Three things we learned…Michigan

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Saturday’s top-15 matchup with Michigan was one of the bigger games to take place at Camp Randall the past couple seasons. Wisconsin responded in a big way. The Badgers ended up winning 35-14 over the Wolverines, and are now ranked in the top ten for the first time since week three of last season entering the BYU game.

In this weekly installment, let’s rattle off three items that I think we learned about the Badgers after their game Saturday.

After struggling at times to run the ball against Central Michigan, many fans were somewhat concerned with the offensive lines ability to churn yardage like years past. Those 199 yards rushing by Wisconsin against a MAC team seem to now be part of the past.

After a bye week to prepare, the Wisconsin offensive line responded in a big way against much tougher competition.

The Badgers were able to run for 359 yards and five touchdowns. The team averaged 6.3 yards per carry, with nine different players carrying the ball.

Jonathan Taylor was able to accumulate 203 yards on 23 carries, including a beautiful 72-yard scamper during the first quarter where he was untouched.

While the passing game wasn’t needed much due to the effectiveness of the run game, the offensive line only surrendered one sack while giving Jack Coan the time needed to complete 81% of his passes.

Many people wondered if the Wisconsin offensive line could continue to dominate like that could at times the past 25 plus years heading into the season. If Saturday’s effort is any indication, the answer is yes. Yes they can.

Last season did not go as expected. Paul Chryst noted in fall camp that he and the coaching staff reflected on last years short comings and made some changes in the off-season. So far this season, Chryst’s play calling and aggressiveness have been notably different than a season ago.

On Saturday, the Badgers won the opening coin toss and elected to receive in the hopes of getting an early lead. On that initial drive Wisconsin was forced into an early fourth down and one yard to go on their own 34-yard line.

Chryst opted to go for it, and Wisconsin not only converted, but completed a six and half minute drive that ended in a Jonathan Taylor touchdown.

Chryst has displayed increased creativity in play calling this year with various new formations and added wrinkles. So far in the first three games Wisconsin has used more shotgun and pistol, including having Jonathan Taylor and Garrett Groshek both in the backfield.

The shotgun formation has allowed the Badgers to use zone read concepts and the run/pass option.

On Saturday Wisconsin unveiled the “hippo formation” which brought in three extra offensive lineman. One as a blocking tight end, and then two as offset fullbacks just behind the right guard and right tackle. This formation allowed Wisconsin to plow forward in short yardage situations against Michigan.

Chryst also utilized a speed option with Jack Coan and Jonathan Taylor to get a first down in the red zone.

The heightened aggressiveness and creativity are undoubtedly a fresh look for fans, but also is indicative of the confidence that Paul Chryst has in this year’s team.

Last year Wisconsin turned the football over far too much. The defense also did not create as many turnovers as they did two years ago. Both of those issues lead to Wisconsin struggling at times and an 8-5 record.

For context, the offense averaged 1.8 turnovers per game last year, and on the flip side averaged 1.9 takeaways on the defense.

This year Wisconsin has improved in both areas.

The offense has limited turnovers so far, as Jake Ferguson and Nakia Watson’s fumbles against South Florida are the only turnovers surrendered. The defense is averaging 2.7 turnovers per game. This includes Matt Henningsen’s defensive touchdown, something that did not happen in any game last season.

The area that has been the biggest difference has been interceptions thrown. Last year Wisconsin averaged an interception for every 22 pass attempts, good for 10th worst in all of FBS.

This year? Zero interceptions thrown.

Jack Coan has done a tremendous job of taking care of the ball, an area that he told the media in the fall that he really tried to focus on in fall camp and in the spring.

If Wisconsin can continue to have a strong positive turnover margin going forward it could go a long way in helping the Badgers win the Big Ten west division.

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