MADISON, Wis. — The first key to executing a successful jet sweep at No. 6 Wisconsin can be summarized in two words by receivers coach Ted Gilmore.
“Run scared,” Gilmore said Wednesday.
Speed to beat defenders to the edge and vision to find the right hole help, too. The eighth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2, No. 7 CFP) will be watching for the sweep when they face the Badgers (10-2, No. 6 CFP) on Saturday night in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship game.
“The first thing that goes through my head is get up field and get whatever you can,” Wisconsin receiver Jazz Peavy said. “When you see a lot of green grass like that it's just run, run, run.”
Just like last week in the 31-17 win over Minnesota .
Peavy went 71 yards down the right sideline to the Gophers 11. Two plays later, tailback Corey Clement barreled into the end zone from 2 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:42 left.
“It happens so fast you can't really think about it,” Peavy said.
The jet sweep has been a tool at Wisconsin in the past, spanning coaching staffs. But it was really dusted off this year on Oct. 15 in the 30-23 loss in overtime to No. 2 Ohio State. Peavy, a junior who has emerged as a key offensive weapon, gashed the Buckeyes for 70 yards rushing on six carries.
Peavy has reached “a point where he belongs and he can make those plays,” Gilmore said. “I tell him all the time to trust himself.”
The receiver has left such an impression that the play has a new nickname: the “Jazz sweep.”
Whatever it's called, the Nittany Lions want to put a stop to it.
A defense reinforced by the midseason returns of linebackers Brandon Bell and Jason Cabinda from injuries has helped hold opponents to less than 47 yards rushing in three of the last five games. But the Nittany Lions got gashed by sweeps, shovel passes and play-action in a 42-39 loss to Pittsburgh in September. Cabinda, the starting middle linebacker, didn't play in that game.
“It's something we kind of plan on happening,” cornerback John Reid said Wednesday when asked if Penn State would be brushing up on defending the sweep.
The sweep is just one of a series of tweaks that coach Paul Chryst — a former Wisconsin offensive coordinator — has made since midseason, when the running game became more productive.
With Wisconsin coming off a bye week, Ohio State didn't look prepared for Peavy running the sweep. The next week, Chryst started using senior Bart Houston again at quarterback. The former starter began taking a few series each game, alternating with Alex Hornibrook, the redshirt freshman who took his job.
Houston has embraced his role, often giving the offense a spark. A former option quarterback in high school, the right-handed senior has more mobility and presents defenses a different look from Hornibrook, a left-handed pocket passer.
With Hornibrook listed as questionable with a head injury, Houston may get the call again to start against Penn State.
After rotating offensive linemen for much of the first half of the season, Wisconsin's front five has more stability. Clement remains Wisconsin's go-to back and best breakaway threat, though speedy freshman Bradrick Shaw has taken more carries later in the season.
The Badgers lead the FBS in time of possession (35:12). The ball-control offense sets the tempo, and keeps a big-play defense fresh.
“What you can't allow this type of offense to do is ball control, eat up the clock, just grind you down with three- and four-yard plays down the field,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
It's all part of the coaching chess match that will play out on Saturday.
The jet sweep isn't necessarily an integral part of the playbook each week, but just the act of Peavy running from his wideout position toward the quarterback before the snap could cause a distraction to the defense — enough so that a handoff up the middle to Clement inflicts just as much damage.
“It really opens up and spreads out the offense,” Clement said. “Whether it's a phony or it's going to be given to Jazz, it keeps defenses on their toes.”