For all the talk about Bret Bielema's issues with hurry-up no-huddle offenses, you'd think this was some sort of cultural clash that we'd never seen before. As if Bielema and Gus Malzahn are embarking on a new, ultimate chess match with the winner declared King of Football Philosophy.
If this were some sort of WWE event it would be promoted like "NEVER BEFORE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE! FOR THE ONLY TIME THIS YEAR! SATURDAYSATURDAYSATURDAY NOVEMBER 2ND! BIELEMA! MALZAHN! ONLY ONE STYLE CAN REIGN SUPREME!"
But actually, yeah, Bielema's faced those offenses before.
I thought it'd be worthwhile to take a look and see how Bielema's Wisconsin teams fared in a few games against these offenses. We'll take a look at the 2012 Rose Bowl vs Oregon, and the 2008, '09, and '10 games against Rich Rodriguez's Michigan teams.
(Yes, RichRod's Michigan teams are considered disasters, but he is considered one of the fathers of this type of offense, they were really the only notable Big Ten team running it, and Denard Robinson was a lethal quarterback who put up more than his share of stats and points)
The Rose Bowl was against one of Chip Kelly's best Oregon teams. In fact, many Wisconsin fans didn't even expect the Badgers to win.
Before the game, here's what the Wisconsin site had to say about the style differences:
The Badgers were set to face the Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks, widely known for their high-octane offense as well as their sometimes outlandish uniforms. In short: the Ducks are quick and small, while the Badgers are big and slow. Same old, same old.
While there is an element of truth to that moniker, the reality is somewhere in the middle. The Ducks aren't a one-phase show: they can be physical on defense and make plays on special teams. And while the Badger offense is one of the best in the nation, they have their fair share of dynamic playmakers who break the mold of a slow and plodding offense. So with two highly-regarded offenses facing off in the bowl game of all bowl games, the key question shifts to the other side of the ball: which defense has a better chance to slow down the opposing offense?
The Ducks seem like the favorites to get more key defensive stops. While the Badger defense is highly rated statistically, blown coverages and and too many missed opportunities have tripped up the team in several games this season.
After a sub-par showing against Michigan State in the championship game, the Wisconsin defense has their work cut out for them if they want to contain LaMichael James and the rest of the Ducks.
Oregon won the game 45-38, which means Oregon did against Wisconsin what they did against pretty much everyone else they played. Going into the Rose Bowl, Oregon was averaging 46.1 points per game. They scored on seven of 12 possessions, racking up 621 yards in the process. 345 of those yards were on the ground, where Oregon averaged 8.6 yards on each of their 40 carries.
However, even though you can never completely absolve a defense that gave up 45 points, it was the offense that made the game's defining blunders. Wisconsin may very well have won if not for these two late turnovers:
That fumble goes out of bounds 99 out of 100 times.
The game was tied at halftime, and the Badgers actually led by a field goal going into the fourth quarter. But even though they actually had more passing yards than the Ducks, the late miscues cost them the game.
What does this mean? Oregon was an elite team. Only LSU in the season opener was able to hold them to under 30 points (Ducks scored 27 in that season opener). But even though Wisconsin was unable to slow them down, they were strong enough on offense to keep up with them.
So if Bielema goes up against an elite hurry-up team with a great team of his own, he can at the very least be competitive in the game, and if the ball bounces the right way, he has a great chance of winning.
That was the only time Wisconsin allowed 40+ points that season. They gave up 30+ three other times, losing two of those three.
Here are the highlights from the game.
The previous season, Bielema took another one of his best teams to Ann Arbor to take on a decent Rich Rodriguez Michigan team. The Wolverines were 7-3 going into the game on their Senior Day.
But Wisconsin completely ran them off the field. The Badgers were up 24-0 at halftime and won 48-28.
The Badgers completely dominated the first half. They only allowed Michigan four possessions, two of which were three-and-outs. Wisconsin held the ball for over 20 minutes in the half, keeping the ball away from Denard Robinson as much as possible.
But Robinson exploded after halftime. The Wolverines scored touchdowns on four of their first five possessions of the second half, but that was never enough to come any closer to the Badgers than 10 points.
Robinson ended the game with 121 rushing yards on 22 carries and was 16/25 for 239 passing yards. He scored four total touchdowns but did throw one interception. Michigan ended the game with 442 total yards.
Interestingly, after the game, Bielema told reporters some things that should ring pretty familiar to the conversation we've been hearing the last couple of weeks. According to the ESPN recap:
"What we do isn't pretty," Bielema said. "A lot of places, there's a certain emphasis on being pretty and being individualized on players."
That seemed to be a shot at Michigan, especially after Bielema was asked about Denard Robinson's 360-yard, four-TD performance.
"For them, that's great," Bielema said. "We would never recruit to that."
Even though Robinson was able to fill his stat sheet, Michigan was still held under their average scoring output, which was 37.7 points per game heading into the Wisconsin game.
