qb-scott-tolzien

Revisiting Paul Chryst, the Badgers Offensive Coordinator

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez put the football head-coaching job up for grabs on Thursday morning. It took less than 24 hours for local reporters to announce former Badger offensive coordinator, and current Pitt head coach, Paul Chryst, would be named the new head coach.

That announcement will have to wait until Dec. 17, but you can bet there is plenty to learn and news to come between now and then.

Even though Chryst left us just three short years ago, in the world that Badger fans have been living in, it feels like a lifetime ago.

So, as the Badgers prepare to welcome back a native son to head the football program, let us take a look back at the last stint Chryst had as the Badgers offensive coordinator. He was on staff from 2005 to 2011 and things were definitely interesting during his seven-year run at the UW.

Here’s a look at each season the Badgers had with Chryst at the helm of the offense under Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema.

First let’s take a look at the statistical timeline of the Chryst OC era:

Year Scoring Off. Rushing Off. Passing Off. Total Off.
2005 34.3 (14th) 168.2 (37th) 228.4 (50th) 396.5 (45th)
2006 29.2 (T-26th) 161.7 (37th) 211.5 (50th) 373.2 (35th)
2007 29.5 (49th) 200.8 (21st) 208.0 (72nd) 408.8 (46th)
2008 27.5 (47th) 211.2 (14th) 188.1 (84th) 399.2 (37th)
2009 31.8 (25th) 203.8 (15th) 213.1 (66th) 416.9 (30th)
2010 41.5 (5th) 245.7 (12th) 199.5 (75th) 445.2 (21st)
2011 44.1 (6th) 235.6 (11th) 234.3 (61st) 469.9 (14th)

What immediately jumps out at you is that no matter the situation at quarterback or running back, Chryst found a way to balance out his offense. He also never was too pass-heavy or too run heavy (outside of 2010, of course).

However, let’s take a look at each season and the how it all took place.

2005 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: John Stocco — 60.1 comp. %, 2,920 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs
Leading RB: Brian Calhoun — 1,636 yards, 22 TDs; 53 receptions, 571 yards, 2 TDs
Leading WR: Brandon Williams — 59 receptions, 1,095 yards, 6 TDs

DANIELS RAIOLA STOCCO URBIKThe offensive story was one of the Badgers having perhaps the greatest collection of talent at the skill positions it has ever had. John Stocco was entering his junior season after barely missing a 2,000-yard passing season in his first as a full-time starter in 2004, there was a great running back behind him in Brian Calhoun and he had some huge weapons in the passing game in Brandon Williams (WR) and Owen Daniels (TE).

As for the season, Stocco would set numerous passing records — including the single-season yardage, completions and touchdowns record. Calhoun would set the fifth highest single-season rushing mark in UW history, set the single-season UW record for TDs (22) and would have the most attempts in a season in UW history (only to be broken by Montee Ball in 2012). Williams managed the third-best season in receptions and yardage, while ranking 7th in average per reception for a year in school history.

It’s hard to argue with all of that happening on the offensive side of the football. Given the horrific two-year spell without Chryst, it was a welcome homecoming to say the least.

 

2006 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: John Stocco — 59 comp. %, 2,185 yards, 17 TDs, 6 INTs
Leading RB: P.J. Hill — 1,569 yards, 15 TDs, 5.0 avg.; 18 receptions, 197 yards, 1 TD
Leading Receiver: Travis Beckum — 61 receptions, 903 yards, 5 TDs

Wisconsin was sent reeling a bit in the offseason, as Calhoun made an unexpected early jump to the NFL following his 2005 season. That left a lot of question marks behind Stocco, who also had to replace the all-time leading receiver in Wisconsin football history.

If ever there was a year that told us Wisconsin was truly “Running Back U” it would be the 2006 season. That’s because the Badgers found another 1,500-yard rusher in a true freshman named P.J. Hill, and the Badgers also found a star to help replace the missing production of Brandon Williams in little-known tight end Travis Beckum.

Sure, the Badgers offense took a slight dip in scoring and passing offense on the year, but one should’ve expected that given all that was lost from the previous season. Instead of completely falling apart, the Badgers offensive coaching staff identified some quality players whom most had never heard of and got them to a 12-1 season (of course a stellar defense and missing Ohio State also had a lot to do with that).

