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Film Study: Inside Wisconsin’s breakdown in some pass protection against Nebraska

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Analysis of UW’s big men against the Huskers on Saturday.

Sports: Wisconsin Spring Game Milwaukee Journal Sentinel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s something synonymous with the Wisconsin football program. Mammoth humans that block out the sun creating rushing lanes for running backs. It’s what Barry Alvarez built the program upon; however, when the current head coach of the Oregon State Beavers — or “He Who Shall Not Be Named” — took over (then left), the program has slowly been rebuilding the identity of Wisconsin football.

The 2016 football season was supposed to be the rebirth of playing “Wisconsin” football, featuring a smash-mouth rushing attack and playing stout, hard-nosed and any other cliched phrase of defense. Thus far, head coach Paul Chryst hasn’t disappointed.

There has been one aspect of the team that appears to be seemingly underachieving or taking longer to develop: the offensive line.

While Wisconsin is mostly known for an offensive line larger than most professional units, they usually aren’t known as being the most athletic linemen around. Sure, there are exceptions such as current NFL standouts Joe Thomas, Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick, but the vast majority of Wisconsin linemen are known as road graders that don’t operate in areas much larger than a phone booth. While this has paid nearly invaluable dividends in the run game, it has at times been issue in pass protection.

Jon Dietzen was a heralded freshman coming out of Seymour, near Green Bay, and has played pretty well this season. However, he returned from a right leg injury, and from what I see, the effects may have played a role against Nebraska.

Here are two plays late in the second quarter which resulted in consecutive sacks.

This is a classic slide protection

On this play, the Badgers line up in 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends). Tight ends Troy Fumagalli and Eric Steffes both go out in route, so they don’t impact the protection scheme. It’s a simple six-man protection, the five offensive linemen and running back Corey Clement.

Clement has eyes on the Mike (middle) linebacker, left tackle Ryan Ramczyk is man up on the defensive end. Center Michael Deiter, right guard Beau Benzschawel and right tackle David Edwards are all in the “slide” — meaning they are all going to the right, and are three for three with Nebraska’s linebacker and two defensive linemen.

The most important block here is Dietzen’s. Due to the “three” technique being exactly that, he is man-on in protection. He has the most important block because the slide is leaving him alone. He CANNOT get beat backdoor, or to the inside, because his help is leaving.

Carlos Davis feasted on the redshirt freshman guard’s inability to transition well with his post foot (up foot, right foot).

Ramczyk is picture perfect, while Dietzen and Edwards get beat.

Dietzen is unable to transition his weight to his left foot in order to keep his post foot in front of Davis, and he’s beat inside — the protection is doomed. However, what compounds this is Edwards getting beat outside somehow. The redshirt freshman and converted tight end is greener than grass, but in a slide protection, there should really be no way that an end is able to get around him to the outside. Sorry, Bart.

Two plays later, this happens.

This is not #good.

Ahh, the curse of being 6’6. Dietzen is getting forklifted back into Houston, again by Davis. The redshirt freshman cannot anchor on his right leg and drive off of it, which is the exact defense to being bull rushed by a defensive tackle.

I promise that this isn’t how Coach Joe Rudolph teaches countering a bull rush.

Dietzen is in no-man’s-land here. Not only has he lost the leverage battle, but he lost the hand fight as well. At this point, the redshirt freshman is just along for the ride.

There will undoubtedly be better and healthier days for Dietzen, as well as the rest of the Badgers offensive line in pass protection. Benzschawel was eaten alive in pass pro against Ohio State, and Jacob Maxwell against Iowa.

Many, myself included, were a little too quick to anticipate the growth of this unit because they were a year older and more experienced. The group, which still doesn’t have a senior (preseason All-American candidate Dan Voltz retired), has taken their lumps, and again suffered through a barrage of injuries.

They will undoubtedly improve, but it is certainly time to accept the face that, aside from Ramczyk and Deiter, for the time being the offensive line isn’t up to the standard set by past Badger lines. You know what? That’s entirely OK.

Looking forward to Northwestern, it will be important for this group to control the line of scrimmage. Blocking Northwestern’s stud linebacker Anthony Walker on the second level will be integral, which is on the large shoulders of Dietzen, Benzschawel and Micah Kapoi. Being able to even get in the way of Walker and the other linebackers will be huge for Clement, Dare Ogunbowale and Bradrick Shaw to get into the second level at full speed.

This unit will #BecomeGreatAgain, but it will take time. Without any seniors, this is the group moving forward. Buckle up for the ride; While bumpy, it will be fun as well.