The Wisconsin Badgers’ offensive line was put to the test going into the 2019 season. So far, they’ve gotten off to both a hot start and one that leaves certain questions unanswered.
Sophomore Kayden Lyles, senior Jason Erdmann and sophomore Josh Seltzner are splitting snaps at guard, and are successfully working to have this offensive line build upon its performance last season. “The Hippo formation,” a setup in which the Badgers stack seven offensive linemen on the line with two tight ends in the backfield, is just one example of this changing offensive line.
Joe Rudolph, the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, spoke to the La Crosse Tribune about the line strategy.
“We’re an O-line at Wisconsin, that’s what we’re known for, is consistency there,” Rudolph said. “Next guy in is not going to drop off, there’s not going to be any difference, that rotation shows exactly that. I can go in at one spot, communicate, get the right calls out, somebody else can come in on the other side. It’s the same thing all the way around.”
Going into this season, the Badgers weren’t confident in who would start at guard. Over the past couple of weeks, they’ve been developing this rotation into one of the premier offensive lines in the nation.
In between the starting guard positions, All-American and first-team All-Big Ten center Tyler Biadasz is the perfect bridge in the foundation of this strong and dominant offensive line. Biadasz, a 6-foot-3 junior who earned All-Big Ten honors in both his freshman and sophomore years is undoubtedly a key member of the Badger front line of attack.
No matter what leaders the Badgers have returning to their offensive unit, facing Big Ten teams such as Michigan and Northwestern was always going to be a rigorous test.
They handled that test with relative ease.
Against Michigan, the offensive line propelled the Badger running game to one of their best performances of the year. Jonathan Taylor, among contributions from Nakia Watson, John Chenal and others, netted the team a grand total of 359 rushing yards on the day. This performance is in large part thanks to the offensive line that stifled the Michigan front defensive seven all game.
Furthermore, the Badger front held strong against a Michigan defensive line that, after Saturday’s game against Iowa, proved themselves to be a sturdy source of pressure on the opposing offense. Wisconsin allowed just one sack and one other tackle for loss the entire game, even when they began to rotate through their depth chart toward the end.
Northwestern was another story. The offensive line ran into what was without a doubt their toughest test of the season to date. Northwestern managed to hold the Badgers to a measly 130 yards on the ground and nearly held Taylor to his first sub-100 yard game of the season.
The Wildcats’ defense also managed to outperform Michigan in achieving tackles for loss with four total on the day.
While no one can deny the Badgers have put up stunning numbers on the ground and given up relatively few sacks on the season, its difficult to attribute all of this to the talent level of the offensive line.
It is entirely possible that the raw talent of Jonathan Taylor and company was enough to have a string of breakout performances against teams with sub-par defensive front sevens. When the Badgers went up against a strong defensive line in Northwestern, they showed signs of faltering.
The fact of the matter is the Wisconsin offensive line is always going to be the heart of the team. It will continue to get recruits like five-star Logan Brown who, while he hasn’t contributed to this year’s efforts on the field in a significant way, shows promise as a developing talent.
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In fact, two of the top three recruits the Badgers snagged in 2019 were offensive linemen. This team is an undoubted pipeline for talent in the trenches. Yet, with a lot of developing youth following a strong 2018 graduating class, it’s fair to be skeptical that the offensive line will be able to hold up against a defensive test such as The Ohio State University.
They almost folded in the face of the Wildcats, and it’s impossible to know whether that game was a fluke or not. My heart tells me yes, but only time will tell.
Kent State provided little insight into the true prowess of this offensive line — it will take a Big Ten competitor to give them their first true litmus test to see what they’re made of.