There is less genius than ruthlessness in a Steve Spurrier offense the way Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda explains it.
“I see an offense that can go from the power run game to the spread attack. I see an offense that can go Wildcat, unbalanced, has some fly sweep elements. They can do any of these things where if you do not stop it, then they will live in that,” Aranda said Monday as the No. 19 Badgers prepare to play No. 8 South Carolina in Wednesday’s Capital One Bowl. “There are a bunch of tributaries where you have to put a dam in it.”
If you do not, Aranda explained, you’ll have a flood on your hands, and Spurrier will keep pumping water down that same path until you’ve drowned. Steve Spurrier Jr., the Gamecocks wide receivers coach, has seen his father water log plenty of opponents with a willingness to run the same play again and again and again.
“The Missouri game, the little screen we hit 10 times that game? We practiced that maybe twice that week. We said, ‘We may call that once.’ All of a sudden, that was probably the play of the game,” Spurrier Jr. said. “The quarterback draw in the Clemson game? We talked about it a little bit, but I don’t think we ran it once in the first half, ran it seven times in the second half, averaged 10 yards a carry.”
While the marquee battle in Wednesday’s game will be the Badgers running game against South Carolina’s defensive front seven, Aranda and the Spurriers have spent their week figuring out how things will play out when the Gamecocks have the ball.
“They play some man stuff that we think we can get open on, but they’re a good team, they really are,” Spurrier Jr. said. “Nobody did much against them. They are big, strong, physical, play tough, play downhill.”
Wisconsin is sixth in the country in total defense, allowing 294 yards per game, and fifth in scoring defense, allowing 14.8 points per game. Aranda, the former defensive coordinator at Utah State and Hawaii, used some of his extra time in bowl preparation calling friends who are more familiar with Spurrier and asking for a scouting report.
“They say when you get down to it, it’s the simple concepts they run,” Aranda said. “They just run it better than you can defend it sometimes. There are times you know something is coming but you still have to stop it. The other thing that comes to mind are the gadgets and unpredictable plays that are so well-timed. It is a challenge.”
South Carolina has averaged 453.5 yards per game this season, the 33rd-highest total in the country. Its 34.1 points per game rank 31st in the country.
“When I look at South Carolina’s offense I see great athletes, but what really strikes you is the quarterback,” Aranda said. “He is the heartbeat of it.”
Designing a scheme to put pressure on senior Connor Shaw while at the same time not allowing him to scramble for first downs has been stressful, Aranda said.
“A lot of people have tried. Not a lot of people have been successful,” he said. “You have to be able to affect the quarterback and, while you do that, don’t let him out of the pocket. Those two things don’t always go hand in hand. The mix is the answer.”
The Badgers will rush three, four or five at times, play man coverages and zone coverages and see what works, Aranda said.
“There are players all over the field. You can’t afford to overlook any one guy, but I think Shaw is what really makes it go,” Wisconsin All-America linebacker Chris Borland said.
Both sides agree a traditional running game probably won’t be the answer for South Carolina.
“I think we stop the run,” Borland said. “We have done that all year. Our front seven is the strength of our defense. That’s usually the most important thing in the game so that’s our strength.”
The Badgers are fifth in the country in rushing defense, allowing 101.3 yards per game on the ground. South Carolina averages more than 205 rushing yards per game.
“You are not going to see us running right up the middle very much,” Spurrier Jr. said, “but we certainly feel like we have some things that if we execute well, we can go play.”