Official Store

    The Skip Report: Not to Rush You, But...

    Ibraheim Campbell (24) and the Northwestern defense will deal with a vaunted Wisconsin running attack and play-action passing game.

    Ibraheim Campbell (24) and the Northwestern defense will deal with a vaunted Wisconsin running attack and play-action passing game.

    Oct. 11, 2013

    With the Wildcats' next Big Ten test rapidly approaching, Skip Myslenski provides an in-depth look at what to expect from Saturday's opponent, the rush-heavy Wisconsin Badgers.

    Game Preview & Notes

    KEEP 'EM GUESSING: Pat Fitzgerald, while discussing the Wisconsin rushing attack, dropped the phrase "formation variation." We mention this to Mike Hankwitz, the defensive coordinator charged with blunting that attack Saturday when the 'Cats visit Camp Randall Stadium to take on the Badgers. He chuckles and then he is off, saying with barely a breath, "They'll do a lot of shifting. They'll play with two tight ends, three tight ends. They'll line up one way and shift another.

    "They've got a heck of a series with both running backs in there, (James) White and Melvin Gordon, where they bring him (Gordon) in a fly and they can give him the ball or they can fake and run it (with White). They're going to shift, trade, try to hide things. They're always going to try to change things before the ball's snapped to keep you from overloading your defense to a certain side because you don't know where that side's going to be. They do a great job of that, and they're a big line, they come off the ball and make you stop the run.



    "Then they've got a great play-action package and an outstanding receiver in (Jared) Abbrederis. They challenge you because you line up and get yourself in position to stop the run, but you've got to be careful. They've got play-action passes and they're going to try and get you one-on-one out there.

    "So it's a chess match. It's very challenging."

    THE LOGIC: The aim of all this jitterbugging, Hankwitz later explains, "is to keep you from getting into formation defenses where you can take advantage of where they're running. They might line up over here, then shift over there, and you can't just keep changing everything every play or you get yourself out of position."

    IT'S IN THE KISS: That acronym for "keep it simple, stupid" was reportedly created by one Kelly Johnson when he was the lead engineer for Lockheed Skunk Works, the creator of (among others) the Lockheed U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. We bring this up since Hankwitz echoed his theory when asked how a defense can play aggressively when confronted with all this motion and misdirection. "

    "We're trying to keep it simple enough that in adjustments we can play downhill" is how he put it. "We don't want to outfox ourselves either. You just have to be fundamentally sound. Play downhill and get off blocks. We'll obviously have adjustments. But we're going to keep them to a minimum."

    We later ask middle linebacker Damien Proby about this minimalist approach.

    "That's what it comes down to a lot of times. Just execute a simple task really well," he says. "You don't need all these varieties if you've got that one task that you can do and be really dominant at it. That's something Coach Hank is really tying to push this week."

    THE NUMBERS: Anyone familiar with these scribblings knows how Fitzgerald feels about stats. (In case you're new, he thinks they're for losers.) But, with due apologies his way, here is a sampling that will give you some idea of what Hankwitz's defense will be up against Saturday:

    • The Badgers are averaging 518 yards of total offense per game, which is second best in the Big Ten and 15th nationally among FBS schools.

    • The Badgers are averaging 300.6 rushing yards per game, which is tops in the Big Ten and sixth nationally.

    • The Badgers are one of only four FBS schools who have rolled up more than 1,000 yards both rushing (1,503) and passing (1,087).

    • Gordon, the Badgers' sophomore running back, is averaging 139.6 yards per game and 10.3 yards per carry and White, their senior running back, is averaging 94.6 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry.

    • Abbrederis, their senior receiver, is averaging 114.4 receiving yards per-game and 17.3 yards per catch.

    • Which means the Badgers are one of only three FBS teams to have one player averaging better than 100 rushing yards a game and another averaging better than 100 receiving yards a game.

    QUICKLY NOTED: Camp Randall is a notoriously raucous playpen and so the 'Cats offense will be using a silent cadence on Saturday.

    "As close as we are right now, two feet away, you might not be able to hear me talking on the field. That's what it comes down to," explained center Brandon Vitabile. "So it's making sure your communication's on point. We want to go fast, so we've got to get the right calls out and just trust the person next to you is going to do it and do it to the best of his ability."

    We wondered how the silent cadence works -- A tap? A nod? A look? -- and instead got a Kodak moment that went down like this. Vitabile skirted the question the first time it was asked and looked down with a you've-got-to-be-kidding-me expression when it was repeated. "I'm not at liberty to say," he now said in resonant tones and then, as those around him laughed, he broke into a broad grin and added, "That's something I always wanted to say, actually."

    The Badgers` defense has been as stingy as their offense has been productive, surrendering an average of just 14.6 points and 272.6 yards per-game.

    The most obvious force on that defense is fifth-year senior linebacker Chris Borland, who leads the Badgers in both solo (26) and total (46) tackles. He has also forced 13 fumbles in his career, just one short of the FBS record of 14. "Man, he's fun to watch. He's the real deal. He's the real deal," Fitzgerald said of him. "From what I've seen on tape, now I haven't watched everybody, but from what I've seen on tape so far he's as relentless a football player I've seen this year, maybe in a couple years. He's got a great ability to diagnose. He's got terrific eyes. He's very physical. He's fast. He's just got a relentlessness with the way he plays. He's a lot of fun to watch. I've got a twinkle in my eyes for linebackers. To see him play the way he plays, it's the way you're supposed to play the position."

    AND FINALLY, one last stat, just so you know it ain't the old three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust rushing attack: The Badgers lead the nation in runs of 50-plus yards (six), 60-plus yards (five) and 70-plus yards (four).


    Be the first to know what's going on with the 'Cats -- Follow @NU_Sports on Twitter, become a fan of Northwestern Athletics on Facebook, subscribe to the NU Sports Express e-newsletter and sign up to receive promotional text alerts for the latest news, schedule updates and video and to interact with NU. For more information on following specific Northwestern teams online, visit our Social Media page!