NCAA Football Analysis: Does Russell Wilson to Wisconsin Make Sense?


By Michael Felder 

This saga started in the spring and has finally come to an end. NC State fans are moving forward with Mike Glennon and now Russell has decided to take his talents to Madison, Wisconsin.

So, how much of a gamble are we talking here for Russell Wilson and the Badgers?

Not a big one.

Fairly anticlimactic right? Perhaps the answer would be different if Wilson had decided to go to Auburn and take on the task of absorbing Gus Malzahn's offense in a summer and fall camp. Maybe then we'd be looking at Casino Top 10type decision. As for now we're looking at the prospect of a kid going from Tom O'Brien's "we want to run first" offense to the Wisconsin "we will run first" offense.

What that means for those worrying about Wilson taking it in? Don't worry. We're talking terminology here, not concepts. For those that don't understand what that entails is Russell looking at the same offensive personnel sets, same formations and same conceptual plays just labeled different things. He's still going to be coming out in 21 and 12 people the bulk of the time (21 = 2 RBs & 1 TE; 12 = 1 RB & 2 TEs) at Wisconsin. He is still going to go through the same read progressions in determining who to throw the ball to. He is still going to be ID-ing the same folks on the defensive side of the ball.

Essentially Russell Wilson is going to be doing the exact same thing he did at NC State and, more importantly, the exact same thing that Scott Tolzien did a season ago in leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.

So what's the big deal about him heading to Wisconsin if he is going to be doing the same thing that Tolzien and Sorgi and Bollinger have been able to do for the Badgers? How does he, as many say, make Wisconsin the clear cut leader in the Big 10 just by his mere presence if he's doing the same job other quarterbacks have already done?

Simple, while that was the ceiling and the max effort from the Tolzien's and Sorgi's of the world for Russell Wilson the hand the ball off and don't make mistakes is a starting point. He is capable of picking up where those guys stopped and elevating the entire squads level of play.

Read more for why Wilson is such a step up...

To better understand what I mean there we have to first better understand what Russell Wilson is as a player. He isn't a dual threat. That's why he isn't at Auburn. Russell Wilson is a pro style quarterback with a little extra. He's more Steve Young or Donovan McNabb than old Michael Vick or Vince Young. Put in the college context let's look at the numbers (your mind just got blown by that statement huh?).

Russell Wilson's career rushing numbers are 1,070 yards for 17 TDs. 388 yards in 2008, 260 yards in 2009 and 422 yards in 2010. To put those numbers in perspective Cam Newton put up 1,473 yards and 20 TDs last season. Denard "Shoelace" Robinson put up a robust 1,702 yards and 14 TDs in his coming out year. Terrelle Pryor, playing in a more pro styled offense than the previous two ran for 754 yards and 4 TDs and the young gunner Taylor Martinez of Nebraska posted 965 yards for 12 TDs a year ago.

Wilson is 332 yard shy of his closest "dual threat" counterpart and that's Terrelle Pryor. He's closer to Scott Tolzien's -30 rushing yards (452 yards difference) than he is to Newton (1,051 yards difference), Robinson (1,280 yards difference) and Martinez (543 yards difference). Hell for his career he is still some 400 yards behind Newton's one year performance and 600+ yards behind Robinson's output.

This is why folks who've watched Russell Wilson play didn't see Auburn as a real possibility. The kid is 5'11" and 200-ish pounds, he isn't about that run first, power through defensive ends, shake off linebackers type of game. That's not what this kid does. 

What he does do is buy you time. What he does do is get you first downs. What he does do is absolutely frustrate the defense. What he does do is absolutely infuriate the defensive coordinator and change the entire practice dynamic.

Russell Wilson buys you time with his legs, if no one is open the kid is going to sidestep a defensive end, he'll juke a hard charging linebacker or he'll shake off an on-coming safety to give that receiver the extra step or three he needs to get open. Plus the added element of confusion that comes when he breaks contain or the play lasts longer than the expected 2-3 seconds before the ball comes out.

After Wilson has bought some openings for his receivers in the first quarter and a half your defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach are going to be losing their mind Big Ten fans. They'll make sure that your guys are selling out on coverage. That you're staying with your man or sinking and staying in your zones as the plays develop. You'll try to contain this kid with a four man rush and keep him in the pocket. Then we'll see him put those 422 rushing yards he had last year into practice. Everyone is covered down and then Russell Wilson squirts through on 3rd and 7 for a first down and a 19 yard gain. Everyone is covered down and Wilson goes for 22 yards on a 2nd and 12. 

That is what Russell Wilson does. And as the game wears on it becomes more and more maddening for fans and most importantly for coordinators and players. You can do everything perfectly and Wilson, because he's just fast enough to get by your defensive end or evade the spying linebacker, can still crush your soul.

Now here's the part that no one gives enough credence to but it is truly one of Wilson's greatest benefits and most likely the biggest undiscussed impact the kid will make for the 12 teams on his schedule; he changes practice in two major ways. First and foremost teams that aren't "dual threat" squads do not have a guy on their team that can mimic what Wilson does on the scout team. That means you're either playing your normal scout quarterback for straight passing plays and then putting in a RB/WR with a little QB experience to mimic the scrambling OR you're playing a new scout team quarterback who you hope can give your squad a good look.

Don't underestimate the impact either of these will have on a team. Russell Wilson lines up at quarterback every single play. Every play he gets under center or in the shotgun and you have no clue if he's going to hand it off, throw it quickly, hold the ball and run around for 8 seconds before dumping it to a tight end OR hold the ball and dance for 8 seconds and then go get his free 16 yards for a first down. Switching quarterbacks to mimic that in practice doesn't work. You know what's coming and you adjust accordingly. The games don't work in that fashion.

Playing an inexperienced scout team quarterback means errant passes which means a bad look for your defensive backs entering game week and it also means less reps being taken as they try to work out the kinks.

Secondly and in addition to the scout team issues that Wilson is going to cause you've got the actual gameplan and the hours your defensive coaches are going to spend on Sunday and Monday pulling their hair out trying to figure out what to do with him. Then the hours spent on Tuesday and Wednesday figuring out if what they just installed in practice is going to actually work. Then the time spent Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the game praying that their guys understand how the plan works and that they buy 100% into the plan. 

Then knowing even then that there will be breakdowns. Oh and lastly, the in game hair tugging moments where they have to remain composed for their kids to remain composed as the inevitable breakdowns come at crucial points during the game. Your coaches have to stay the course, because every time they get frustrated and they take a gamble they stand a good chance of losing. You'd have to check the casino reviews because Wilson honestly does not lose often. He's always coming up aces.

The kid is a problem folks. He's going to gobble up your practice time, he's going to force defensive coordinators to alter their coverage patterns and whether that means changing personnel to play more nickel or staying in more, vanilla, base packages to combat all the dangerous things that Russell Wilson does for a football team. Wisconsin fans, get excited. Big Ten schools that aren't Wisconsin, know that the kid is beatable but he's going to frustrate you a few times a game; win or lose.

I saw Jerel Worthy's quotes about Wilson not changing anything and while I admire his confidence I think I'm going to stick with the words of a guy that spent some time chasing the infuriating quarterback, never able to really wrangle the guy. 

Wisconsin fans get excited, this is what Wilson can do for you and your program. You're getting a damn good football player.

Get more great college football analysis over at In The Bleachers.


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