Beating an SEC opponent, in this case Bielema’s future employer (Arkansas), in the bowl game, put the icing on the top of a fine football season.

 

2007 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: Tyler Donovan — 58.0 comp. %, 2,607 yards, 17 TDs, 11 INTs
Leading RB: P.J. Hill — 1,212 yards, 14 TDs, 5.2 avg.; 14 receptions, 89 yards, 1 TD
Leading Receiver: Travis Beckum — 75 receptions, 982 yards, 6 TDs

Remember that Wisconsin is “Running Back U” and all that…but you wouldn’t have known it also wasn’t developing some quality in the pass game either after seeing the 2007 season unfold.P.J. Hill

After Stocco graduated to the NFL, it was Chryst’s first go-round with a new quarterback and senior Tyler Donovan stepped in to the role adequately at a minimum. He had a limited amount of time at the helm the previous season and proceeded to nearly top Stocco’s single-season passing record set two seasons before. Donovan threw for the second-best single-season total (at the time) in school history and his 193 completions were good for third in a season at UW.

P.J. Hill continued to be an impressive back, but UW was also developing some good depth behind him as well. Freshman running back Zach Brown came in to the Badgers fold and rushed for 568 yards on 119 attempts in his first campaign with Wisconsin.

We also saw that Chryst would find a way to use the weapons at his disposal, no matter where they came from in 2007. That’s because the top two receivers were tight ends Beckum and Garrett Graham, who combined for 105 receptions, 1,310 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.

It wasn’t always pretty, as one would expect with a new quarterback in the fold and a team replacing All-American left tackle Joe Thomas too. Overall, it was a good season, but some saw this team slipping a bit and weren’t too happy about it.

 

2008 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: Dustin Sherer — 54.5 comp. %, 1,389 yards, 6 TDs, 5 INTs
Leading RB: P.J. Hill — 1,161 yards, 13 TDs, 5.1 avg; 7 receptions, 72 yards, 0 TDs
Leading Receiver: Garrett Graham — 40 receptions, 540 yards, 5 TDs

If people weren’t happy about the 2007 season, the 2008 season was an unmitigated disaster by Chryst’s standards to come at UW. That’s because after the graduation of Tyler Donovan, Wisconsin couldn’t find an answer to kick-start the passing game to save their lives. Whether it was supposed hotshot transfer Allan Evridge or junior Dustin Sherer, nothing seemed to work.

Evridge was the starter for half the season, and Sherer finally took over on Oct. 25th as the full-time starter. The two combined for a pretty bad season by previous QB standards at UW, throwing 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

There was little doubt that the cloud at QB overshadowed everything else that took place in the 2008 season, and many were wondering if Chryst was slipping in his fourth year at the helm of the offense at Wisconsin.

It was hard to argue it could be on the way down with the second-straight slip in rushing yards by Hill and the debacle that was the multi-QB season.

 

2009 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: Scott Tolzien — 64.3 comp. %, 2,705 yards, 16 TDs, 11 INTs
Leading RB: John Clay — 1,517 yards, 18 TDs, 5.3 avg.; 9 receptions, 61 receptions
Leading WR: Nick Toon — 54 receptions, 805 yards, 4 TDs

img12519872A year after many fans started to really grumble over Chryst’s offenses, the Badgers found lightening in a bottle (or so it was thought at the time) during the 2009 season. Suddenly the Wisconsin offense was putting up over 30 points a game and was a completely balanced offense again.

It all came down the QB battle in the fall, one that was won by junior Scott Tolzien. It proved to be a very good decision as the Badgers would win 10 games that season, something that had happened only five other times in program history. Tolzien was a big part of that, putting up the second-best passing total in season and the third-best completion percentage in school history.

A budding sophomore star helped him with a massive last name in UW lore — Toon. Nick Toon busted out after a promising freshman campaign to lead UW in receptions and tied for fifth on the single-season receptions record list at the time with 54 on the year.

