Deep group of OLs gives No. 11 Wisconsin options
Most major college programs would love to swap places with the Badgers, who have a group of linemen that clears the way for a bruising running attack led by John Clay. He has nine straight 100-yard games – the longest active streak in the country.
The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year is averaging 127.7 yards per game and has five touchdowns to start the season, putting him on pace to top his marks from last season.
“I think all those linemen, they take a lot of pride in the way John Clay, his numbers are. They’re well aware that he’s a guy that’s got nine 100-yard games in a row,” coach Bret Bielema said. “John’s up for a lot of awards, and I think they’re taking a lot of pride in establishing that mentality for him as well.”
So far, Wisconsin has eight offensive linemen who’ve started a game in their careers.
Far from a sign of inconsistency, the coaching staff has had to find roles for all the offensive linemen elsewhere. Take freshman Ryan Groy, who has started at fullback this season but played only in mop-up duty at his natural left guard position.
Wisconsin (3-0) plays FCS opponent Austin Peay on Saturday before opening the Big Ten schedule at Michigan State on Oct. 2, giving everyone one last chance to impress the coaches.
“This is the week,” Bielema said.
The left side of the offensive line hasn’t changed yet this season. All-American candidates Gabe Carimi is the starting left tackle and John Moffitt is at left guard. Center Peter Konz has performed well besides a problematic snap in the win over San Jose State coming off an injury and missing spring camp.
The right side continues to be a work in progress.
Bill Nagy and Kevin Zeitler remain locked in a battle for right guard.
“Every rep I can get, just make the most of it because Kevin’s a good player, too, he started all last year and we both know how special it is to be out there,” Nagy said. “Every rep really counts right now.”
Ricky Wagner could remain the starting right tackle this week as Josh Oglesby works his way back from a knee injury. Wagner said Oglesby kept giving him advice on what each defensive end would try to do to beat him throughout Saturday’s 20-19 win over Arizona State.
“We’re great friends,” Wagner said. “Every time he sees a little move that could help me out, he gives me a tip.”
One thing Bielema said he won’t do in preparing for the final nonconference game is try to impress the poll voters or run up the score. The Badgers have been docked in past years for scores against FCS teams that were less than impressive, including hanging on to beat Cal-Poly by a point in 2008.
“I’m going to take notice of it,” he said. “I mean, I’m not putting my head in the sand, but I will never change what I believe is right from a football perspective for anything to do with a poll or winning pretty or anything like that.”