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Wisconsin Badgers explain the art of dominant blocking

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NCAA Football: Purdue at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

MADISON — It was a sight to behold last Saturday afternoon when the now-No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers took the lead against the Iowa Hawkeyes on Kendric Pryor’s 25-yard touchdown run.

As Pryor received the hand-off from quarterback Alex Hornibrook, both center Tyler Biadasz and right guard Beau Benzschawel pulled to the left side of the field, creating a convoy of imposing yet agile blockers in front of the redshirt freshman on an end-around/jet sweep.

Biadasz, listed at 6’3, 316 pounds, caught the first man he saw as he ran down the field to open a path for Pryor. That was defensive back Manny Rugamba, all 6’0, 185 pounds of him.

The ensuring result was Biadasz flattening the Iowa defender on the field, springing Pryor for his first career touchdown and allowing Wisconsin to never again trail in its 38–14 win.

“When I saw him do that, I was like, ‘Yeah, there’s almost like a 100 percent I’m going to score,’ because there was nobody else out there,” Pryor said. “I felt like, even if he didn’t pancake to the ground, he made a good enough block for me to score on that, but once I saw him push him to the ground, I was like, ‘Psssh, man, this is almost a guaranteed touchdown.’”

Those type of dominant blocks, commonly known as “pancake blocks,” can motivate an offense and showcase its physical superiority over the opposition.

There’s actually more that goes into executing such a display, though.

“Technique, a lot of technique,” Benzschawel said. “It also helps when you catch them on a bad step. Definitely technique and just kind of the momentum you’re coming with. That’s always a big factor, too.”

On the block by Biadasz, who was not made available to the media because he was listed on the injury report as questionable with a left leg injury, that momentum was apparent as he appeared to catch Rugamba off-balance and not attacking the ball carrier.

In a blocker’s technique, there are some key aspects to executing such a devastating block while trying to avoid any penalties that would nullify a potential big play.

“Just keep driving them back, and keeping your hands inside,” Benzschawel said. “As soon you get the hands outside your frame is when they’re going to call it, but driving your feet through it and just making sure that their momentum is going back, and then usually a pancake’s going to happen.”

Biadasz’s block was not the only Wisconsin player to flatten an opponent last Saturday in Wisconsin’s physical assertion over one of its rivals.

Redshirt senior fullback Austin Ramesh actually had two against the same player, Iowa defensive back Jake Gervase, in the fourth quarter.

Though Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown was called back due to a holding penalty by center Jason Erdmann, Ramesh found Gervase at the nine-yard line and leveled him back three yards to the ground. That sprung the true freshman running back into the end zone.

Ramesh was not finished on the day, nor on the same drive. Though Taylor was denied another touchdown due to his fumble near the goal line, it did not make his second overwhelming block in that quarter any less impressive.

Inside the five-yard line, the fullback met Gervase, and yet again, the redshirt junior defensive back met the turf as he found himself in the air temporarily before falling on his back.

Ramesh, like Benzschawel, attributed technique as a major factor behind finishing off those type of blocks while also noting power and pad level. Those were evident, especially on the second block.

“I mean, when you’re cutting it, you’re getting it out on the second level and the secondary guys,” Ramesh said. “For me, you’re moving a little bit faster and there’s a little less hands involved and stuff so at that point, I’m just trying to hit somebody, knock them out of the play best I can.

“We used to cut quite a bit out on the edge, cut block, but we’re trying to stay away from that a little bit this year so we can stay on our guys a little bit better and finish up the play better, so just learning how to throw it in there and letting it go.”

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph on Tuesday reiterated Benzschawel’s and Ramesh’s notions but also described consistency as part of the recipe.

“There’s a lot of blocks you can go into really hard and really physical with no chance of knocking the guy over,” Rudolph said. “It’s going to happen at the right situation, and it comes from finishing, it comes from pad level, it comes from technique, and it comes from doing it play after play after play.

“Then you get opportunities for those types of blocks and those types of moments. There’s a lot of probably really good blocks before then, and then you get with some that kind of show up at the right type. Those guys both have been working hard.”

Those types of blocks can assert a dominance over opposing defenses and lead to big plays.

“For us, it gives us a ton of confidence,” Benzschawel said, “and then I think as a defense of being hit like that, it makes them kind of second-guess themselves and maybe not go as hard that time because they don’t want to get pancaked again obviously.”

Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu acknowledged those type of blocks “happens to everybody, happens to the best of us, but [you] just kind of rub it off, shake it off and just get back into it and try not to let that happen again.”

The junior defensive lineman noted it doesn’t hurt his psyche when it does occur.

It can leave an impact, however.

“It definitely takes a little bit of your heart away when you’re getting run over like that,” said defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, a former college All-American and 10-year NFL veteran. “It’s never fun. It’s one of those things, I don’t care who you are, you play this game long enough, it’s going to happen to you. You just try to have that short memory of it and move on, but it is hard. You remember that, and all of a sudden that next time you see a tight end or fullback or offensive lineman running downhill on you, you kind of have that thought in your head at times, so big credit to what our o-line, those guys up front, have done this season and putting a lot of pretty impressive things on tape.”

For all the love players receive for scoring touchdowns or making big, flashy plays, Ramesh’s blocks went viral this past week. One tweet showcasing his block on Gervase on the Taylor touchdown earned nearly 4,000 retweets and 12,000 likes.

Not bad for doing the dirty work that’s often overlooked—except to those who play the game.

“I heard some guys talking on the team about it, kind of joking around about it,” Ramesh said. “Usually you get recognized for touchdowns or what else, but it’s kind of cool to get recognized for a block, things I pride myself on.”