Source: Lake Geneva Regional News

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Sticking with what works
Badger run game imposing its will, but new element opens things up

by Mike Ramczyk

November 01, 2012

As the Franklin head coach said Friday night after Badger's 28-21 win, you know what's coming but you still can't stop it.

Defensive coordinators and head coaches alike have faced this harsh reality all season when dealing with the high-octane, misdirection-fueled Badger football rushing attack.

And Friday night was no exception. It was a good, old-fashioned, knock-'em-down, drag-'em-out beating by the Badger big boys up front. Badger racked up 316 yards on the ground, led by fullback Robert Johnson's 124 and quarterback Peter Krien's 118.

Play after play, Badger blew Franklin defenders off the line of scrimmage, six yards here, four yards there, another nine there. Off a broken play, Krien even broke out for a 36-yard touchdown run.

But it was this respect for the running attack, which can hit a defense through all gaps and at all angles, that opened things up for the resurgent Badger passing game. Krien utilized quick passes to Rob Slagle and Matt Reynolds, and eventually things opened up so wide that the 6-foot, 184-pound signal-caller found a wide-open Andy Cychner deep down the left sideline for a 30-yard touchdown. Cychner, who has caught a touchdown pass in each of Badger's playoff victories, was virtually uncovered on the play.

Badger is averaging 343.6 rushing yards per game in 10 games this year (8-2), and not only is the triple option producing yards but also spreading out defenses that already don't know where the ball is going.

It also helps that several starting offensive line are back in the mix, just in time for the playoffs. Krien, who leads Badger with 1,221 rushing yards this season, is excited about the offensive potential for Friday's home contest against Kenosha Bradford.

"They were keying on our run game so much, that we were able to expose them with pop passes," he said of the Franklin win. "Because of the success we had, Kenosha Bradford will have to respect the pass more, opening up holes for the run game, and we are excited about that."

"Our run game has been so dominant because we have gotten most of our O-line back from injuries, and we have just matched everyone's intensity," said Johnson, who has run for 1,070 yards this season and had a 3-yard touchdown run against Franklin.

Krien agreed with Johnson, saying the offensive line is starting to play more aggressively and confidently.

On many plays, it is up to Krien to determine where the ball goes. Badger coach Matt Hensler said earlier in the season that most of the time he doesn't even know where the play is going. With their emphasis on fakes, timing and mass confusion, it can be extremely difficult for a defender to find the ball, especially with how Krien is able to hide behind his taller lineman.

If things aren't working between the tackles, Krien can keep the ball and find his own lane or pitch it to Matt Reynolds (393 yards). Andrew Allen (228 yards) has also emerged at fullback, and he is able to spell Johnson, who also starts at linebacker. Krien is an ironman himself, playing under center and at safety.

"On any given play, I can audible to any play in our playbook depending on what the defense comes out in," Krien said. "That is all based on attacking the bubbles that we see in the defense. As far as reads go, I make around 70 to 100 reads every day in practice, so multiply that by four years and you can see where Robert and I get pretty comfortable running the option."

Johnson, who said hard work in the offseason and the will to win has helped Badger reached the third round of the playoffs for only the second time in school history, gives it his all on the field. He considers Krien a close friend, so it translates nicely in the trenches.

"Personally I have just gone out there and played to the best of my ability and what happens happens," he said. "I just let everything take care of itself. Me and Peter have a pretty close relationship off the field. We pretty much clicked instantly because we just have that kind of chemistry."

Krien said the approach against Franklin was one of focus and execution. From the get-go against the Sabers, the Badger offense dictated the game and was able to run anything it wanted.

"We came out of the gates swinging," he said. "We weren't worried about what the other team was going to do, we were only concerned with what we were going to do and that is what led to our success."

Johnson said that same intensity will be needed to knock off Bradford (7-3), the defending Division 1 state champion. The Red Devils have had trouble stopping the run at times this season, and they haven't faced a ground unit quite like the Badgers.

"We are going to have to play just as hard as we did Friday and maybe even harder," Johnson said.

Krien, who only attempted 50 passes in Badger's first eight games, has thrown for three touchdowns this postseason, one more than he had in the regular season.

For as successful as the ground game has been all season, it could even get better, and that is a downright paralyzing proposition for any defense in the state.