Unnoticeably Important

With the Wisconsin defense and runnning backs stealing the headlines the past two weeks, the offensive line is going unnoticed and, honestly, they really shouldn't.

MADISON - The resurgence of Wisconsin's defense over the last two weeks has been dominating the headlines and rightfully so. If you don't think that's warranted, just look at what they've accomplished in the last two weeks against the opposition.

The Badger rush defense has allowed 132 yards in the last two games (66.0 average) after allowing 510 rushing yards in their two losses (255 average).

After forcing only five turnovers in its last seven games, Wisconsin defenders have created seven turnovers while allowing just six points in its last eight quarters.

After allowing two of their last three opponents to covert over 40 percent on their third down tries, the Badgers have held steadfast by allowing opponents to convert only 23 percent of the time (6-for-26).

Along with the defense, the Wisconsin running game has found its second wind. Being left for dead after its dismal 87-yard rushing performance against Penn State, the Wisconsin running game has racked up 610 yards and eight touchdowns, scoring early and often, the last two weekends in Madison.

Players like P.J. Hill, Lance Smith and Zach Brown are getting the accolades for the rejuvenation and rightfully so, but without the five unsung heroes of the offensive line leading the way, the Badgers run game would still be halted.

At a school known for their running game and requiring big, physical linemen to make their running attack work, the Badgers have a contingent of five starters that are filling that requirement in left tackle Gabe Carimi, left guard Andy Kemp, center Marcus Coleman, right guard Kraig Urbik and right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel.

In the unsung world of offensive linemen, confidence is a major key and the five guys up front for Wisconsin have plenty of it to go around.

"The confidence is up with those guys and that's something we're going to need to have to win," quarterback Tyler Donovan said. "We're going to need to run the ball as well as throw it. Doing that is going to determine our success."

What has determined Wisconsin's offensive success is that the Badgers are scoring first. In the last two games, the Badgers have scored in the opening five minutes of the first quarter, putting pressure early on the opposition and taking pressure off the defense. More importantly, the Badgers are keeping their lead throughout the game, resulting in the unit to not rely solely on the passing game.

"We've been able to settle down a little bit and stick within our game plan with keeping the ball on the ground and throwing when we need to," Donovan said. "As an offense, we've been in some comfortable situations, which is nice."

In the rugged world of college football, the Badger linemen have been fortunate, for the most part, to stay healthy. Up until guard Andy Kemp broke his hand against Penn State and had to sit out the last two weeks, the Badger five had started every game this season. In fact, with the exception of Carimi, Coleman (22 straight starts), Urbik (35 straight) and Vanden Heuvel (22 straight) have been staples in the trenches.

"It's impressive and important to our success," said Urbik about the health of his unit. "We've been pretty lucky."

One area the Badgers haven't been healthy and consistent in is who the five linemen are blocking for. With Lance Smith being unavailable for road games and P.J. Hill leaving last week's game with a foot injury, Zach Brown has been the only back consistently healthy, being forced to play a major part in the offense despite being only a freshman.

Even without Hill last week, the offensive line was able to help the Badgers generate 279 rushing yards in a 33-3 trouncing of Indiana.

With Smith not traveling to Columbus and Hill's status still in question, the job of the offensive line has remained unchanged since the beginning of the season.

"We'll be doing the same thing no matter who is running the ball," Urbik said. "It's puts a little pressure on us (not knowing who will play), but it's the next guy in no matter what."

Whoever is running the ball, the Badgers will be going up against, by far, the toughest defense they have faced this season in the Buckeyes. Ohio State ranks first nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 8.9 points per game, and first in total defense, allowing just 214.6 yards per game.

If that's not intimidating, the Ohio State defense has allowed only five touchdowns all season.

"It's a big challenge because they are the best defense in the nation," Urbik said. "We just have to go out, play our game and try to do everything right."

For an offensive line that has battled in the trenches week in and week out and still come ready to work on Monday, the Badger five, unappreciated and virtually unnoticed, are gaining confidence at the right time, heading into their toughest battle against the nation's toughest team.

"We have some pretty good confidence right now," Urbik said. "We've been pretty consistent but we still have little things to do and improve every week."


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