CFB Preview: Joe Schobert and the Wisconsin Defense

In order to keep their division title hopes alive, the Wisconsin Badgers must rely on senior linebacker Joe Schobert to slow down the Northwestern Wildcats offense. Mark Schofield turns to the Badgers’ film this year to highlight how Schobert is an athletic veteran who flashes excellent pure strength.

The Big Ten West division title is close to decided, as the Iowa Hawkeyes just need one more win out of their final two games to clinch the division, or one loss from Wisconsin. The Badgers host Northwestern this Saturday, and if the home team is to emerge victorious, and keep their slim division hopes alive, they will need to slow down the Wildcats’ offense that includes superback Dan Vitale. Another player who will play a prominent role in effort is edge rusher/outside linebacker Joe Schobert.

A Heady Veteran

A former walk-on, the senior has become a focal point of this Wisconsin defense. He lines up primarily as an outside linebacker in their base 3-4 scheme, but will drop down to the line of scrimmage at times and will align as a defensive end in four-man fronts. He ranks among the leaders in FBS in sacks (9.5, ranking 7th) and tackles for a loss (15.5 Tied for 11th). One trait that stands out when watching him on film is that he is a very heady, instinctual player. Here,  Iowa lines up with the quarterback under center and 21 offensive personnel on the field, with an i-formation in the backfield and a slot to the right with the tight end on the inside. Wisconsin has their base 3-4 on the field, with Schobert (#58) off the ball and splitting the distance between the right tackle and the TE in the slot:SchobertPlay1Still1

Watch how he times his blitz, leading to one of his 15.5 tackles for a loss:

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Schobert times this perfectly, getting his momentum forward and hitting the line of scrimmage just before the ball is snapped. This allows him to cut into the backfield and drop the running back for a loss.

Against Iowa, the senior’s experience and technique paid off in forcing a turnover. The Hawkeyes face a 3rd and 6 near midfield, and put quarterback C.J. Beathard (#16) in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with trips formation to the left and a single receiver split to the right. The Badgers have their 4-2-5 package on the field, and sugar the A gaps before the snap. Schobert is lined up at a defensive end spot across from the right tackle:SchobertPlay2Still1

As indicated, both linebackers drop into coverage but Schobert comes down the line and through the A gap on a T-E/TEX stunt. Watch how he runs this, staying tight to the line of scrimmage and then changing direction quickly, through the gap and bursting into the backfield – and Beathard:

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The well-executed stunt, and hit on the QB, force a poor throw and an interception.

Coverage Skills

While he is best utilized in attacking backfields, when tasked with dropping into zone coverage and handling receivers in man coverage, Schobert demonstrates an ability to adapt well and stick to receivers and read the flow of the play. On this snap against Nebraska, the Badgers have their 3-4 defense on the field and Schobert is on the line of scrimmage outside the left tackle. The defense indicates Cover 1 before the play. The Huskers have 11 offensive personnel on the field, with trips formation to the right. The offense tries to run a slant/wheel combination on the weakside, with the receiver running a slant route to create traffic and impede Schobert’s ability to cover the running back on the wheel:

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The LB shows good awareness to avoid the initial contact, and then is athletic enough to stick on the running back and prevent a big play in the vertical passing game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong (#4) is forced to come down to an underneath route and manages to convert the third down, but here, Schobert does his job… well.

Strength

In preparing for this article I solicited opinions on Schobert from some of the members of the evaluation community. One of the traits that was mentioned by others was strength. When watching the linebacker you can see how he translates pure strength into an advantage during live action. Nebraska faces a 3rd and 9 on their own 21-yard line, and put Armstrong in the shotgun with 11 offensive personnel set in a wing TE trips to the right and a single receiver split left. Wisconsin has their 4-2-5 nickel in the game and Schobert is lined up outside the wing TE:SchobertPlay4Still1

The OLB rushes the passer with RB Terrell Newby tasked with blitz protection. Schobert nearly sacks the QB by driving the running back into the QB:

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Now, you’d like to see the defender finish the play with the sack, but the strength and pressure here flush Armstrong from the pocket, where he attempts a late throw that sails out of bounds. But this play is a great illustration of the strength and power Schobert brings to each play.

A Concern for Saturday

One thing that the linebacker needs to be aware of on Saturday is how Northwestern structures their run game, often with misdirection or using the split zone design. This is where they use Vitale to block across the formation and against the flow of the offensive line, to chop down the defensive end.

The Wildcats might try and use this scheme to expose Schobert when he is the backside edge defender, using this play between Wisconsin and Nebraska as a guide. The Huskers face a 3rd and 2 near midfield and line up with the quarterback in the shotgun and 11 offensive personnel, while the Badgers have their 4-2-5 defense on the field with Schobert lined up at defensive end:SchobertPlay5Still1

The Huskers use jet motion here, with the receiver on the right coming toward the football presnap. They then use a cross blocking scheme with the bulk of the offensive line flowing to the left at the snap, but the TE and left guard blocking in front of the running back who aims for the right edge:SchobertPlay5Still2

Watch as Schobert first flows to the inside, before tracking back to the ball carrier:

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He does a decent job of working to the RB after his initial movement, thanks to some help from the rest of the defense. But better execution from the offense, as Northwestern has shown, might expose Schobert a bit on similar plays.

Strength, Redux

At the end of the day, the trait that flashes most when watching Schobert is his pure strength. Here, this is on full display when he uses a bull rush technique against Iowa RT Ike Boettger (#75):

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The LB simply drives himself into the chest of the tackle, shoving him backwards and putting him on skates. As Boettger falls to the turf, Schobert is able to disengage and bring down the QB for one of his 9.5 sacks.

The clash between the Northwestern offense and Wisconsin defense will be fun to watch on Saturday. The game is also a chance for two seniors, Vitale and Schobert, to display some of their positive traits before NFL scouts and evaluators. The matchup is also a shot for the Badgers to keep their slim Big Ten West hopes alive, and their defense will need a big afternoon from their senior linebacker to help with that effort.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

Video courtesy of @DraftBreakdown, @RoloEdits, and @RobDonaldsonOTC. Special thanks to those who provided thoughts and insight on Schobert, including @smorton101368, @Alexander1Great, @MontelNFL, @jledgePFS, @CBauerNFLDraft, @jmcobern1, @JuMosq and @CoxSports1. Give all those guys a follow on Twitter.

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