Wisconsin appeared to have an offense that was on the upswing with a solid set of receivers, a tight end that could help and an efficient quarterback who learned from early mistakes and got better as the season went on.

 

2010 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: Scott Tolzien — 72.9 comp. %, 2,459 yards, 16 TDs, 6 INTs
Leading RB: James White — 1,052 yards, 14 TDs, 6.7 avg.
Leading Receiver: Lance Kendricks — 43 receptions, 663 yards, 5TDs

What a season 2010 was the Badgers, as they hopped aboard and offensive juggernaut and a defensive rocket…one that got them all the way to the Rose Bowl and a co-Big Ten championship for the first time since 1999.

Tolzien had the fourth-best season passing in school history and managed to set the school record for completion percentage. It was just all because of him, as the Badgers overcame an injury to Nick Toon to see a receiving group that had five players with 20-plus receptions on the season.

The balance didn’t stop there though, as Wisconsin had two 1,000-yard rushers in freshman James White and junior John Clay. Sophomore Montee Ball nearly joined to become the first trio of 1,000-yard rushers in history, but came up just four yards short at 996 yards. He ended up leading the team with 18 touchdowns, while the team ran for 48 total touchdowns on the ground in 2010.

While the season ended with the Badgers losing a heartbreaker to the TCU Horned Frogs, any question about Chryst being “the right guy for the job” at Wisconsin were put to rest with one of the best seasons of offense in school history.

 

2011 Offensive Story:

Leading QB: Russell Wilson — 72.8 comp. %, 3,175 yards, 33 TDs, 4 INTs; 338 yards, 6 TDs
Leading RB: Montee Ball — 1,923 yards, 33 TDs, 6.3 avg.
Leading WR: Nick Toon — 64 receptions, 926 yards, 10 TDs

What would Chryst and the Badgers do for an encore? After all, there’s no way it could top the 2010 season, right? There was no Scott Tolzien and no experience back at quarterback at all. There also was no John Clay to help the Badgers ground and pound like they were likely to need to do.

140127121940-russell-wilson-montee-ball-wisconsin-badgers-super-bowl-2014-single-image-cutThat all changed when former N.C. State quarterback Russell Wilson picked Wisconsin as the school he would transfer to for his final year of eligibility. The marriage of Chryst and Wilson set off fireworks rarely seen at Wisconsin (in fact mostly never seen before) and got the Badgers to the top of the national heap.

Wilson’s dynamic ability added with the double threat of Ball and White became too much for most teams to stop. The transfer sensation would become the only 3,000-yard passer in UW history and set multiple other single-season records that year.

He would see two of his receivers, Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis, catch over 50 passes a piece to become the first Badger receiver duo to do that too.

Oh, and then there was Montee Ball’s record-setting season. He topped the Big Ten single-season TD record and then went on to tie the all-time single-season TD record held previously by some guy named Barry Sanders.

Wisconsin would outshoot the Michigan State Spartans in the inaugural Big Ten championship game, something most UW offenses couldn’t have done before the 2011 season.

After two dynamic seasons and a lot of proof that a balanced pro-style offense could work at the highest level, Chryst got his head coaching chance and took off for Pitt following a second Rose Bowl loss in a row.

 

Overall Take:

It’s hard not to remember the last two seasons with Chryst because the players were so special, his play calling was ridiculously on point and he had developed some talented quarterbacks in his time. However, a look back also reveals that Chryst’s offenses weren’t always record setters either.

Sandwiched in between the opening years and final years were three OK seasons at best. What is clear is that Chryst operates best when he’s got an efficient quarterback at a bare minimum and a run game that has multiple options.

Putting aside all the great feelings of those last two seasons, Chryst comes to Wisconsin in much the same position he was just before this offense took off in 2009. He’ll have to find a quarterback that can make this offense balanced, something that has been a tricky scenario over the past year and a half.

He’ll also have to find a complement to Corey Clement, who must be a happy running back given the fact that Chryst isn’t afraid to go with a workhorse type situation.

If Chryst can find what he’s looking for at QB quickly, this offense has some massive potential in front of it. The trick will be finding the right coaching staff to get a virtually new offensive line and a young (and unproductive so far) wide receiver group up to speed quickly.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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