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What Wisconsin’s offensive line needs to do vs. Ohio State

A look at the Michigan tape reveals some weaknesses Wisconsin will have to shore up.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The week off has been nice, but it’s back to business for Bucky on Saturday evening.

In what is already one of the biggest games in school history, it’s also (likely) the biggest recruiting day in program history. It has been reported that all 11 of Wisconsin’s current commitments will be in attendance, along with other potential scholarship recruits and walk-ons.

What has turned from a narrative of, “Whomever the Badgers put on the offensive line will work well together,” from the Michigan State game quickly changed to, “If the Badgers can’t run the ball against a good front to help Alex Hornibrook, the offense isn’t very good.”

While I believe the truth is somewhere in the middle, the Badgers certainly struggled in the Big House against a stout Michigan defense led by Don Brown, one of the best defensive coordinators in the country that no one talks about. The sledding won’t get any easier, even after the bye week, as Ohio State comes to Madison with a defense led by Greg Schiano, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach and the guy who revived the Rutgers program in the 2000s. Pair him with a unit as talented as there is in the country, and it’s a recipe for success.

Now, as good as the defenses of Ohio State and Michigan are, they’re a lot better when they aren’t blocked. Against the Wolverines, the Badgers’ offensive line left a bit to be desired from the execution stand point. As much as he’s been hailed for his versatility (#BrettConnorsBacksUpTheWorld), Brett Connors showed against Michigan that he’s a former walk-on. From the start, he struggled to block second level defenders, which makes running much more difficult. Here are a few instances from the Badgers’ first offensive series that show where the issues stemmed from.

This is the Badgers’ first offensive play of the game. They have seven blockers to block the seven box defenders in Michigan’s Under front. As I have diagrammed here, the Badgers run a simple Iso Weak, running away from Jabrill Peppers. Austin Ramesh leads up to the Will linebacker, Jacob Maxwell and Beau Benzschawel are man-on. The key block here is Connors and Michael Deiter “Ace” (center and back-side guard) blocking up to the Mike (arrow). If/when the Badgers get the second-level defenders covered up in the run game, good things happen. However, things didn’t go that way.

About a second into the play, it’s already off the rails. The play side is all sured up, with Maxwell, Ramesh and Benzschawel on their guys. However, the issue stems from the Ace block. It’s tough to tell, but Connors is currently facing the Will linebacker, who is going to get blocked by Ramesh. Connors should be double-teaming the back-side 1-technique back to the Mike linebacker (arrow), who actually made the block easier by flowing back-side.

This image shows Connors (lower arrow) now engaged with the same defender that Ramesh is blocking, and Deiter is getting pistol-whipped by the defensive tackle (upper arrow) because he thought he was going to have help on the double-team block. The defensive tackle makes the tackle on Corey Clement for a minimal gain, where they could have been running on the strong safety at five yards.

Now let’s take a look at the second-down play. Another run for the Badgers, and another minimal gain setting up a third-and-long for Hornibrook to start the game. Not ideal.

This is another weak-side Iso play, but Clement tries to cut it back-side when he sees the defense flow with Ramesh. Everything is covered up by the offensive line and Ramesh, but Connors gets caught in a tough spot here.

Connors (arrow) is trailing the Mike linebacker, which is his assignment, but Clement being forced to cut back allows the linebacker to shoot the gap and tackle Clement quicker than Connors can get to his play-side shoulder. Ramesh going play-side backfired, as the Will linebacker filled the gap by taking Ramesh on in the hole, and Dieter gave a little ground to the 1-technique, and Clement was forced to cut against the grain, really defeating the purpose of the play.

After a nice completion from Hornibrook to Wheelright on third-and-7, the Badgers again dial up a run play on first down.

Clearly, Wisconsin’s coaching staff felt the Badgers could expose the Michigan front seven through Isolation plays, as they attempt their third of the game on their fourth offensive play. It’s the same scheme as the previous play, except Ramesh is going to Iso the Mike linebacker rather than the Will. This leads to Connors and Benzschawel attempting another “Ace” combo to the backside.

Again, Wisconsin has everything covered up at the line of scrimmage. However, Connors and Benzschawel are unable to secure the first level, as you can see by the defender straddling the black TV graphic line. With offensive linemen pushing on him from both sides, they’re effectively cancelling out each other’s blocks, and not getting any vertical push. This leads to them not being able to leave the first level for the Will linebacker, who then is able to attack the line of scrimmage and make the tackle on Clement uninhibited.

It’s unrealistic to expect flawless execution against opponents of this caliber, but if the Badgers want to have a chance to beat Ohio State, they’ve got to expect to score 28 points or so, because the Buckeyes are going to score points—they’re too talented not to. The Badgers will have to execute better as a team if they want a puncher’s chance to upset the Buckeyes in Camp Randall Stadium for the second time in six years, and it will have to start up front with the offensive line.

All screenshots above were taken from the video below: