Carimi, Moffitt move them out on the left side
It’s nothing personal between the two. It’s just how special the chemistry between the two fifth-year linemen has become.
“We don’t even make calls on the line anymore,” Carimi said. “We’re past that point. We just call out numbers to reference who gets the double team and even call out the same numbers at the same time. Knowing we have each other’s side makes us better players.”
The senior duo will anchor the left side of the offensive line together for the 25th time Saturday when the sixth-ranked University of Wisconsin football team hosts struggling Indiana at 11 a.m. at Camp Randall Stadium.
Through nine games, the Badgers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) have given up just nine sacks, tied for 15th nationally. The line has been so dominant that Wisconsin is on pace to give up less than 20 sacks for the first time since 1996 and is four sack shutouts away from the school’s first single-digit season since 1993.
“(The protection) has been really good,” senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “That’s an understatement—it has been excellent.
“People don’t get to be here on a week-to-week basis, but to see the way they handle their business in practice every day, it’s a pretty special thing.”
With flux at the center and right tackle position throughout the season due to injuries, Moffitt and Carimi have been steady in covering Tolzien’s blindside after recovering from their own injury problems.
Moffitt, from Guilford, Conn., has started 37 games at both left guard and center over four years. He was sidelined for most of the nonconference season last year after injuring his pectoral muscle in a freak weight room accident, but has rarely missed a beat since.
Carimi, a Monona Grove High School graduate, started all 13 games last year (44 in his four years) and played mostly at 75 percent, struggling with shoulder and knee problems that hindered his performance against some of the elite pass rushers in the conference.
Going against the top three pass rushers in the conference—Ohio State’s Cameron Hayward, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan—in three weeks, Carimi’s responsibilities registered just 12 tackles (two for loss), one sack and one quarterback hurry.
“How can you not use those guys as motivation?” said Carimi, who said he would take back only two plays in the last three games. “I knew these last three games were my biggest games. I take a sense of pride, and I play better when the competition is higher, because I need to be better.”
Carimi, Moffitt and the rest of Wisconsin’s offensive line helped the Badgers become the first team in 11 years to score more than 30 points against Ohio State and Iowa in the same season. Combine the fact that it came in back-to-back weeks with two teams that rank among the top six nationally in scoring defense and the unit gave up just one sack, it was a performance that spoke to the diligence of the unit’s preparation.
“Chemistry is important, but there’s a limit to it,” Moffitt said. “With the guys we have, you can plug a few guys in and still be fine, which we have done in the past. When the preparation isn’t good, the protection isn’t great, and our protection has been pretty good.”
That one sack came in the second quarter against Iowa. After halftime, when the Badgers were missing four offensive contributors (tight end Lance Kendricks, center Peter Konz, wide receiver Nick Toon and running back James White), the line still functioned by protecting its senior quarterback and clearing the way for three rushing touchdowns.
“When the protection is good, Scott does his job,” Moffitt said. “I think Scotty does a great job of making his reads and getting rid of the ball.”
It also helps to have a running attack. The Badgers are averaging 5.13 yards per carry. The last time the Badgers accomplished a running game that averaged over five yards per carry was in 1999, when Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne was in the backfield.
“It’s an all-around effort, really,” Carimi said. “It’s about the receivers running the right routes against the right coverages. I would say we’re a large portion of it because if we miss block, we’re going to give up a huge sack. It’s a total team effort.”
Indiana (4-5, 0-5) doesn’t nearly provide the formidable pass rush the Badgers have been accustomed to over the last month. The Hoosiers are tied for ninth in the conference in registering 12 sacks for 68 yards (5.7 yards a sack). They’re 10th in pass defense efficiency (147.3) and have given up a conference-worst 18 passing touchdowns.
If that doesn’t give Tolzien some confidence, the fact that he’ll be dropping into a secure pocket certainly will.
“People don’t realize how big a part of our offense those (linemen) are,” Tolzien said. They’re the foundation. It really takes a load off your back.”