An O-Line Mystery

The success of the offense starts up front with the Wisconsin offensive line, a unit led by two seniors, a NFL quality junior and two other returning starters. So with all their success and experience, it has made watching the game film from Ohio State all that more frustrating.

MADISON - The most frustrating aspect for senior right guard Kevin Zeitler the last two weeks? He really can't find fault in what the offensive line did to not succeed, especially against Ohio State.

"It's a mystery to me," Zeitler said. "We did some good things on film. Some things here and there, some people getting through blocks and shedding blocks. We did not have assignment mistakes. We probably had the fewest mistakes that we had all year."

Knowing that, it's understandable that the level of frustration following No.19 Wisconsin's 33-29 loss to Ohio State Saturday was high. After all, Wisconsin ran for 184 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 4.3 yards per carry and having 18 runs of five yards or longer last season against the Buckeyes. In last Saturday's four-point loss in Columbus, the offensive line could only muster 89 yards, one touchdown, averaging 3.1 yards per carry and having only 6 runs of five yards or longer.

"They have a completely different defense, so the running game, as far as plays, was limited in different areas than it was last year and that changed momentum," center Peter Konz said. "I don't really know what the differences were. You look at the results and you have to realize that they are a really good defense. You can't expect us to break off a 20-yard runs every play and have it wildly efficient every play. We're just looking for consistency."

Consistency is one area that usually hasn't been a problem for Wisconsin's offense. Ranking sixth in the country in averaging 45.1 points per game, Wisconsin is one of three teams in the nation to average at least 230 yards rushing and passing this season, and have had 49 plays of longer than 20 yards. Against the Buckeyes, however, the Badgers were held to season low in points (29) and yards (342) and just three plays of 20 yards or longer.

"I think everybody is getting used to us scoring 50 points and these extravagant numbers," Konz said. "You've got to remember that these are very good Big Ten defenses."

Very good? Try the best in the Big Ten. Facing units ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring defense each of the last two weeks, the Badgers scored 31 points against Michigan State (entered the game giving up an average of 10.8 points) and 29 against Ohio State (16.3 average entering the game).

With the ramped up pressure, the o-line, which had given up eight sacks in the first six games, has given up five in the last two weeks, including three by Ohio State. A couple of those sacks were due to Wisconsin's wide receivers being blanketed by the opposing secondary, but it's not something Konz takes solace in.

"Always put it on the o-line," said Konz, who doesn't buy the term ‘coverage sack.' "If I did that, I might as well blame a lot of people for a lot of things, too. I can only control what I can control, which is keeping Russell (Wilson) safe."

Offensive line coach Bob Bostad isn't known for holding back his emotions or coddling his players. A man that often wears his emotions on his sleeve, even Bostad has taken a back seat after the last two games to allow his unit to try to search for some answers.

"He's been pretty calm," Zeitler said. "I think he knows we've beaten ourselves up over it. Two plane rides home haven't been us screwing around. It's been us trying to figure out on our own minds what happened. He gets on us in practice on course and tells us to get it going, but he's let us work on it after the game."

It's a sign, according to Zeitler, of the veteran leadership that is intertwined on the offensive line. The Badgers have two seniors (Zeitler and right tackle Josh Oglesby), a junior center (Konz) that is good enough to leave early for the NFL and a left side of the line anchored by one of the more versatile players (left tackle Ricky Wagner) and one of the smartest players (Travis Frederick).

It led Oglesby to say that Wisconsin's 2011 offensive line could be better than the 2010 version that featured two All-Americans and the Outland Trophy winner in Gabe Carimi.

"I think the line has gotten better throughout the season," Zeitler said. "We had some rough spots, but we're playing pretty well right now. It's frustrating with the little things that have happened, but I think we can reach the bar (set last year). There's no doubt in my mind."

In order to reach that plateau, Wisconsin is preparing for its home game against Purdue this Saturday by going back to basics, cleaning up the little things that could make a big difference. Konz is looking to be straighter when he blocks, Travis Frederick is looking for an efficient four yards per carry and Zeitler is about consistency.

There's one thing the line isn't looking to do, however, and that's redeem itself.

"We're just looking to look hard," Konz said. "That's what it always comes down to. We want to be our best every week and try to get better every week. You know what? I am not ashamed of how we played, but I know we can get better."

But with only four games left on the schedule and the Badgers needing to win out to have a shot to play in the Big Ten championship game at Indianapolis, the pressure is on, and the offensive line knows it starts with them.

"There's a definite urgency in the room that we have to get it going now," Zeitler said. "We can't finish it out like this. We have to get it back on track and we have to get it started today.

"Pretty much it comes down to us for the rest of the season. It's what we want to do and we have to get it going. If we take care of business, we know good things are going to happen."

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