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Every time Wisconsin needs a big run play, everybody knows where the play is going. Even when opponents know the play is going behind left tackle Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt left guard, the two senior linemen rarely let anybody push them around.

MADISON – If he had his way, Gabe Carimi would not say one word to John Moffitt on the football field.

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 27th time Saturday, and the final time at home, when No.5 Wisconsin hosts Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium with a share of the conference title on the line.

Through 11 games, the Badgers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) have given up just 12 sacks, tied for 20th 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.

"(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 covering Tolzien's blindside after recovering from their own injury problems.

Moffitt, from Guilford, Conn., has started 40 games at both left guard and center over four years. Moffitt was sidelined for most of the non-conference season last year after injuring his pectoral muscle in a freak weight room accident, but has rarely missed a beat since.

Carimi, from nearby Cottage Grove, started all 13 games last year (47 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 only take back 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 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 their 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 5.45 yards per carry. The school record for yards per carry is 5.38 set in 1994 and 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 are 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."

The Wildcats (7-4, 3-4) don't nearly provide the formidable pass rush the Badgers have been accustomed to over the last month. Northwestern is tied for 94th in the country in registering 16 sacks for 124 yards (7.74 yards a sack) and is ninth in pass defense (230.5).

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."


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