As football finally, officially descends on Camp Randall Stadium on Friday night, Madison will finally feel (somewhat) normal when the Badgers open up their season against the University of Illinois Fighting Illini.
And while I’ve been away (coaching football with no season), the rest of the gang here at Bucky’s 5th Quarter has done a great job previewing the season and getting you ready for everything Wisconsin athletics.
The purpose of this article for me is to just point out some things I think are worth keeping an eye on or monitoring as the season progresses. Subtle storylines or changes that could impact the Badgers in non-overtly evident ways.
#1: The interior offensive line
So Jon Dietzen returning to Wisconsin is an awesome story and one I’m personally happy to see. Dietzen has the most experience of just about anyone on the offensive line, and a multi-year starter is always welcomed. The current depth chart has Josh Seltzner starting at left guard, with Kayden Lyles at center and Dietzen starting at right guard, a new position for the former starter at left tackle and left guard.
However, the previous plan, at least per reports by Jesse Temple back in the spring, were that Logan Bruss would be kicking inside to right guard and swing tackle Tyler Beach would get an opportunity to start at right tackle.
Now, Owen, why do we care?
Well, here’s why. While it’s encouraging to see Dietzen back in the lineup and while I objectively think it makes them better, they are also objectively less athletic up front without Beach on the field. With the nearly 330 pound Seltzner, starting next to the nearly 335 pound Lyles at center, Dietzen’s beat up lower body should be “fresh” considering his 2019 off, but we’ll see how sustainable it is.
Ultimately, I’m interested to see if the run game concepts stay the same or change, considering the lesser athleticism on the field than the coaches were expecting before the news of Dietzen’s return to the program. I’ll also be interested to see if they find ways to get Beach on the field, as it’s evident they’re looking to see what the former Port Washington standout can do.
#2: Where is the pass rush going to come from?
The staple of the successful Wisconsin defenses we’ve grown accustomed to seeing over the past half-decade has been an impressive pass rush.
In 2018, Wisconsin only had 18 sacks as a team. That number jumped up to 50 last season. That’s a lot. Obviously, seniors Zack Baun and Chris Orr combining for 24 sacks made quite a difference for Jim Leonhard’s unit.
Both of those guys are gone to the Saints and Panthers respectively. All that returns is Noah Burks, whose 2.0 sacks will need to see a drastic increase as a senior. Izayah Green-May, a redshirt junior is slated to start on the other side of Burks. Green-May, at 6-foot-6 and 232 pounds, is the long, angular pass rusher Wisconsin has been targeting as of late. He’ll be expected to provide some juice off of the edge, as well as maintain that weight, which is still a bit slight for his tall frame.
True freshman Nick Herbig is in the two-deep as an “OR”, meaning he’s truthfully a co-starter along with Green-May. This is extremely impressive for a true freshman, and will be worth monitoring how many snaps he gets per game.
Another thing to keep an eye on: if the outside linebackers aren’t able to generate much of a pure pass rush, how much stunting and blitzing will Leonhard rely on early?
#3: The running back situation
Obviously this is nothing new or surprising, but given his amount of experience over Nakia Watson, despite Watson being the prototypical size for a Badger back, how much will Garrett Groshek see the field in a traditional running capacity, rather than on long and late downs as a pass protector/receiver/screen/draw game player?
Paul Chryst was also reported this week talking about reps for Mason Stokke, a fullback, getting more carries. (Editor’s note: Jeff Potrykus noted in his game notes that Guerendo and Watson are both banged up, but should still be able to play on Friday.)
What does this mean for Isaac Guerendo, Julius Davis, or Jalen Berger? Probably nothing, but it may indicate that they’re potentially not quite ready for a bigger role at the moment, and that’s completely okay. The more game action they get, the quicker they’ll develop and be able to work their way into a more prominent role.