Having such a deep returning starting line, Wisconsin looked to be ahead of the curve with its chemistry entering the 2018 season. Through four games, the numbers look solid. Having run 288 offensive snaps to this point, the Badgers are averaging 467 yards per game (38th nationally) and 266.3 rushing yards per outing (13th nationally).
Twelve different players have seen snaps on the offensive line with starters Michael Deiter (left guard), Tyler Biadasz (center), Beau Benzschawel (right guard) and David Edwards (right tackle) all having taken at least 233 snaps. Of that group, Biadasz has graded out the highest at 86 percent efficiency in run and pass blocking, just slightly ahead of Benzschawel (who is at a solid 84 percent). In only his second season, the redshirt sophomore’s command of the offense and his intelligence in recognizing defenses from the center spot, allowing him to make the calls for his veteran linemates, is impressive.
UW has done a nice job protecting the ball carrier and the quarterback to this point, giving up only three sacks and only 13 negative yards by the runners. Against Iowa’s vaunted defense, which entered the game last weekend top-five nationally in sacks, the Hawkeyes only got to Hornibrook once.
The Badgers also started to showcase some of their depth on the line last week with this year’s edition of the jumbo package. With tight end Zander Neuville still banged up and Jake Ferguson and Kyle Penniston not the strongest blockers, UW used junior Jason Erdmann and freshman Logan Bruss to open up some alleys for Jonathan Taylor. An injury to Biadasz forced Erdmann to move to center, thus minimizing the formation to only a handful of runs, but the extra linemen helped seal off the edges of the defense. When UW plays Michigan in a couple weeks, expect to see this used more.
It’s still a little unsettling to see Wisconsin’s offensive line dominated against BYU a couple weekends ago. Deiter really didn’t provide an answer for the lack of energy and rhythm in the stunning loss to the Cougars but it was certainly evident and that hiccup – which caused virtually the entire second-team line to play some snaps in the second half – was discouraging.
The left tackle situation is still a work in progress, which appeared to hurt some of the flow early on. Cole Van Lanen has played 199 snaps and Jon Dietzen has played 79, both grading out under 70 percent efficiency in run blocking. Van Lanen is over 80 percent in pass block – likely the reason he’s playing more than Dietzen (48.7 percent) – but the play has been uneven.
The analytics also say that the Badgers need more from Deiter and Edwards. Both have played nearly every snap for Wisconsin (Deiter is at 270 and Edwards at 267) and both are blocking around an average efficiency of 70 percent (Deiter at 64.2 in run block, 77.3 in pass block; Edwards at 67.8 run block and 71.8 pass block). Both players are N.F.L. quality linemen, evident by their flirting with the draft last winter, but have started the season slow with the inability to thoroughly dominate matchups they had clear advantages in.
This group has the potential to be mentioned with the 2010 and 2011 offensive lines as among the best in school history, but it’s clear to see the experienced group isn’t there yet. There will be better tests in the weeks to come, so time will tell if this group fell victim to or broke the Sports Illustrated cover jinx.