The Wisconsin Badgers defeated the Rutgers Scarlet Knights 24-13 in Week 6, setting themselves up for a highly-anticipated matchup against the Iowa Hawkeyes with major Big Ten West implications in Week 7.
Last week, while the Badgers compiled their best performance of the year defensively, there was much to be desired offensively, especially in regards to consistent snapping concerns with center Tanor Bortolini.
Bortolini, who has been a top contributor as a blocker in both facets all year, has seen struggles with his snapping on occasion, with his worst performance in that area coming last week.
The concerns don’t just relate to the snap placement, but the issues also carry over to the timing of the play, which gets affected by poor snaps.
Speaking to reporters ahead of Week 7, Bortolini shared an unknown observation: he only finds out about the poor snaps at the conclusion of the drive.
“I think in the middle of the drive, it’s always a little tougher to kind of communicate that when there’s so much going on. But getting off the field, he kind of made me aware of what was going on and obviously something that can happen,” Bortolini said this week.
With the way that Wisconsin runs tempo, the Badgers don’t usually stop to huddle, which led to some frustrating moments off the field on Saturday for Bortolini when going to the sideline.
“[I don’t find out about poor snaps] until after the drive, usually. I mean, if we’re rolling, we’re rolling, we’re going tempo. We don’t really have a whole ton of time to go back and talk about what happened,” Bortolini said.
“So coming off the field, that’s kind of what I’m made aware of what happened and obviously it’s not what I want and not what’s best in the team, but just got to keep working, focusing on those details to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
However, there's no excuse for Bortolini, who understands the importance of getting the snap placement in correlation with the rest of the play.
“Being the center, it’s my job to get Tanner the ball every time consistently, and it can’t be high, and if I do that, it makes his job harder,” Bortolini said. “But shout out to him for being able to work off that and make me look good, even though I’m not doing as well as I would like. But it’s just something I got to keep working on just every week, just focus in on making sure the snaps are good and getting back there and just got to keep going.”
It’s been a learning process for Bortolini at center this season, who acknowledged the differences between snapping in practice and games.
“I think it’s just when you’re in the game, there’s a lot of other moving pieces where you’re focused on making sure everyone’s on the same page, making sure their safeties are rotating down, where we all communicated,” Bortolini said. “It’s all going to the right personnel unit, and you’re not always focused on the snap, whereas in practice it’s a lot easier.”
“Just be like, all right, just got to make sure it’s a good snap on this one. So I think just all those other moving pieces in the game kind of factor in, but still you have to get it done, and it’s unacceptable.”
Is there any solace with the Badgers winning when Bortolini faces those snap issues?
Of course, the center always prefers a win, regardless of individual play, but knows that mistakes cannot occur in bigger games, vowing to improve.
“It’s always better with the win and know you can come back and work on it. But it’s frustrating because you don’t want to be that guy that you’d look at the game. If you did lose, say, I could have done that a lot better,” Bortolini said.
“And I think that’s the biggest thing is that we got a lot of big games coming up, and if we want to win, we can’t have any mistakes. Those are mistakes that we can’t have. So just really emphasizing getting extra ones after practice, staying out late, getting there early, and just really getting all the reps I can as big this weekend, I feel confident just doing it during the game.”
What’s been offensive line coach Jack Bicknell’s message to the center?
“Just focus on getting out of my hand as fast as possible,” Bortolini said about Bicknell’s message. “I think that’s been his big emphasis point, just snapping it back there.”
“Kind of the longer you hang on to it, the more can fluctuate around, the more you’re moving different directions on different plays. So just fire it out quickly. Get it out of your hand as fast as possible. That way it’s a little more consistent.”
Bortolini’s snapping concerns have overlooked his otherwise solid performance as a blocker this season, preaching even more importance to fixing that lone issue.
In another move, the Badgers are hoping to get Jake Renfro back into the rotation sooner rather than later, which could move Bortolini back to his most comfortable position of guard.
But, until then, the center will need to focus and improve on his snapping, which first comes at home against the Iowa Hawkeyes in Week 7.