A Work in Progress

While many had the unrealistic expectations that Wisconsin's offensive line would snap back to normalcy over night following a change in leadership, the Badgers' linemen showed resiliency and some progress, although there is a lot more to be done.

MADISON - Now what? Who can the Badgers fire now to fix their offensive woes? Replacing a replacement coach isn't an option…yet. However, the Badgers offensive line did perform better than they had in the last few weeks in their narrowing victory over Utah State, 16-14, Saturday.

"It's something that we worked on all week. I mean, with an offensive line, you're not going to come out and run for 400 yards, and like coach said earlier, its baby steps," junior guard Ryan Groy said. "We had a great week of practice, I think we had a decent performance where we've just got to stay on blocks and do the little things to pop a couple more."

The victory ends a wild week for Wisconsin's offensive line, which saw coach Mike Markuson replaced with graduate assistant and former Bob Bostad prodigy Bart Miller; a move that suggested Wisconsin was headed back to its old ground-and-pound offense.

While the Badgers did rack up 156 yards on the ground, it took Montee Ball and company 45 attempts to hit that number. The Badgers did try to pound the ball the whole game, but Ball's 17-yard touchdown run was the longest of his three-game season.

"I think we're getting really close with the lineman, tight ends and full backs and everyone, and that's what needs to happen," said junior center Travis Frederick. "We need to get things done and make it easier for him to get those yards. I think he's getting there, he's moving in the right direction."

The offense didn't score a touchdown until the third quarter and only had 234 total yards on offense, so it became a ‘grind it out' sort of game for the running attack.

"I'd like to think we were," sophomore tackle Rob Havenstein said. "That's obviously the goal every single time we come out. We definitely have to wear on the defense and I think we ended up doing that today, but obviously we have to clean up third--and 1s."

The Badgers tried many different things to get the offense going, including swapping junior quarterback Danny O'Brien for backup redshirt freshman Joel Stave, who only completed two passes for 15 yards, but didn't turn the ball over.

Penalties were also a problem for UW. On three different occasions, the Badgers started with first-and-15 because of false starts.

"I don't know, it was something like, one guy here, one guy there," said Groy. "We'd go off to the sidelines, I got my block, I got my block, ugh, I missed that guy. It was a different guy every time. We've really got to focus on getting 100% of the assignments right and go from there."

Added UW coach Bret Bielema: "They were shifting from a certain shade alignment to a head up nose and getting the guys covered on the guards. When they were doing that they were making sudden movements and made some barks and got a couple of our guys early."

Another major area of concern was third down. The Badgers converted on only 3 of 15 tries and were just 1 of 5 on third-and-one. It seemed as if Utah State's defense became a brick wall in those spots.

"I kind of got that vibe, too," Havenstein said. "I'm going to go ahead and throw that on my shoulders, I know I missed a couple guys, and a couple crucial blocks that probably would've sprung some runs."

Added Frederick: "I think they did some things up front that kind of stunted what we were doing. Some of the things we saw we hadn't seen in practice and I think that it comes down to everyone playing their best on third-and-one and third-and-two and really putting our focus on that. I don't think that was the case. I certainly didn't play my best on third-and-one and third-and-two."

The lack of running room and good blocks at the line of scrimmage gave Ball some fits. Utah State kept at least seven defenders up in the box throughout the game, so the Badgers threw a change-up to release some pressure with Melvin Gordon running reverses.

"I think the backside, the linebackers on the backside and the defensive ends had to keep the jet in mind, keep the reverse close," said Groy. "I think it kept a couple of guys out of the box, and it made for a good play."

The line did keep Stave and O'Brien upright for the most part, only allowing one sack the entire game. UTEP will certainly follow suite just like everyone else and use this week to practice stuffing the Heisman-hopeful Ball next Saturday.

"We didn't expect for the offensive line, with one week of preparation with the new coach, to come out and part the sea every single play," said Ball. "But you can clearly see a difference."

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