Inexperienced line hoping to bulldoze expectations
The offensive line will need to be better for Wisconsin to prove its No. 10 ranking.Image By: Jessi Schoville
Playing on the offensive line might be the least glamorous position in all of football. You don’t score touchdowns like receivers and running backs, you don’t get tackles like linebackers and defensive linemen.
But yet, they are the cog that makes the offensive clock tick, and without a good offensive line, a powerful offense can sputter, which Badger fans saw last season. With a four-year starter at QB and a number of talented running backs and pass catchers, on paper, the UW offense should’ve been dominant, but a lack of consistency and experience on the line led to disappointing offensive performances throughout the year.
After losing their best O-lineman, Tyler Marz, to graduation, Wisconsin was looking toward senior Dan Voltz to carry the torch. However, Voltz injured his ACL late last year, and he hadn’t fully recovered by the start of fall practice, so he decided to retire to protect his health.
This means that the five current Badgers starters have started 34 games combined, an absurdly low number. However, given that four starters are sophomores who played together a lot last season, and one is a junior who was a star at the Division 3 level, there is still hope for this unit.
Starting at left tackle this season is junior Ryan Ramczyk, who was a star at UW-Stevens Point before transferring to UW-Madison after his sophomore season. Considering he hasn’t played football at full speed in over a year, and he hasn’t ever played at the Division 1 level, there might be growing pains, but given his talent and track record, Ramczyk should be one of the Badgers’ most reliable offensive linemen once the season is in full swing.
Left guard is a spot that is still up in the air, which could develop into a serious issue. Sophomore Micah Kapoi and redshirt freshman Jon Dietzen are both listed as equals on the Wisconsin depth chart, and if the pair alternate drives, it could disrupt the cohesion and strength of the entire line. If one takes charge in the first few weeks and wins the job, it could eliminate a number of problems that developed from inconsistency last season.
Replacing Voltz at center is sophomore Michael Dieter, who, alongside Marz, started all 13 games last season. This puts him a step above his inexperienced teammates, but he also has proven to be more talented. He will be the bedrock of the Wisconsin offensive line for years to come, and this year should be a solidifying presence for the inexperienced group.
Redshirt sophomore Beau Benzschawel will start at right guard, a spot where he saw success last year. After being recruited as a tight end, redshirting for a year and then missing the first five games due to injury, it was unclear exactly what he would be capable of, but he came in and performed well. His first start at right guard came against Minnesota, which was arguably the Badgers’ best offensive game of the year, putting up 31 points and 257 rushing yards. If Benzschawel has progressed from where he was last year, and can stay healthy, he should be another key piece in the O-line puzzle.
Lastly, at right tackle is sophomore Jacob Maxwell. If this year goes like last year, you’ll know what to expect from Maxwell; he won’t be fantastic, he won’t be awful, he’ll just be somewhere in the middle. There is a level of strength in steady play, but if Maxwell can be consistently great instead of consistently good it would be a boost to the line as a whole.
With a line as young as Wisconsin’s, looking to the future is usually the best way to see success. But with a stable of talented, veteran running backs behind them, as long as this group plays moderately well, they could end up looking pretty good.