Michigan's 28 points was the third-most allowed by Wisconsin that year. They gave up 30+ twice (to Michigan State and Iowa) and split those two games.
What does this mean? Bielema's Badgers relied on a potent offense to win this game. The defense played well in the first half but Michigan's outburst in the second half was still enough to win a lot of games. But Wisconsin was the more talented team, and they played well enough that they blew out the Wolverines. Arkansas fans may not have to worry so much about a less talented team jumping up against them because of their scheme.
In 2009, Michigan was just 5-5 going into the game in Madison, while Wisconsin was 7-2 and ranked 20th. The Badgers were hoping for a revenge game after blowing a lead in Ann Arbor the year before, and they eventually got it with a 45-24 victory.
However, the game was tight until late in the third quarter. The Woverines were trading scores with the Badgers until that point, even leading the game just before halftime after Michigan returned a Wisconsin fumble for a touchdown.
What's interesting about this game is that Michigan is actually the team that played worse as the game wore on. In the first half, the Wolverines had four drives of eight-or-more plays, but just one in the second half and it was their first drive after halftime.
Meanwhile, the Badgers only had one such drive in the first half, but their first four second-half drives were all 8 plays or more, eating up nearly 23 minutes of second-half clock and scoring 24 points, enough to earn the comfortable victory.
This was back in the memorable Tate Forcier era, and he completed most of his passes, going 20/26, but totaled just 188 yards through the air. Denard Robinson had 5 carries for 36 yards.
In the end, Wisconsin gained over 200 more yards than Michigan, beating them both through the air and on the ground.
What does this mean? One of the benefits of the no-huddle offense is that it's supposed to wear down a defense, but in this case, Wisconsin actually played better later in the game.
This Wisconsin team was much better than that Michigan team, but, again, the Wolverine's offensive scheme didn't make much of a difference. The Wolverines' 24 points fell right in with Wisconsin's season average.
No doubt the 2008 Michigan game is one of the more disappointing games in Bielema's Wisconsin tenure.
The Badgers jumped out to 19-0 halftime lead, but Michigan stormed back late in the third and fourth quarters to take the lead and won the game 27-25 after Wisconsin's 2-point conversion attempt failed in the final minute.
Wisconsin gained over 100 more yards, ran more plays, picked up more first downs, but couldn't get anything going in the second half. It was a sloppy game with 9 combined turnovers, and noteworthy because it was Michigan's 500th game in the Big House.
Michigan's 27 points fell on the low side of the average points Wisconsin gave up to Big Ten teams that year. Every Big Ten opponent other than Illinois scored at least 20 points.
The 2008 team was Bielema's worst team in Madison, going 7-5 overall and just 3-5 in the Big 10.
In 2008, Michigan was just 3-9. It was one of the worst Wolverines teams ever. That certainly stands out, but as Bucky's 5th Quarter told the Oregon site in the link earlier:
Bielema went through his own growing pains in 2007 and 2008, but ultimately he learned from those mistakes and it led to the stability and accountability I mentioned before. I think overall this has resulted in less inexplicable losses. The Badgers take care of business against the teams they should beat, especially at home where they’ve developed a habit of completely blowing out every team that visits Madison.
Here's the highlights, mostly from Michigan's comeback in the second half.
What does all of this mean?
No huddle offenses have been able to gather yards and points against Bielema's teams, but it's hard to say with any confidence that they had much more, if any, greater effect against the Badgers than any other offense.
Only Chip Kelly's 2011 Oregon team, the squad with LaMichael James, which may have been his best Ducks team, was able to score more than any of the other teams Wisconsin played that season. The Rodriguez teams fell into Wisconsin's season average.
Wisconsin's offense is what made them successful in those games. Even though they were known as a more traditional power running team, their "normal American football" put up points and yards at a rate often associated with the same hurry-up offenses Bielema is fighting against. That style won games by dominating early (2010 Michigan game) and late (2009 Michigan game). They ran with Oregon for pretty much the entire game, which is no small feat.
I don't know what this means exactly in terms of the new "rivalry" between Gus Malzahn and Bielema, other than I think it's clear Bielema won't be afraid of going against those offenses.
One trend of teams with no-huddle offenses is that their defenses haven't been great, which made it easier for Bielema's big linemen and running backs to force their way down the field, so it has balanced out.
In short, Bielema has shown that with equal or greater talent, his teams can play against no-huddle teams just fine. Rodriguez got the better of him the first time they played, but was blown out the last two times.
Bielema may or may not be looking forward to November 2nd more than anybody else, but at least we know he won't be scared of it. And he will be prepared for it. The only question is whether Arkansas' current talent level, with a bunch of unknowns on the roster, will be able to keep up. Even if they don't this year, it's hard to imagine Bielema won't build the program to the level where they will, at the very least, be able to keep up with it.
Stay tuned for Part II in the coming days, when we'll go further in-depth with the Wisconsin guys at Bucky's 5th Quarter.