The University of Wisconsin football team fakes the jet sweep so often that opponents might feel comfortable ignoring that wide receiver sprinting across the formation.
But when the Badgers see that happening, they strike. Taking out two kneel-downs to end the game, the Badgers ran 64 plays at Nebraska last week. Jet motion — a receiver running across the formation and being near the quarterback at the time of the snap — was involved in 16 of them, one-fourth of UW’s plays. Six of those were handoffs, totaling 67 yards, and 10 were fakes.
Jet motion wasn’t nearly as prevalent in the Badgers’ offense against Iowa on Nov. 9, with four of 69 snaps (5.8 percent) excluding kneel-downs, using the tactic. However, the one jet-sweep handoff UW tried turned into a 17-yard touchdown run by receiver Danny Davis.
“It’s a common play for us, man. We take pride in it, especially as receivers. When we get it, we want to make something shake with it, do something fun with it. It’s really fun, I hope to continue to get them and make big plays out of them,” Davis said.
Receivers on the run
Handing off or faking a handoff with jet motion has helped the Badgers threaten defenses on the edge, and when so much of an opponent’s attention is going to be on tailback Jonathan Taylor between the tackles, creating another element to worry about makes No. 14 UW more difficult to defend.
The fakes also can create a moment’s hesitation for defenders, which is all the line needs to be able to block the play effectively, center Tyler Biadasz said.
“We just found areas where they’re playing us tough in the game, and wanted to keep them honest,” Biadasz said. “I think the jets help them not necessarily close down gaps, but made sure they were honest to not just one play attacking them, but multiple, and making their backers really read J.T. and (quarterback Jack) Coan in the backfield.”
Multiple factors are working well when offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph calls for a jet-motion handoff, but the biggest key has been the blocking up front. Davis said he believes UW has the best line in the country, and the work those players have done to create rushing lanes for receiver handoffs is a bit different than what they do on inside runs.
Tight ends Jake Ferguson and Cormac Sampson have combined with tackles on either side of the line to generate push and turn the edge of the defense on these plays. That decreases the distance a receiver must run parallel to the line of scrimmage before turning up field to gain yards. On some of the Badgers’ jet sweeps, linemen away from the play block in the opposite direction of the receiver running the ball in order to deceive defenders into thinking a run with Taylor is coming their way.
“You can do a pretty good job of seeing when you have it and when you don’t. The guys are good blocking it. They make things go because they get it. They understand it,” Rudolph said. “There’s a flow to the whole thing. And the run’s been good off of it, and I think that’s the reason why it’s worked the best, the whole package.”
Davis played running back for a time in high school, so taking a handoff in the backfield isn’t new to him. But for other receivers, getting the ball behind the line of scrimmage can take some getting used to.
A key component to jet sweeps being effective is a receiver’s ability to read his blocks and cut up field at the correct time and in the correct spot.
“The way you’re reading, sometimes you want to circle it (around the edge), but sometimes the way the line and the backs are blocking, you have to cut it up inside,” senior receiver A.J. Taylor said. “I guess it is a little different, but at the end of day it’s playing football, reading what you can and coming to life.”
Rudolph said one element to jet-motion plays that often goes overlooked is the responsibility Coan has.
UW runs jet motions in a variety of formations, both with Coan under center and in the shotgun. He has to ensure the timing of receiver coming in motion and the snap of the ball are on point. That hasn’t always been the case, as even on Davis’ touchdown run against the Hawkeyes, the handoff was almost botched because Davis got to the ball a hair too quickly.
“Timing it up with that receiver, and there’s different receivers doing it, so that’s a big component,” Rudolph said.
“And then I think just really trusting it. The one thing we used to do is we’d get into it, and it’d look good, it’d look good, it’d look good, you get to a game, and it’d be like, ‘Oh, everything got faster.’ I think (receivers coach Ted Gilmore has) done a great job in helping those guys to trust it. We’ve probably repped it enough to help them as well.”
One of the biggest advantages jet sweep plays give the Badgers is providing an easy way to get its handful of fast, talented receivers the ball with a chance to get into the open field.
“It opens (defenses) up a little bit,” A.J. Taylor said. “You know we’ve got weapons and assets coming that way, you’ve got to watch ‘em both. It takes a little bit of pressure off J.T. Anything helps.”
No. 14 Badgers vs. Purdue: Who has the edge?
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
The Badgers enter this game with their run game rolling.
They churned out 300 yards on the ground against Iowa two weeks ago, and put up 320 last week at Nebraska. Junior running back Jonathan Taylor (above) had 454 of those yards as he climbed the Big Ten and national record books with his performance against the Cornhuskers. That trend has a good chance of continuing against Purdue, which is in the bottom half of the Big Ten and in the middle of the pack nationally with 172.2 rushing yards allowed per game.
