Heavy hitting: Wisconsin's offensive line learning to avoid costly mistakes

Despite having four returning players, Wisconsin's offensive line has already committed as many penalties in six games, 14, as it did all of last season. 

Image By: Brandon Moe

You’re at right tackle.

The outside linebacker across from you, he’s fast — really fast. If you don’t jolt back into your pass set off of the snap, he’s going to turn the corner. Your quarterback is toast.

But wait, what if he cuts inside? Look at the defensive tackle coming outside on a stunt.

There’s a slot cornerback to your right too. He’s up on the line of scrimmage. He might be coming. You remember seeing him blitz on film.

“52’s the Mike!” your center calls out.

OK, it’s a slide protection. You have to block the furthest rusher to the outside. Oh yeah, there’s a running back back there too. He’s got your inside help. You can’t give up that edge.

The safety comes down to the line of scrimmage. He’s right in front of you. Now there’s four guys to your side. It’s just you and your right guard. The center calls out the same protection again.

The safety, the linebacker and the cornerback have fire in their eyes, racecars at the starting line revving their engines.

You can’t get beat off the snap. Be ready. You have to go. Explode out of your stance. Get there first.

“Green 90. Set. HUT!”

You fire off right into your pass set. Perfect balance and weight transfer. You’re the first one off the line.

You’re the only one off the line.

Whistles blow. Flags fly. False start on the offense.

The snap count was two. You went on one.

It’s a five yard penalty, and now you have to do it all over again.

Wisconsin offensive linemen have so much going through their heads on every play before the ball is even snapped.

Defenses are shifting around at the last minute and all five blockers are just trying to figure out what their responsibility is, based on the play call and the adjustments at the line of scrimmage.

There’s a lot of room for error, and remembering the snap count can sometimes trail off to the back of their minds if they aren’t 100 percent locked in and confident in themselves and the play.

“Sometimes the line and tight ends and the whole group is anticipating the rhythm of the count, and you’ve just got to get everything down together,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “We’ve got to be able to see and identify and change things and still get off on the same count, so we’ve just got to clean some stuff up. That was a little sloppy to me.”

The Badgers’ offensive line was a more than a little sloppy against Purdue. Right tackle David Edwards and center Tyler Biadasz were flagged for two false starts each, three of which came in the first quarter.

“We go on the start of our ‘Ready, Go,’ and sometimes if there’s like a pause with Alex [Hornibrook] or if there’s a motion, sometimes that timing gets messed up,” Edwards said. “But for me at least, I need to lock myself in and make sure that I’m focused on not jumping.”

Through six games this season, Wisconsin’s offensive line has been flagged 14 times, with nine false starts, four holding penalties and one chop block.

Edwards and Biadasz have been the most frequent offenders with four penalties each.

By comparison, the Badgers’ offensive line was flagged 14 times all of last season and they returned four of their five starters this year with Biadasz filling in at center and Michael Dieter moving to left tackle.

Head coach Paul Chryst likes to say that none of these guys commit penalties on purpose. It sounds overly simple, but what he means is that the these players don’t need to be chewed out or reminded that penalties are bad.

The offensive line plays for each other, and none of them want to be the one who makes the mistake on the play.

“It’s more so that you’re just letting the team down, and you put yourself in a worse situation,” Edwards said. “Now you’ve got to get that back and you put yourself behind the sticks, so it’s more so you’re letting the guys next to you down.”

That doesn’t mean the coaches won’t harp on their players to clean up the simple errors like these, though. Most of the embarrassment comes on the field when the play actually happens, but those feelings can come back in the film room.

“We usually bring it up in team meetings and stuff, and you kind of feel like a jackass,” right guard Beau Benzschawel said. “We pretty much just emphasize it throughout the week to get ourselves on our toes and make sure we’re on the same page.”

Mistakes like these can pile on. If a lineman starts second-guessing himself and losing that confidence, he might be more jumpy, or he could be more inclined to grab on and hold a defender.

They know it’s critical to have a short memory — correct the mistake and move on.

“We just remind our guys that it’s not going to help you to be pissed about it, so just move on to the next play,” Biadasz said. “You can’t do anything about it, but you can do something better on this play.”

The Wisconsin offensive line, however, regularly does something better on the plays that follow penalties, and it’s a big reason why UW is undefeated.

The young group up front is a little rough around the edges as they develop cohesion, and they’re going to have their “sloppy” games, but they get the job done more often than not.

Offensive line play is a brawl and a chess match at the same time, and trying to get five minds and bodies to act as one unit is the name of the game.

All five linemen are processing so much at the same time while the clock is ticking and the crowd is roaring. The defense is shifting, and the game is on the line.

Do you remember the snap count?

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