Former Badgers head coach Gary Andersen isn’t thought highly of in Wisconsin. Despite finishing in the top 25 twice in his short tenure, that Gary Andersen era wasn’t a successful one. Nobody forgets that he abruptly resigned and took a less prestigious head coaching job at Oregon State. While Wisconsin never nosedived like his Oregon State and Utah State teams eventually did; They had to deal with his public relations problems and putting in-state recruiting in shambles. Even Barry Alvarez isn’t shy about his criticism of Gary Andersen when it came to that. Thank goodness Paul Chryst prioritized fixing that on day one. While Andersen certainly made many errors; the one good thing that came out of his tenure was he brought the 3-4 defense to town.

When Gary Andersen was hired, he brought along his then defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda would change Wisconsin’s defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. This would be a more aggressive defense that puts more pressure on the quarterback. Aranda’s new 3-4 scheme also would feature changing looks and aggressive blitzing linebackers. This allowed Wisconsin to get more athletes and playmakers on the field and be able to blitz from multiple angles.

Prior to Andersen and Aranda’s arrival in Madison, Wisconsin was always a 4-3 defensive team. Both Barry Alvarez and Bret Bielema had always used and had success with it. However, Wisconsin’s defense during its last year in the 4-3 had trouble forcing turnovers. With how much the offense struggled to score points in Bielema’s last season, a change was necessary.

Aranda got everyone to buy in to the change from day one despite them all playing in the 4-3. Most of the time whenever a team is switching from the 4-3 to the 3-4 alignment; a transition period often happens. This is where the defense is in a learning period, figuring out who fits the scheme and what plays work the best. However, someone forgot to tell the Badgers defense.

The scheme has been an instant success for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s defense finished in the top 20 in all four major defensive categories; scoring defense (sixth), total defense (seventh), rushing defense (fifth), and passing defense (17th). Wisconsin would finish the year with an overall record of 9-4 and 6-2 in the Big Ten. They made an appearance in the Big Ten Championship and the Capital One Bowl and finished the year inside the top 25. Every season, linebackers like Leo Chenal, Chris Borland, Vince Biegel, Zach Baun, T.J. Edwards, and more have thrived. Currently, Nick Herbig seems like he will be yet another linebacker that is successful in the 3-4.

Ever since that great defensive year in 2013, Wisconsin has kept the 3-4 defense as its base alignment. Even after Dave Aranda departed to become LSU’s defensive coordinator; Justin Wilcox and currently Jim Leonhard have kept the 3-4 as the Badgers base defense. Since switching over to the 3-4, Wisconsin has won a total of 84 games, four Big Ten West division titles, and five bowl games. The Badgers have also only ranked outside the top ten in total defense just once. The 2021 season might have been the finest version of the Badgers’ defense yet.

Gary Andersen may have failed at a lot of things during his time with Wisconsin. However, without him bringing Dave Aranda to Madison; Wisconsin’s defense might not have become what it is today. With everything Gary Andersen got wrong; changing the defense to the 3-4 was one big thing he got right.

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Eric Katz

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