Leading the Transition

From losing an offensive line coach in week two to seeing a head coach depart after the season, Wisconsin and its offensive line have had every reason to quit. Thanks in part to junior captain Travis Frederick, they are playing some of their best football at the most important time.

LOS ANGELES – With the way the 2012 season has unfolded for captain Travis Frederick, his mates on the offensive line and the rest of the Wisconsin Badgers, a coaching change, two weeks of uncertainty and a legendary coach coming out of retirement all seems plausible.

After all, it's only fitting that a bizarre year in the Big Ten ends with a five-loss Wisconsin team looking for redemption in its third straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

"I think there is a tremendous amount of accomplishment in the amount of growth that we've had as a team," said Frederick. "Obviously, we were not playing the way we wanted to play at the beginning of the year. We've evolved as an offense and as a team."

As one of six elected captains on this year's squad, Frederick – a junior from Walworth – were one of the figures involved in the decision to ask Athletic Director Barry Alvarez to return to coach them in Tuesday's Rose Bowl against No.8 Stanford after Bret Bielema surprised everybody in his move to Arkansas December 4.

Frederick grew up a Chicago Bears fan, but closely followed Wisconsin during Alvarez's prime seasons, which included Rose Bowl wins in 1999 over UCLA and 2000 over Stanford.

"Going out there and getting a chance to practice under a guy like Coach Alvarez is a tremendous feeling," said Frederick. "Growing up in Wisconsin, you hear so many things about his legend. He's a guy with a statue in front of the stadium and a perfect 3-0 record in the Rose Bowl. To be coached by a guy like that is really an honor."

Having a chance to even play in a BCS game this season is a blessing for Wisconsin; an opportunity that extends well past its five losses and the fact that the top two teams in the Badgers' division – Ohio State and Penn State - were ineligible for the postseason.

One lineman referred to the offseason and the first two nonconference games as the "dark ages" on the offensive line, making reference to the failed techniques of former OL coach Mike Markuson that threatened to derail the season before it barely began.

Bringing in a style of run and pass blocking better suited for a spread offense than Wisconsin's bigger pro-style bodies, Markuson's techniques frustrated the veterans and stalled the offense's production, resulting in a surprising loss at Oregon State and Markuson's dismissal before week three.

"It was a shock to all of us," Frederick said of the firing, "but it brought us closer together as an (offensive line) group in the end."

With graduate offensive line assistant Bart Miller, a protégé of former OL coach Bob Bostad, being promoted to the job, Wisconsin went back to its old techniques and started showing familiar signs of life.

In a four game stretch from mid October to mid November, Wisconsin rushed for more than 330 yards three times, including a school-record 564 yards against Indiana that came with seven touchdowns.

There were some eyesores, too, (56 rushing yards in a loss at Nebraska; 19 in an overtime loss to Michigan State; and 38 in an overtime loss at Penn State), but the group shocked everybody with 539 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns in a 70-31 rout over Nebraska in the Big Ten title game.

Since Oct. 1, Wisconsin is averaging 307.9 rushing yards per game, the fourth-best mark in the nation over that span. Despite all that has transpired with a head coach and multiple assistants taking new jobs for next season, Wisconsin are having some of its best workouts of the year.

"Everybody has been on," said Frederick. "With what we went through, you wouldn't expect that our first two practices were the best of the year. Guys are coming out ready to work."

That's been the same motto delivered by Frederick all season. While senior left tackle Rick Wagner is another team captain, Frederick's vocal leadership was one of the key components in keeping the line functioning together following the first of many coaching changes.

The results of those actions have spoken with a third straight conference championship.

"When we made the coaching change, it was nice to have Travis to work with," said junior left guard Ryan Groy, who works between Wagner and Frederick. "As a group, we all bounced ideas off each other to figure out how to get this unit better. We wanted to make this team better and this offense better, and it really worked out in the end."


Buckeye Sports Top Stories