Depth of Success

The injury bug plagued Wisconsin's offensive line through the nonconference season, forcing offensive line coach Bob Bostad to use three different starting combinations in four games. One would never have known it by looking at the results.

MADISON - On paper, Wisconsin's offensive line should have plenty to worry about early on in the season.

The Badgers not only lost three players to the NFL from last year's team, but they've had to deal with multiple injuries as well.

Knee injuries have hampered both starting left guard Travis Frederick and starting right tackle Josh Oglesby, and each has missed a game as a result.

But take a quick glance at Wisconsin's offensive production – 27 touchdowns, more than 2,100 yards and nearly 200 points. And that's through just four games.

Though the unit appears to have the odds stacked against it heading into its Big Ten Conference opener Saturday against No. 8 Nebraska and its hyped defensive line, the offensive line for No. 7 Wisconsin isn't missing a beat.

While having an offense that features a Heisman-caliber quarterback and superb skill players helps, the Badgers have developed one of the deepest offensive lines in the country.

"It's very beneficial," Wisconsin right guard Kevin Zeitler said of the line's depth. "You see it all the time. Teams that don't have depth – like someone who comes in and is not ready – really hurts the team. But it also goes back to (offensive line) coach (Bob) Bostad preparing everyone to play no matter what the situation."

Senior quarterback Russell Wilson has been sacked just three times this season in his 110 passing and rushing attempts, while junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White have rushed for more than 300 yards apiece.

"They do a great job up front," Ball said. "I feel like I've got to make better reads, but we're really practicing with our depth and making sure that second man coming in is just as good as the first."

Sophomore Ryan Groy filled in for Frederick, who suffered a slight MCL sprain in the Badgers' opener, in the team's shutout win over Oregon State Sept. 10.

Redshirt freshman Rob Havenstein then replaced Oglesby, who has had six surgeries on his knees, after Wisconsin's fifth-year senior sustained a Grade II MCL sprain during the team's victory over Northern Illinois Sept. 17. Havenstein started in the Badgers' win over South Dakota Saturday and may start again against the Cornhuskers if Oglesby suffers a setback.

"I've been very happy with guys filling in," Wisconsin junior center Peter Konz said. "The guys coming in are pretty young. The way they handle it and the situations and just following the leaders, as far as Russell, as far as me, Zeitler, even Ricky (Wagner). Just getting in that game has been great."

Last year's offensive line produced three NFL starters in Gabe Carimi (Chicago Bears), John Moffitt (Seattle Seahawks) and Bill Nagy (Dallas Cowboys). Still, the Badgers managed to return players with a good deal of starting experience.

Konz, Wagner and Zeitler all started at least nine games for Wisconsin a season ago, while Oglesby started 10 games as a sophomore. Even Frederick started four games in 2010. And while Groy earned his first start on the offensive line Sept. 10, he earned a lot of playing time last year as a fullback.

While the Badgers have had three different combinations on the line so far this season, Wilson has seen no disparity in the unit's production from game-to-game.

"I can't tell the difference at all," Wilson said of lining up behind different offensive linemen. "I think that is a testament to coach Bostad and coach (Bret) Bielema in terms of recruiting, in terms of getting those guys going and during practice. Coach Bostad really does a great job of getting everybody ready, and those guys work extremely hard every single day."

Wisconsin's offensive line will encounter its first true test Saturday against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers' defensive line boasts a returning second-team All-American in senior Jared Crick.

"It's going to be a different level of competition than we've played so far," Zeitler said. "We know about all the hype around them and we have to respect it. We're going to have to prepare our hardest and when game day comes, we have to be ready."

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