, and runs the ball an average of 10 times per game. He's averaging 51.8 rushing yards per game, while Dobbins, a freshman tailback, averages 111.5. They will also rotate in running backs Mike Weber — last year's starter — and Antonio Williams. OSU has run the ball on 53 percent of its offensive snaps through six games.
"Their offense is real run-pass conflict," Barry said. "That’s the biggest thing. I know that Urban Meyer is the godfather of the spread — the run-pass, RPO offense.”