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Wisconsin football: key matchup to watch vs. Army

The Wisconsin defensive line will be very active on Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Shamrock Series - Notre Dame v Wisconsin Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Every college football Saturday is exciting as teams look for matchups to exploit in what traditionally is the game within the game for coaches and players alike.

This year we at B5Q will dive into one pivotal matchup to keep an eye on as the Wisconsin Badgers work their way through their non-conference and Big Ten portions of their 2021 football schedule.

While all of the various phases of a game are incredibly important, there are normally a few specific matchups that can make or break a game for a particular side. This weekly feature will highlight one of those matchups in greater detail as we preview the upcoming weekend.

This week the matchup I will be watching closely will be the battle in the trenches between Army’s offensive line and the Badgers defensive line.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 09 Wisconsin at Illinois
Wisconsin has a deep group of defensive lineman that they have rotated in this year.
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The case for the Army offensive line

Army’s offense relies on their ground game. The Black Knights rank No. 2 in the country with around 387 rushing yards per game and have only attempted 33 passes in five games.

Their flexbone rushing attack utilizes multiple backs and a running quarterback behind their smaller offensive line. The Black Knights don’t have a lineman above 290 pounds, but that doesn’t matter given their scheme.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Air Force at Army
This is from 2018, and the offensive lineman pictured is no longer on the team, but you get the idea for their size.
Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Army’s routine use of midline options, speed options, tosses, triple-option concepts, and counters make it necessary for the offensive line to be quick and willing to pull on any given play. Army will run the ball the vast majority of the time, but in the flexbone there are so many different play variations for the defense to account for at all times.

Army’s scheme also utilizes cut blocks frequently. These low blocks aim to wash away the defensive lineman to free up running room for the backs or quarterback to maneuver. For a smaller offensive line that is predicated on quickness, movement, and backfield deception, these cut blocks can have a major impact not only not their ability to move the ball, but it can also lead to injuries for a defensive lineman.

Army has been using its unique offensive attack for so long that the culture is extremely strong. Players know their assignments and execute them to a high degree, putting extra pressure on defenders to play scheme sound on the other end. This offensive line and the running game will be a new challenge for the Badgers.

The case for the Wisconsin defensive line

Wisconsin has used multiple fronts this season, bouncing between a 2-4-5 and 3-4 defense based on in-game situations. I think it is safe to say that there will be at least three down linemen most of the time this Saturday.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 04 Penn State at Wisconsin
Nose tackle Keeanu Benton will play a critical role this week for the Badgers.
Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With how much Army runs the ball, the ability for Keeanu Benton, Matt Henningsen, and Isaiah Mullens to take on multiple blockers and get penetration will be critical. With an option-based offense, if the defensive line can dictate things up front, it can drastically alter what the offense is able to do and free up linebackers and safeties to read and react.

Luckily for Wisconsin, this season they have more depth along the defensive line, which should allow Ross Kolodziej’s group to stay fresh and rotate bodies. Beyond the top three who will see the most significant playing time, we have seen plenty of Rodas Johnson, Bryson Williams, and James Thompson Jr. through five games as well.

The Badgers defense has been the best in the nation at stuffing the run this season, and against Army, they will have their biggest test yet. I expect the defensive line to play extremely well in this game, and if they do it will go a long way towards determining the outcome.

One important aspect to also keep an eye on in this matchup for the Badgers is injuries. With how much Army likes to use cut blocks, opposing defenders can get put in tough situations. Hopefully, that is not the case on Saturday, but it is something to be mindful of.