UW leaned on its ground game to seal wins in its past two games, and did so while using mostly two-tight end or two-running back sets. Wide receivers have been a big help in the run game as well, adding an element of speed via jet sweeps.
UW receiver Danny Davis scored twice in the fourth quarter to force last year’s meeting into overtime, and the Badgers came away with a triple-overtime victory. Look for Davis to play a significant role in this year’s game as well.
Purdue’s defense is led by linebacker Ben Holt, whose 99 total tackles are second in the Big Ten. Holt, a graduate transfer from Western Kentucky, is the son of Purdue co-defensive coordinator Nick Holt.
EDGE | UW
WHEN THE BOILERMAKERS HAVE THE BALL
A season with a great deal of promise for Purdue has been derailed due to injuries to its top offensive weapons.
It started with a September game against Minnesota, when quarterback Elijah Sindelar (broken collarbone) and receiver Rondale Moore (left hamstring) went down. Jack Plummer filled in for Sindelar, but he broke his ankle earlier this month against Nebraska.
Aidan O’Connell (above) is now under center for Purdue, and he's engineered winning drives in the fourth quarter against Nebraska and Northwestern the past two weeks. Freshman David Bell has become the go-to receiver, as his 65 catches, 791 yards and five touchdowns are all team-bests. Payne Durham, a 6-foot-5 tight end, has been a threat in the red zone, scoring four touchdowns on eight catches. UW’s secondary will be tested with this passing attack, which ranks second in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers don’t run the ball much or effectively (76.8 yards per game), which means the Badgers’ pass rush will have a lot of chances to get after O’Connell.
If senior Zack Baun can register ½ a sack or more, he and Chris Orr (10) will become the first pair of Badgers to tally 10 or more sacks in the same season since Tarek Saleh (14) and Bryan Jurewicz (10) in 1996.
EDGE | UW
UW had one of its better days of the season on special teams against Nebraska. Sophomore Aron Cruickshank (above) boosted his kick-return average to a Big Ten-best 28.4 yards after taking a kick 89 yards to the end zone, sophomore Collin Larsh went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, and senior punter Anthony Lotti pinned the Cornhuskers at the 4 with one of his two punts.
Moore’s injury took away Purdue’s best kick/punt returner, but Jackson Anthrop has taken over both roles with some success. J.D. Dellinger is 10 of 12 on field goals this year, including 10 of 10 inside 40 yards. Purdue uses multiple punters — Zac Collins for rugby-style kicks and Brooks Cormier for traditional punts — and both average about 40 yards per try.
EDGE | PUSH
The Boilermakers were able to retain coach Jeff Brohm (above) this year after Louisville pushed hard to hire him in the offseason, and he’s delivered a good coaching performance despite the injuries his team has suffered.
Half their losses are one-score defeats, and they won two straight Big Ten games before a bye last week. Brohm’s creativity on offense and quick production from freshmen has shown his skill in getting players ready on the fly.
UW’s Paul Chryst has his team back on track and in a position to win the Big Ten West Division if it can win out. How defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard adjusts his unit to the spread offense it sees this week will be critical after allowing a season-high 493 total yards at Nebraska.
EDGE | UW
The Badgers’ stretch run got a shot of energy when Iowa knocked off Minnesota last week, giving them a path to the Big Ten West Division title once again. That, coupled with the final game at Camp Randall of the season, should give UW a wave of energy to use.
The Badgers also know what can happen when overlooking an opponent, so they won’t take Purdue lightly. The Boilermakers are trying to make a push for bowl eligibility — they need to win out to get to six wins.
EDGE | UW
STATE JOURNAL PICK
Too much is riding on this game for the Badgers not to come out with energy and get an early lead. Purdue will make some plays, but Jonathan Taylor and the offensive line will churn out another win to set up a winner-take-all matchup at Minnesota. Purdue’s losing streak against UW will reach 14 games.
BADGERS 35, BOILERMAKERS 21
THE NUMBER (UW)
6.97: Yards per play over the past two games for the Badgers
THE NUMBER (PURDUE)
42.6: Pass attempts per game for the Boilermakers, which leads the Big Ten and is third-most in the FBS
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Third-down conversion defense: UW’s mark of .242 leads the FBS, even after Nebraska went 6 of 12 last week on third down
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
Fumbles recovered: Despite forcing 11 fumbles, Purdue’s three fumble recoveries rank tied for 122nd in the nation