Week three of the spring position previews shifts focus from Jim Leonhard’s defense to the offensive side of the football, a unit also welcoming many new faces to the mix.
I don’t need to be the one to say that last year’s Badgers disappointed for many reasons. This lack of success can partially be credited to the team’s offense only scoring 29.7 points per game, good for 61st in the nation, after scoring 33.8 points per game during the team’s outstanding 2017 season.
The underlying stats, however, paint a different picture.
An important statistic in evaluating offensive production is yards per play. This stat takes the total yards gained by an offense and divides it by the number of plays the unit ran during the course of a season.
The 2017 Badgers, a team that went 13-1 and fell a drive short of the College Football Playoff, averaged 6.1 yards per play.
The 2018 Badgers, a team that went 8-5, averaged 6.4 yards per play.
The drop in offensive production on the scoreboard was not due to a lack of production by the team as a whole, but rather due to untimely turnovers and a lack of efficiency in the red zone and on special teams — Rafael Gaglianone, the team’s kicker, made an atrocious 58 percent of his field goals.
So, now that Offensive Coordinator and Offensive Line Coach Joe Rudolph has lost much of his 2018 and 2017 talent to graduation and the NFL, it’s time for him to rebuild his unit in order to bring the Badgers back into national relevance.
The first positional units of the offense previewed are the offensive line and backfield.
Badger fans know the offensive line has been a pivotal cog in Head Coach Paul Chryst’s and Rudolph’s offensive system, one premised on dominating the line of scrimmage and running the football.
Last year the line boasted NFL talent across the board in Jon Dietzen, Michael Deiter, Tyler Biadasz, Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards.
Football Outsiders’ end-of-year rankings had the unit as the best in the nation, outperforming the great offensive lines of Alabama, Oklahoma and other top programs.
Looking forward to 2019, however, only Biadasz returns to the team, and a new-look line must be ushered in around him.
The good news for Wisconsin fans is that Chryst hasn’t had any trouble in the past bringing top-level talent at the position to the school, as he has seemingly rebooted the line to a perennial top-ten unit in the nation every year.
Current linemen on the roster who will battle for open starting jobs alongside Biadasz include redshirt sophomore Kayden Lyles, redshirt senior Jason Erdmann, redshirt sophomore Tyler Beach, redshirt senior David Moorman, redshirt sophomore Logan Bruss and redshirt sophomore Josh Seltzner.
With Biadasz on the sideline for the spring session and several spring practices in the books, the shape of the line around him is starting to form with Moorman at left tackle, Seltzner at left guard, Bruss at right guard and Beach at right tackle.
This lineup is not finalized, however, as Chryst and the staff will welcome in five-star recruit Logan Brown to the team in the fall and have Erdmann and Cole Van Lanen, players who both played in 13 games a year ago, battling for the positions.
Despite all these new names up front, Biadasz is encouraged with the progress that they’ve made as a unit since the spring began.
“They’re doing a hell of a job this spring so far,” Biadasz said. “It’s only week two and they’re doing a really good job of just catching along and building themselves each practice.”
Chryst and Rudolph hope that the development at the position continues as the spring and summer progress and that the line can come close to their 2017 and 2018 form.
Football: Fresh defensive line, linebacking corps seek to return Wisconsin defense to dominanceThe date was December 27, but the Badgers’ 34–3 Pinstripe Bowl victory against the University of Miami feels like it Read…
Running Back and Fullback
The answer in the backfield is clear. Jonathan Taylor is back in Madison for his junior season and will be ready to defend the Doak Walker Award he received last fall.
Taylor is coming off a sophomore season that not only lived up to the hype that followed his freshman campaign but exceeded it with 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns. To put Taylor’s historic first two seasons in perspective, he’s on pace to become the greatest running back in Wisconsin history.
What isn’t clear about the backfield, however, is who will play Robin to Taylor’s Batman and keep him fresh throughout the season.
Last year, Taiwan Deal, Garrett Groshek and Chris James split the role of the team’s backup running back and filled it well, averaging 6.6, 6.5 and 4.7 yards per carry respectively. Groshek is back in Madison this season but Deal and James both graduated last spring, leaving a big hole in the rotation.
Chryst addressed the running back rotation when speaking after the Badgers’ 7th spring practice.
“There are spots or roles to be earned,” Chryst said. “That’s where spring is a good time to get reps, the consistency probably won’t come until fall camp.”
The likely heir to Deal and James’ role as one of Taylor’s backups is Bradrick Shaw. Shaw was injured for all of the 2018 season but showed promise during his freshman year in 2016, rushing for over 450 yards on an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
Shaw and Groshek should do an effective job aiding Taylor this season — Shaw as more of the bruising, powerful back and Groshek as a third-down passing option.
The story of departed talent continues at the fullback position with Alec Ingold graduating and pursuing an NFL career. The likely replacement for Ingold is redshirt junior Mason Stokke. Stokke played in nine games a year ago, only carrying the ball four times.
Other fullbacks on the roster are sophomore Leo Chenal and redshirt sophomore Coy Wanner.
Both of these units — the offensive line and backfield — will work to take pressure off one of the most talked about positions coming into spring and summer football — quarterback.
Will Graham Mertz, the No. 5 overall quarterback in this year’s class, take the helm as a true freshman? Will Jack Coan build off his productive-at-times 2018 season?
Next week the quarterback position will be previewed along with the wide receiver group, two positions with plenty still up in the air with the 2019 campaign around the corner.
Note: The print version of this article incorrectly identified Logan Brown as Trent Brown. The Badger Herald regrets this error. Brown’s correct name is listed in this story.