The key to any good offense starts up front with the offensive line and Wisconsin had a very good one in the 2017 season. Three Badgers offensive lineman were recognized as All-Americans for the season with Michael Deiter, David Edwards, and Beau Benzschawel claiming a place on one of the various teams.
In the last 10 seasons, Wisconsin has had 14 offensive linemen recognized as All-American. The offensive identity of the team is always to have a good rushing attack. Wisconsin certainly fulfilled that this season as the Badgers were able to run for 229.5 yards per game, good enough for 21st nationally.
While Deiter, Edwards, and Benzschawel were all deserving of the national recognition that they received, it’s also worth noting that center Tyler Biadasz was also recognized as a consensus All-Big Ten third team member for his season.
While it’s tough for the common person to be able to break down individual offensive line play, it’s easy to tell that the offense typically will only go as far as the men up front take it. Wisconsin was able average over 30 points per game this season which certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of this outstanding offensive line.
To simplify things even more, running back Jonathan Taylor would not be nearly as successful as he was without an offensive line this good.
The offensive line also provided what was arguably the most entertaining moment of the season when Deiter caught a lateral from quarterback Alex Hornibrook against Illinois and rumbled 4 yards into the end zone.
The tight end is often thought of as an extension of the offensive line in the type of offense that Wisconsin runs. The Badgers certainly utilized that position this season with Troy Fumagalli as the main threat. Fumagalli, like three of the offensive linemen, was named an All-American by several outlets for his season.
Despite missing two games due to a leg injury, he was the leading receiver for Wisconsin in 2017. He totaled 43 catches for 516 yards and reached the end zone four times. Fumagalli was Hornibrook’s security blanket throughout the season, often being found on third down for conversions or in the red zone.
Wisconsin also received contributions from Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston throughout the year at the tight end spot. Those two primarily served more purpose as run-blockers, although they did combine for 16 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns on the year.
GRADE: A – Simply put, offensive lines don’t get the amount of love that they deserve, but Wisconsin had one of the best in the country this season. The Badgers do not reach the heights offensively that they did this season without a really strong group up front.
For the first time since 2011 the Wisconsin Badgers are unbeaten through five games on the gridiron. Unlike that 2011 season, the 2017 version of the Badgers have an incredibly manageable schedule the rest of the season.
Wisconsin should be a favorite in every game remaining on their schedule, with the closest matchup talent-wise coming in the second to last game of the season, when the University of Michigan comes to Camp Randall. Truthfully speaking, Wisconsin shouldn’t have trouble with Purdue, Maryland, Illinois, or Indiana before they take on Iowa November 11.
Having a schedule like this can give some teams a reason to look ahead, and potentially overlook an opponent, which is something Wisconsin can ill-afford to do.
“I’ve been a part of it and your experiences help guide you.” Head coach Paul Chryst told the media during the week following the win against Nebraska. “I think that’s why you spend a lot of time talking to them about [not looking ahead] and yet in the end every person has to make a choice about how they want to approach it. You try and do all that you can, but at some point, they have to choose. That’s where your veteran leadership has to help.”
The Badgers are starting to attract national attention, moving up to seventh in the Associated Press Poll, their highest ranking since the Big Ten Championship game last December. With the road that’s in front of them, they should climb higher as the season goes on.
“We always have an end goal and things like that, but we know our goal every week is to win that game at hand.” Linebacker TJ Edwards told the media. “I think our team has such good guys who relay that message to the younger guys to not get ahead of ourselves so that’s not really a problem with us.”
For some, it might be easier than others to not look past the week at hand, as Chryst said. One who doesn’t think it’s a challenge is offensive lineman Michael Deiter.
“It’s easy, it’s the same approach as every other season. It’s just another week.” Deiter said. “The 5-0 [record] is nice, that’s good, but we have Purdue this week. There’s no reason to get ahead. You can’t go anywhere beyond the season if you don’t win every game during the season. You can really trip yourself up if you get caught looking forward. It’s just a week to week thing with us and I think we’re good at that.”
The Badgers have high expectations for themselves, which they should. A five-game winning streak to start the season is not something that should be looked upon lightly, especially when one of the wins comes at Nebraska. If they’re going to hit their lofty goals, they’re going to need to keep their focus on a weekly basis.
“Obviously your mind is going to wander and do things like that just because you have such high expectations for this team, and things like that.” Edwards said. “We come in here on Sunday and Monday and know what our goal is at the end of the week.”
