Vince Biegel, Jack Cichy Discuss Wisconsin's Switch to a 3-4 Defense

Jake Kocorowski

On Thursday, AllBadgers.com published an article on how some Badgers linebackers believed Wisconsin prepared them for the NFL. With so much perspective, we decided to break out this content into a small series. On Sunday afternoon, we discuss how a change in defensive scheme helped UW, from the perspective of two Badger 'backers.

In December 2012, Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Fayetteville and the Arkansas football program. Later that month, athletic director Barry Alvarez eventually landed on Utah State's Gary Andersen to take over as the team's head coach. 

With Andersen came Dave Aranda to take over as defensive coordinator, but the players on that side of the ball would have to learn a new base scheme.

Though Andersen abruptly left after two seasons for Oregon State, and Aranda departed a year later after the 2015 season to take over the defensive coordinator role at LSU, the change to a 3-4 look (three defensive linemen, four linebackers) is one successful legacy of that brief era that still remains to this day.

According to outside linebacker Vince Biegel, "the 3-4 defense is the best thing that ever happened in my career."

Biegel initially started his Wisconsin career in Bielema's 4-3 scheme but redshirted during the 2012 season. He, along with future Big Ten linebacker of the year Joe Schobert, eventually worked at outside linebacker as reserves behind Brendan Kelly and Ethan Armstrong in 2013 before assuming starting roles the year after.

From Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., Biegel finished his time as a Badger with 21.5 sacks and 39.5 tackles for loss before starting his career in the pros. A fourth-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, he recorded 59 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year with the Miami Dolphins.

He stated he is "forever thankful" for Andersen for bringing the change in scheme to UW.

"The reason why I think the 3-4 defense is so great for Wisconsin is because the types of kids that are in a state of Wisconsin are a 3-4 type of caliber linebacker, outside linebacker for our defenses," Biegel said last week. "I think Wisconsin will continue to use that 3-4 defense for years to come because of the pool of talent coming out of the state of Wisconsin and the caliber of players they recruit. 

"I think Wisconsin fits a 3-4 scheme perfectly. I think Wisconsin is going to continue that tradition for a long time, and I'm excited about the guys who are continuing to come out for years to come." 

After Aranda left, the base 3-4 defense has stayed with Justin Wilcox and currently Jim Leonhard at the coordinator spot, and it has continued to thrive.

According to UW's game notes for the 2020 Rose Bowl, its defense had been the third best in the FBS in points allowed (17 points per game) since the switch to the 3-4 in the beginning of the 2013 season. In that same timeframe, it sat fourth in yards allowed per contest (295.2), trailing just the Clemson, Alabama and Michigan.

2013 was the first for walk-on Jack Cichy in the program. Though he never played in the previous 4-3 scheme, he has seen the progression of the defense as a previous member of that linebacker unit who now enters his third year with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

From his perspective, UW has the ability to get more athletes on the field.

“Especially with guys who are bigger, like you got a guy like Vince, or a guy like Leon (Jacobs) or guy like ‘Schobs’ (Joe Schobert) who when they were outside at Wisconsin, they were usually on the bigger side of most of the people on the field," Cichy said last week. "So having athletes like that, and then you have athletes on the inside -- whether it's (Ryan) Connelly, T.J. (Edwards), me, Chris (Orr) -- just be able to fly around, and it's nice to see (Jack) Sanborn really kind of coming into his own there. 

"The biggest thing I think with the 3-4 is you get more athletes, you get more playmakers on the field, and then it's kind of like we can attack from all these different angles.”

Cichy previously mentioned how Wisconsin prepares players mentally. In his first year in the NFL, he worked in a 4-3 before Tampa Bay switched to a 3-4 last season. He described the change as "it's kind of like just hitting the ground running."

"Everything really lines back up, and you're just kind of like, this all makes sense."