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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, December 01, 2023
Early success fueled by strong offensive line

football: Scott Tolzien has only been sacked twice this year thanks in large part to his offensive line. The line will have its hands full against a tough Ohio State defensive line this weekend in Columbus.

Early success fueled by strong offensive line

There's a lot that can come from a big quarterback sack: the lost down, the lost yardage and usually a little less confidence and sharpness from the now bludgeoned signal caller.

But thus far this season, sacks have not been much of a problem for junior quarterback Scott Tolzien and the Badger offensive line. Tolzien has only been taken down twice this season, a number that stands as second-lowest in the country.

""I think that's a joint effort, that's everybody. Because when we let up a sack that's everybody,"" junior guard John Moffitt said. ""Granted, we're happy about [this season's numbers], we want to keep that rolling, but that's everybody, that's wide receivers getting open really quick and Scottie getting the ball there fast so we don't have to protect that long. It's a group thing.""

Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst agreed with the assessment and pointed out that Tolzien's quick release and understanding of progressions have been important to keeping him upright. The junior is completing over 65 percent of his passes and leads the conference in passing efficiency.

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When asked about the protection he has in the pocket, Tolzien brought up Monday night's Packers-Vikings game. He pointed out how Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (who was sacked eight times) was uncomfortable and second-guessing himself when he had so little time.

Tolzien thinks he has honed his ability to feel pressure around him as the year has progressed.

""I think that's something that I've grown, you know, the more reps I get in games,"" Tolzien said. ""It's one thing in practice when you've got the green jersey on, guys can't hit you. But just to get the game experience, and getting used to being on the game field, having guys rushing and actually hitting you, the experience has really helped out.""

The lack of sacks has been part of the reason Wisconsin has been so strong offensively in its first five games. The UW offense is tops in the Big Ten, scoring 35 points per game.

A few of the players credited that success to that ability to avoid negative plays that might quiet a home crowd or ignite an opposing one.

""A sack can really kill a drive, can really kill momentum,"" Moffitt said. ""And I feel like we've had a lot of momentum as an offense going forward with our third-down percentage, completions and those kinds of things and Scott's high percentage of completions. I think we've got a momentum rolling, and we want to keep it going, and sacks are a momentum killer.""

One development that makes the low number of sacks allowed more remarkable is the shifting of players in the interior offensive line. The team has fielded three different combinations at the guard and center spots, started a true freshman on the line and seen Moffitt move back to his old position at guard after starting every game last year at center.

""We've had a lot of moving and shaking on the offensive line, but to be able to play the way we've played with guys playing new positions or guys getting their first starts or stuff like that, I think it just speaks volumes of our depth and our preparation and coaching,"" sophomore offensive lineman Oglesby said.

But the line has not been perfect. Chryst said there is still a lot of work to be done to improve in that area, while Moffitt admitted that several times he has come close to getting beat for a sack.

But this weekend that pass protection will be put to the test when the Badgers face off against Ohio State in Columbus. In the last eight games of the series, the Buckeyes have sacked Wisconsin quarterbacks an average of 4.5 times per contest.

""They've got a good D-line. I think they're the best defense we will go against up until now,"" Moffitt said, noting that strong preparation will be key this week. ""I've played against that D-line the past two years, they're really good. They're all athletes, they're all fast, they're all strong guys. So we're expecting a good rush.""

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