UW football: Offensive balance creating headaches for opposing defenses

2011-10-11T05:45:00Z 2014-11-10T15:41:47Z UW football: Offensive balance creating headaches for opposing defensesTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 | Twitter: @TomMulhernWSJ madison.com

Most offenses in football strive to achieve balance between the run and pass.

"That's always been the goal of most offenses, to be as balanced as you can," University of Wisconsin linebackers coach Dave Huxtable said. "It is easier said than done."

Especially in college football, where practice time is limited and young players can only handle so much.

So, true balance is often an elusive and ephemeral concept that exists mostly in the minds of coaches but is nearly impossible to obtain.

Then along comes the UW offense, which is coming about as close as possible to achieving true balance.

UW is the only team in the country averaging at least 240 yards rushing and passing this season.

The Badgers rank ninth nationally in rushing, averaging 242.6 yards per game, and 28th nationally in passing with a 280.4 ypg average.

The only other top 10 rushing team with similar balance is Baylor, which ranks 10th in rushing (239.2) and 14th in passing (323.6).

None of the other top 10 rushing teams ranks higher than 62nd in passing.

It's much the same when looking at the top 10 passing teams. The highest any of those teams rank in rushing is Texas Tech at No. 46.

Balanced offenses have become a trademark of offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. Since 1946, UW has averaged at least 200 yards rushing and passing in the same season three times, including twice (2007 and 2009) under Chryst. The other time was in 1993.

The Badgers came close last season but had so many blowouts they didn't need to throw much. They averaged 245.7 yards rushing and 199.5 passing.

"Over the last couple of years we've been able to do that," UW coach Bret Bielema said of the balance. "The running game benefits from our passing game and, obviously, vice versa."

Still, the arrival of senior quarterback Russell Wilson is taking it to new levels.

Chryst, in his seventh season running the UW offense, stopped short of calling this his most balanced unit.

"We'll see at the end of the year," he said. "I think you feel good about both (running and throwing) and going to either one, if you had to."

To Chryst, ideal balance is not measured in yards, or in the ratio of runs to passes. For him, it comes down to being able to win a game with the run or pass if needed.

"You'd like to say at the end of the year you did both efficiently," Chryst said. "That's balance. It's not plays, it's not yards, it's that you're not one-dimensional.

"The reason why you want to be balanced, if somebody is doing something to take away one, can you (still) win the game? At some point, you're going to have to win it on the ground. Can you also do it in the air?"

Former quarterback Scott Tolzien, the starter the last two seasons, was an efficient and accurate passer.

Wilson is that and more. He leads the nation in pass efficiency rating at 216.80 and has completed 74.8 percent of his passes, which would break Tolzien's single-season school record of 72.9 set in 2010.

In addition, Wilson has a stronger arm, which opens up the entire field. He is also a threat to make plays on the run, putting even more stress on a defense.

"Russell Wilson has given our offensive staff the opportunity to throw the ball around a little bit more," Huxtable said. "When a team runs the ball as well as we do offensively, out of different formations and run plays they have, then you to have to defend the pass game we're presenting right now, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense."

Most of the teams that have had success in recent seasons putting up big numbers running and throwing have been up-tempo spread offenses like Baylor and Oregon.

What makes the Badgers unique is they combine a power running game with a pro-style passing game.

When Northern Illinois went all out to stop the run in the third game, Wilson threw for a season-high 347 yards.

When UW needed to protect a lead in the second half of the last game against Nebraska, it rushed 30 times for 170 yards.

What's a defense supposed to do against that?

"Having worked with Paul for four years, good luck," defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said. "We have to deal with that every spring and fall camp.

"He's going to find a way to attack you. You better have answers for your weaknesses because he's going to find out what they are pretty quick."

The Badgers are on an unprecedented offensive roll, scoring 40 or more points in seven of their past nine games. The best hope for keeping it going is the balance created by Chryst.

"Paul is special, that's the bottom line," Partridge said. "Paul Chryst is the best offensive coordinator I've had a chance to work with. ... He's as good as there is in the game."

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