MADISON – It had the feeling that Wisconsin would have had better success running through a brick wall than some of the stout run fronts it had been facing.
Against two 20 run defenses in LSU and Michigan, Wisconsin had averaged only 102.5 yards on the ground, resulting in one touchdown and 12.5 points.
Needless to say, even though the end result was a 30-23 overtime loss to No.2 Ohio State, Wisconsin needed the performance it got Saturday night, running for 236 team yards and proving that they can run on anybody when the offensive line executes their plays.
“That was a huge positive because after Michigan we were really down as a unit,” right tackle Jacob Maxwell said, referring to the Badgers’ 71 rushing yards in the 14-7 loss three weekends ago. “When we watched the film we left so much out there. To be able to come out against equally as good of a front and be able to run the ball was huge for us.”
After giving up consistent penetration, the onus after the Michigan game was for players to buck up, accomplish their jobs and give 100 percent effort. Ohio State was a step in the right direction but was easier said than done for some players. Benzschawel spent the majority of the evening going against freshman defensive end Nick Bosa, who used his athleticism to win a handful of battles and create some disruptions.
“He’s a very well put together guy,” Benzschawel said, admitting he leaned too much on him, opening up some easy rush lanes for him. “Obviously his brother (2016 first-round draft pick Joey Bosa) is a freak athlete. He comes from the same genetics, and he’s right on that track, too. He burned me a couple times. He probably learned a couple tricks and traits from his brother.”
Benzschawel got the better of him, too. After Wisconsin’s disaster third quarter (11 yards on 11 plays) allowed Ohio State to take a three-point lead in the fourth, Wisconsin responded with an 11 play, 81-yard drive. The march took 6 minutes, 11 seconds off the clock due to the line paving the way for 43 yards on the ground and the first rushing touchdown the Buckeyes had given up this season.
“We were able to punch them in the mouth,” Maxwell said. “After that drive I was just stoked. That was vintage Wisconsin Badger football. That’s one of the best teams in the country and to drive the ball down their throat, and score on the first play from the five-yard line, something no other team has done against Ohio State, I just think it was huge to get some confidence in the run game.”
Watching the tape with offensive coordinator/line coach Joe Rudolph, Maxwell said the biggest takeaway was finishing plays and pad level, especially on pass protections. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was sacked four times and hurried thrice.
The group also spent time studying the overtime possession, a drive Maxwell called “bad” because all four plays should have scored against the defense Ohio State was in if things were executed properly.
“If we want to play how we know we can play, we have to score in that situation,” Maxwell said. “Everything was just a little bit off on every play. It wasn’t exactly how we needed it to be. It sucks, but it comes down to finishing plays.”
After having seven different offensive line combinations last season, Rudolph is still tinkering with lines through six games this season. Not only had Rudolph had to work around injuries to left guard Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi, the second-year coach rotated in different players at left guard, center and right tackle throughout Saturday.
“Everybody on the offensive line has a trust in each other,” Benzschawel said. “We’re all getting reps throughout the week, so it’s not like we’re surprised by anything. We know what’s going on when guys come into games. The biggest thing is trusting the guys next to you.”
That trust has been growing for Benzschawel and Maxwell since November when they were put in their current positions in the regular season finale at Minnesota. When the Badgers played Iowa last September, Maxwell was making his first career start and Benzschawel was still recovering from a camp knee injury. The two continue to push each other and build each other’s confidence, important going against a power front seven of Iowa.
“They have really good linebackers, better than Michigan State’s linebackers when you look at the film,” Maxwell said of the Hawkeyes. “They fly to the ball. That was the biggest thing last year in trying to cover those guys up. The d-line is equally as good. We just have to go out there and punch them in the mouth.”
When kicker Rafael Gaglianone was sidelined for the season with a back injury, many wondered how significant a drop it could be. After all the junior had rebounded from a sub-par sophomore season, converting 7-of-8 field goal chances, and appeared back to his freshman form.
Insert senior and former walk-on Andrew Endicott, a known commodity as a kickoff specialist since 2013 but had never attempted an extra point or field goal in his collegiate career. Through three games, he has converted all four of his attempts and been a model of consistency in place of his injured teammate.
“I don’t know if I’ve surprised people, if that’s the right phrase,” Endicott said. “I remember telling someone before that I was hoping when ‘Raf’ went down that no one would really realize it. I hope that I’ve been doing that, and I hope that I’m just trying to go out there and help the team and put points on the board.”
Endicott delivered from the start against Ohio State, drilling a 46-yard field goal to put the Badgers up 3-0. He added two more first half kicks of 32 and 22 to give Wisconsin a 16-6 lead at halftime.
“(It) was a good day for me personally,” Endicott admitted. “Would’ve loved to get the win as a team, but I was just hoping people didn’t realize that Raf wasn’t kicking.”
The only blip so far this season was a missed extra point in UW’s 30-6 victory against the Spartans. He later rebounded to drill a 41-yard field goal to extend Wisconsin’s lead.
“Endy came up big,” head coach Paul Chryst said. “We had confidence with him before this game …
I think like anyone, it probably gives him as much confidence as it does give us the confidence. This group, I love and appreciate this group. They’re going to give all of themselves to give this team that chance.”