UW play-action bewilders NIU

first_imgJames White (center) attempts to slip by two NIU defenders Saturday, something he did often in gaining 126 total yards a score.[/media-credit]CHICAGO – Opposing defenses are going to have to learn not to turn their backs on Wisconsin’s passing game.Time and time again in Wisconsin’s (3-0) 49-7 win over Northern Illinois (1-2) Saturday, quarterback Russell Wilson feigned a handoff and connected downfield to an open teammate, taking advantage of the tendency of Northern Illinois’ safeties to fill the holes against Wisconsin’s well-known run game.Midway through Wisconsin’s second drive of the game, on a handoff to running back James White, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis was flagged for a block in the back when the Northern Illinois defender quickly turned his back on the wide receiver to cover the run.The play caught the eye of UW head coach Bret Bielema and his coaching staff, who then deduced that the play-action should leave targets open downfield.“That first penalty on Abby, the safeties were turning their shoulders right away to fill on the run game and we can’t put our hands on them – Abby did,” Bielema said. “But as soon as they do that, the counter-action to that is, they can’t see what our receivers are doing. Once they started doing that, that’s why I went to the play action.”Easily the best example of that strategy’s success came in the third quarter with the Badgers on the Huskies’ 9-yard line. Wilson faked the hand-off to running back Montee Ball, turned around and tossed a touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen, who was standing upright and alone in the endzone.Nobody was within five yards of the redshirt sophomore by the time the ball landed in his hands.“That was nice,” Pedersen said. “We’ve been working on that all week. We saw teams bringing that safety down hard and everything and it popped and worked just the way we hoped it would.”Two of Wilson’s three touchdown passes stemmed from the play-action while several other chain-moving throws – including a 38-yard pass to Abbrederis and a 55-yard pass to Pedersen – did, as well.The long passes to Abbrederis and Pedersen were two other examples of the play-action’s effectiveness, as both plays saw the two Badgers slip by all three levels of NIU’s defense before making the grab.In completing 23-of-32 passes for 347 yards (and one interception) Wilson was able to hit seven targets – four of which gained at least 50 yards receiving.Abbrederis led the team in that category, with six catches for 83 yards, while Nick Toon scored two touchdowns on top of his five catches for 75 yards.Pedersen and fullback Bradie Ewing, meanwhile, combined for 115 yards on six receptions.“It’s a positive thing for our football team, that a lot of guys can make a lot of great plays,” Wilson said. “Just giving the ball to the right guy, that’s my job, to just facilitate the ball to the right guy at the right time and make plays when I need to. So that’s a positive thing and we’re doing a great job of doing that right now.”Wilson also combined the play-action with rolling out of the pocket – sometimes appearing by design and other times as improvisation.With Northern Illinois determined to stop Wisconsin’s running backs, Wilson’s ability to expand the game outside of the pocket – to throw or tuck and run – went a long way in helping UW gain a season-best 621 yards of total offense.Wilson gained an additional 37 yards on the ground on five attempts and avoided getting sacked on the day, leading his head coach to come away from Saturday’s win with the highest of praise.“Russell Wilson, he’s a guy that he knows the plan, he knows how to stick to it, but he can adapt very well,” Bielema said. “Very creative. Some of those plays that he got us out of with his feet were extraordinary.“He’s playing at a high, high level, if there’s somebody that’s better out there right now I’d like to see him compete.”last_img

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