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Wisconsin football 2020 review/2021 preview: outside linebackers

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Can the Badgers get the production necessary out of the position to make the defense as dynamic as it has been in the past?

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

2020 starters

  • Noah Burks (RS senior)
  • Nick Herbig (freshman)

2020 statistics

  • Herbig led the unit with 26 total tackles, including 6.0 tackles for loss, a sack, as well as a fumble recovery.
  • Burks had 18 total tackles, 1.0 tackle for a loss, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
  • C.J. Goetz recorded 10 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, and a sack.
  • Aaron Witt had 3 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, and a sack in the bowl game.
  • Spencer Lytle recorded 2 total tackles.
  • Riley Nowakowski had one tackle.

2020 season review

The Badgers, global pandemic and game cancellations aside, had a very similarly unproductive season from their outside linebackers as they had in 2018 when Zack Baun was in his first year as a starter and Andrew Van Ginkel fought injuries all season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 30 Wisconsin at USF Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Badgers went from 19 sacks in 2018 to 51 in 2019 and a huge part of that is how disruptive the outside linebackers are within this defensive structure. We knew Noah Burks wasn’t a dynamic pass rusher, but no one predicted that the Badgers would be starting a true freshman at the position, despite how well they’ve recruited the position over the last two or three years.

They were able to get some nice moments from career position journeyman C.J. Goetz but overall the Badgers need more out of this position group if they want this defense to be as good as they’re accustomed to it being.

2021 season preview

With Burks graduating, Herbig will return as an incumbent starter. The other spot is up for grabs.

Aside from that, there a ton of bodies at the position who all offer something different. Izayah Green-May will be in his fifth season in Madison, and still is intriguing at 6-foot-6 and with his length, but can he put on the weight necessary to consistently play on the outside in the Big Ten? Is Spencer Lytle ready to take over after having more than 40 scholarship offers coming out of high school? Can C.J. Goetz become a full-time contributor in the latter stages of his Badger career? My extremely uninformed prediction would be:

Field: Spencer Lytle, C.J. Goetz
Boundary: Nick Herbig, Izayah Green-May

Also, Aaron Witt, Kaden Johnson, T.J. Bollers and Daryl Peterson are names to watch in the fall as potential contributors.