Junior left tackle Morgan Davis, sophomore center Donovan Raiola, and junior right tackle Mike Lorenz have emerged into the spotlight as the three new starters on the offensive line. The addition of these three has helped the line become a hot topic since the Badgers running game tallied 209 yards against North Carolina and freshman tailback Booker Stanley ran for three touchdowns.
Breaking into a starting role has been a definite change for these three players as they are now seeing the amount of preparation and leadership they need as they enter into each game.
"It's been a lot different as a starter," Davis said. "I have to go out to practice everyday and expect to know what I'm doing. Last year I needed to know what I was doing but this year there's a lot more pressure on me."
"It's been a change, you have to be ready every week; you have to come prepared," Raiola added. "You have to watch a lot more film because it's on you. Last year behind Al Johnson I could ask him questions and things, this year it's on me for my backup to ask me questions and I have to know what's going on."
Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez has been pleasantly surprised with the three new members and how well they have meshed within the line. Against North Carolina, Alvarez received a request from Raiola to run the ball. This came as a surprise to Alvarez, but nonetheless he liked to hear Raiola's perspective.
"I like their input," Alvarez said. "Raiola's was really after the fact. You know, it was after the pick when he came in and said, ‘You know coach, we wanted to run one more power.' And I like to hear that because then I know he's got confidence and the offensive line has confidence in what they are doing."
Confidence among the line is growing quickly with the three newcomers. The mixing of the old and new has brought about positive results on the field.
In addition, the line has become a close-knit unit, off the field as well as on, though each member of the line has a different perspective on the line's, and each individual's, personality.
Davis commented that the line is studious in football as well as in the classroom, while Raiola sees the line as a group of guys that likes to have a good time.
"I think we just go out there and have fun every week," Raiola said. "Doing what we were taught during the week and then we just go turn loose, and have a little fun."
These three might seem intimidating at first as they each stand over six feet tall and weigh at least 300 pounds, but Lorenz knows that each of them are respectable guys.
"I think we're a pretty good bunch of guys," Lorenz added. "We respect people and we're pretty decent guys off the field."
Quarterback Jim Sorgi agrees with Lorenz in that the offensive line is a first-class group both on and off the field. And Sorgi knows it is important for him to get along with the line in order for the offense to flow.
"We started running the ball really well in the second half (against North Carolina)," said Sorgi, who was only sacked once against North Carolina. "When we threw the ball, some of the guys were as open as they could be. I've got to say thank you to them for having the running game we do have because it does help me out. If you sit down with those guys and just have a serious conversation with them, they're great guys and they know what it takes to win."
When one sees the offensive line in action it is important to notice the energy the line brings into the game. Much of this energy can be attributed to Raiola, whether it is through pranks he plays, constant talking, or the enthusiasm he brings.
"I think Donovan is our leader," Davis said. "He goes out and tries to have fun every single day. His pranks and everything that he does at practice when we get a little bit down helps to pick us up. We try and follow along with him as best we can."
According to Raiola, he doesn't know where his enthusiasm comes from. Once game day comes, it all falls into place.
"When I step on the field on Saturday and I see the opponent, something comes out of me that normally you don't really see off the field because I'm pretty easy going off the field," Raiola said. "So when I get on the field I see the opponent and I get so excited."
The energy that Raiola brings to the rest of the line will be vital as the Big Ten season gets rolling. Though the line has shown that it can produce an impressive running game, there is still room for progress.
"There's always room for improvement," Lorenz said. "You can never be satisfied. You just have to keep on going out there and keep pounding."
Raiola agrees that there is always room for improvement in the line, but thinks that the four non-conference games have helped the team prepare and gain momentum as they enter into the Big Ten.
"There's a different animal in the Big Ten," Raiola said. "Obviously tougher teams and tougher players. There's a reason we're in the Big Ten, non-conference is good but now is the time where you really have to play as hard as you possibly can."
Did the line show their full potential against North Carolina, or is there more to come for the Big Ten? According to a confident Davis, there's still more to come.
"I think we've only scratched the surface so far," Davis said. "When we go out and fire at all cylinders who knows what could happen."