Senior offensive linemen ready for home finale

Four seniors have started more than 100 times

Senior leadership is unquestionably one of the trademarks on this University of Wisconsin football team. On the defensive side of the ball, the experience is obvious with the team's stellar front four and solid set of defensive backs. Offensively, much of the attention goes to senior tailback Anthony Davis, and deservedly so.

But at times lost in the limelight has been the consistent and weighty play of the offensive line. With four seniors—Morgan Davis, Dan Buenning, Jonathan Clinkscale and Mike Lorenz—among the team's top six linemen, the group has stepped up and in for each other week in and week out to help carry the team to the position they are in this late in the season.

"We're very close as a group of guys—the entire o-line—and that's nice because we can all trust and rely on each other," Lorenz said. "If one man goes down, the others are there to pick up the slack."

With all the expectations put on the shoulders of seniors during their final campaign, this group has lived up to it primarily because they go about their business on a daily basis without much variation.

"They've corrected things that go wrong and I think they've done a really good job of being focused on what each individual needs to do to get better and then collectively, they've done a good job," offensive line coach Jim Huber said. "I think they have the mentality they wanted. They have wanted to win as seniors, they've wanted to get better daily, they wanted to be leaders and right now, they've lived up to their and our expectations."

Each member of the senior quartet has spent more than a season as a starter. Left guard Buenning headlines the corps, having started 45 of 47 career games. Right guard Clinkscale has also been a mainstay, starting 40 games. Davis and Lorenz started at left and right tackle, respectively, last season, but split time at right tackle for the first four games this year before an injury sidelined Lorenz. The latter is expected to be ready to play this weekend.

With such a young supporting cast around them, the group has really made strides in getting used to not only a new member to the offensive line, sophomore left tackle Joe Thomas, but also a new quarterback—sophomore John Stocco.

"They've done a good job with pass protection. John [Stocco] has a good relationship with those guys and they've done a great job keeping people away from him," Huber said. "I think they respected his toughness. I think they respected the fact that he had a presence in the huddle and seemed unflappable regardless of what went wrong. So I think when they got that, he drew from a little of their toughness and their togetherness and it looks like it has paid off in both ways."

It certainly looks that way. Wisconsin has only yielded six sacks all season and has reeled off nearly 1,400 yards rushing in eight games this season. The solid protection in front of him has helped Stocco develop throughout the season.

"When you have leadership coming out of your senior group and your o-linemen are your leaders, people feed off that," Huber said. "Because those are the guys hitting on every down and you combine that with the fact that we have some older d-linemen and it makes for a lot of good competition in practice and that's good for the team. I won't get to see that next year, so that's nice to have now."

That competition is obviously paying off on Saturdays, as the Badgers go for win number nine on the season this weekend when they host Minnesota for the battle of Paul Bunyan's Axe in UW's home finale.

For upperclassmen in their last home game, it'll be a last chance to regain the coveted Axe that they saw slip away a year ago.

"[The thought of revenge has] been there since last year, I'll admit it," Davis said. "It's a pain you can't describe seeing that other team come over to your sideline and take something that's yours. To see that Axe go away; it's not a good feeling. It's a part of me, I want it back."

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