Position change benefiting both Warren Herring, Badgers

MADISON, Wis. — They have not developed a clever moniker. No “Smash and Dash” or “Thunder and Lightning.” Nose guards don’t garner much publicity anyway, so Wisconsin’s Beau Allen and Warren Herring are fine keeping it that way.

“We’ll talk about it,” Herring said. “I don’t know. I don’t have a nickname yet.”

What they do have is a unique combination of skills that has allowed each to flourish on the field. Most already knew the veteran Allen would be a space eater. But perhaps the biggest surprise on the Badgers’ front line has come from Herring, who is Allen’s backup this season. Herring has brought a contrasting style up front that has made it difficult to prepare for the Allen/Herring duo.

“He’s a big brute,” Herring said of Allen. “I’m sort of a faster guy. Having Beau beating people up and me coming in doing my thing, it’s a nice 1-2 combination.”

Allen has recorded 11 tackles this season with half a sack and a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Arizona State. Herring, meanwhile, has nine tackles, but he leads the team in tackles for loss (4 1/2) and sacks (three). No other Badgers player has more than one sack.

During Wisconsin’s game against Ohio State, Herring tallied three tackles and sacked quarterback Braxton Miller twice for a loss of eight yards. One of his biggest plays of the season came when Ohio State faced a third-and-4 from Wisconsin’s 28-yard line in the fourth quarter. Herring chased down Miller for a loss of seven yards and forced the Buckeyes out of field goal range. Ohio State, which held a 31-21 lead, punted the ball away.

“I thought he controlled the line,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “He knocked back the center, who is a very good center, and that’s a very good offensive line. They come in highly decorated as an offensive line, obviously. I think Warren exploded the one time on the sack and made a great play. 

“I’m fired up on the direction that he’s headed. He’s taken the coaching and I think his technique has improved and now his athleticism is moving forward because of that.”

Badgers defensive line coach Chad Kauha’aha’a said he challenged his linemen a few weeks ago to make big plays that would affect the game — an area he felt was lacking early in the season. Herring in particularly stepped up to the task. He recorded three tackles in his first three games but now has six tackles in the past two games.

“Warren has been on a hot streak,” Kauha’aha’a said. “It’s been a pleasant surprise. And there’s a lot of carryover from practice. Warren is such a coachable guy. He takes coaching so well. He’s carrying a lot of that stuff over and it’s working, and it’s good to see that happen. It’s good for the front.”

Added Herring: “It gives me a lot of confidence. Coming off last year, I only had one sack against Purdue. That’s a big step for me. Gaining confidence and putting out as much effort as I can. God willing, I’ve got three sacks so far, so hopefully that continues to add up.”

Herring’s performance has been especially noteworthy because he began his career as a defensive end. When Andersen was hired in December and brought along a new coaching staff, Herring admitted he still expected to play on the end. Kauha’aha’a, too, had a plan to keep Herring at his natural position.

But Herring was asked to switch to nose guard at the behest of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the mastermind behind Wisconsin’s new 3-4 defensive scheme. So Herring bulked up, going from roughly 280 pounds to his listed weight of 294 pounds.

“With coach Aranda’s knowledge of the defense, he was absolutely right on what was happening,” Kauha’aha’a said. “So we moved him and my whole deal was to put the weight on him to help him be a little bit stouter on the run, which showed up in camp. It’s shown up in the game.”

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Herring’s numbers is that he sees the field less than half the time. Allen does such a good job of clogging running lanes by drawing double teams that he is difficult to take off the field.

During the Ohio State game, Kauha’aha’a estimated Allen took about 40 defensive snaps, while Herring received roughly 28. It is a ratio Kauha’aha’a doesn’t intend on changing this season, and in a sense, it maximizes both players’ abilities. 

“Beau is our run stopper,” Kauha’aha’a said. “That’s what Beau brings to the table. When Warren gets his chance, he takes advantage of every opportunity he gets. He takes advantage of his reps.”

Herring, a redshirt junior, said he was perfectly fine with the ratio for now. Allen is a senior, Herring said, and he had earned the right to be on the field. 

Plus, he noted, they are at their best when bringing different looks up front — nickname or not.

“It’s been successful so far, so it’s been a pretty good transition,” Herring said. “There’s still a lot of things I’ve got to learn. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m on my way.”

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