MADISON — What appeared to be a move out of necessity in the spring has turned into a legitimate possibility for the University of Wisconsin.
When the Badgers open fall camp on Saturday, junior Michael Deiter, who has started a total of 27 games at left guard and center the last two years, will be lining up at left tackle with the first-team offense. The Curtice, Ohio native saw time at the position near the end of spring when sophomore David Edwards went down with an ankle injury, but it was unclear if the move would be long-term. While things can certainly change before Wisconsin opens the season on Sept. 1 against Utah State, Deiter is penciled in as the replacement for All-American Ryan Ramczyk.
“I was more comfortable than I expected,” Deiter said of the move on Friday afternoon at Wisconsin’s local media day. “The transition wasn’t as intense as I thought it was going to be. It was pretty natural. I’m really excited to see what I can do at the start of camp out there.”
Edwards will open camp back at right tackle, which is where he started the final seven games of the 2016 season. He’s expected to battle redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl for that job.
LISTEN: OC Joe Rudolph on what Michael Deiter’s versatility could mean for him in the NFL
Wisconsin, especially during coach Paul Chryst’s tenure, has been focused on trying to get its best five players on the field along the line no matter the positions the guys are playing. By having Deiter at left tackle, and Edwards back on the right side, the coaching staff thinks, at least at this point, this is the best way to do it.
The move of Deiter could not be possible without the emergence of redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz. Though he had never played center before coming to Wisconsin, the 6-foot-3, 316-pound, Biadasz took right to the position and the staff almost used him a year ago when injuries cropped up. In the spring, with several players sitting out, the Amherst, Wis., product took almost all of the first-team reps at center to put himself in the mix.
“Tyler wants it. You feel that, and the players feel that throughout the room,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Friday. “He’s tough. He worked from day one. He wants the stress of making the right calls and executing. That’s why he’s got a right — and a great opportunity — to start at center.”
Practice in Milwaukee
Wisconsin will take fall camp on the road this year, with the school announcing Friday it will hold a practice in Milwaukee that will be open to the public. The team will then take in a Milwaukee Brewers game.
“I’ve always felt it would be great for Wisconsin to go to Milwaukee,” Chryst said. “You appreciate all the fans from the Milwaukee area that come here all the time.”
The practice will take place on Aug. 10 at Custer Stadium and should help to break up the monotony that takes hold during fall camp.
“I thought it’d be a good day for us,” Chryst said. “And then to be able to tie in something that would be a good experience for our players, go the Brewer game, I thought it’d be a good day.”
Alex Hornibrook with Peyton Manning
Named Wisconsin’s starting quarterback before spring practice, Alex Hornibrook continued his push to improve this offseason. The redshirt sophomore was among more than 40 college quarterbacks invited to take part in the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in late June.
Started by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning in 1996, the camp is described as the premier offensive football skills camp in the nation for QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs. Two of Manning’s sons that went on to star in the NFL as quarterbacks — Peyton and Eli — are a part of it, which made it special for Hornibrook.
“The coolest thing was probably just being around Peyton and Eli,” Hornibrook said. “Those are two guys I’ve looked up to my whole life. Peyton is still my all-time favorite quarterback. To be able to be there and learn from him was an awesome experience.”
LISTEN: Alex Hornibrook talks about how he came to be a Peyton Manning fan.
Scholarship players missing
The Badgers can carry 105 players on their fall camp roster, so scholarship guys rarely get left off. But that will be the case this fall for a few of them.
Four guys — right tackle Jake Maxwell, linebacker Mason Stokke, cornerback Faion Hicks and running back Sam Broadner — were not on the roster distributed to the media on Friday due to injuries. Maxwell had offseason shoulder surgery and missed spring practice. Stokke sustained a knee injury and Chryst said during Big Ten media days in Chicago that he suffered a setback this summer. Hicks, an early enrollee, underwent shoulder surgery midway through spring practice. And Broadner suffered a knee injury in the spring game.
It’s unclear when, or if, any of the four will be able to join the team at any point during fall camp.
A fifth player, junior nose guard Jeremy Patterson, was also not included on the roster. A 3-star recruit out of Georgia, the 6-foot-3, 351-pound Patterson has been unable to get on the field for any meaningful snaps in his career and had been passed by some younger players in the spring.
Quote of the day
“Center, two guards, two tackles.”
— Rudolph when asked by a reporter what his lineup along the offensive line would be if they had a game tomorrow.