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 Badgers will look to secure their first win of the 2022 season, as they host the Eastern Michigan Eagles. The one matchup I am most interested in watching will be how the Wisconsin offensive line looks against Eastern Michigan’s front seven.
The case for Eastern Michigan’s seven
Eastern Michigan’s front seven is much smaller than the offensive line that the Badgers will trot out on Saturday evening. Deploying their standard defense, they traditionally rely on speed defensively with an extra defensive back on the field.
Last season, the Eagles struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, surrendering 36 points per game as they dealt with injuries and COVID-19 issues. However, the group should be better this season thanks to returning experience and some incoming transfers.
Turan Rush is the most dynamic pass rusher that the Eagles have, and he is a speed threat off the edge that the Wisconsin tackles will need to account for. He already recorded a sack in Eastern Michigan’s opening game. He also added three quarterback hurries, so he is a talented player.
Hybrid linebacker Terry Myrick is undersized at only 6-feet tall and 220 pounds, but he is a player to monitor against the run and pass. He is the best player the Eagles have on defense, and he is generally around the ball at all times.
I do not think that Eastern Michigan has the size to go toe-to-toe with Wisconsin’s offensive line in the running game straight up, so I would imagine that the Eagles will bring extra defenders into the box to stop the run. It will be up to the Badgers offensive line to offset that potential strategy on Saturday.
The case for the Wisconsin offensive line
The Wisconsin offensive line struggled against Penn State’s front last weekend.
The inability to stay healthy during fall camp led to rust and miscommunication in the opening game for Joe Rudolph’s group, and their performance was a main reason for the offensive woes.
Nine different players saw action against Penn State along the offensive line, with eight players seeing significant snaps. I suspect we may see a similar rotational approach against Eastern Michigan as they search for a consistent top-five to emerge.
Fortunately, this group has an opportunity to iron out some of the issues that plagued them the week prior against a front seven that is not as highly regarded. The Badgers specifically struggled in pass protection, with the left side of the line of Tyler Beach and Josh Seltzer putting together one of the worst games in their careers. I believe that this group has the talent to be much better, and think that the shift could happen as quickly as this weekend against Eastern Michigan.
The depth chart remains unchanged this week...
LT: Tyler Beach, Logan Brown
LG: Josh Seltzner, Cormac Sampson
C: Joe Tippmann, Kayden Lyles
RG: Jack Nelson, Michael Furtney
RT: Logan Bruss, Tanor Bortolini
Expect a heavy dose of the run game behind this group, as they look to find a rhythm and build some cohesion after a disjointed fall camp that saw four of the players in the two-deep miss multiple practices.
The battle between Wisconsin’s offensive line and EMU’s defense is not necessarily the flashiest matchup, nor did I pick it because I think that Eastern Michigan’s front seven is phenomenally strong. However, I think that the Wisconsin offensive line should be much better as the season progresses because of the high level of talent in the room.
I think that this game could be a “get-right” opportunity for Joe Rudolph and his group before the bye week. It was very apparent that the line was not at its best last Saturday, and players such as Tyler Beach even said as much during media availability. I expect them to be extremely hungry going forward, and I think that we could see much better performance from the offense overall.
Wisconsin’s blueprint for the past 30+ years starts in the trenches, and they need to get back to dominating teams on the ground. The offensive line is what I will be watching come Saturday.