The Wisconsin football team (4-2 Big Ten, 7-3 overall) has proved more than ever this season that it lives and dies by one simple fact: if the team can’t establish a run game, ugly results ensue.
In Wisconsin’s three losses (at Oregon State, at Nebraska and versus Michigan State), the team has run for a total of 110 net yards and averaged just 1.13 yards per carry.
The Badgers ran for more than five times that three-game total on Saturday alone in their 62-14 drubbing of Indiana, a team now ranked 118th out of the 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing defense.
In the Badgers’ wins, the team averages 300.6 net yards on the ground and a 5.9 net yards-per-carry average.
But the mindset of “the run game is everything’”is no secret. And it never really has been.
“I think we have to run the ball successfully to have success,” redshirt senior Rick Wagner said. “That’s a big part of the game plan but everyone knows that going in.”
Ohio State (6-0, 10-0) comes into the Badgers’ Senior Day ranked 16th in the country in rushing defense, allowing an average of only 3.49 yards per rush.
But instead of the Badgers having a specific plan like they did against Indiana—which was to neutralize the interior defensive linemen—they realize the Buckeyes present problems across the board.
“They work hard, they’re high-motored,” Wisconsin offensive line coach Bart Miller said. “When you combine tremendous effort with tremendous talent, that’s a pretty formidable opponent you’re going to play. Ohio State is a top defense in the country and we’re going to have our hands full.”
Wagner said the team still learned something in the Indiana game, but this time there was virtually nothing that went wrong. He said the team kept busted assignment to a minimum, which he admitted has happened in earlier games this season.
“That’s something that we especially have to do against Ohio State with the great ‘D’-line that they have,” he said.
Nebraska did manage 223 rushing yards against the Buckeyes in their shootout Oct. 6, but take away a 73-yard scamper by senior Huskers running back Rex Burkhead and the team averaged a very mediocre 3.3 yards per rush.
It turns out last Saturday wasn’t the only time the unit set a goal, when redshirt junior center Travis Frederick admitted to establishing one of rushing for 400 yards.
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Kyle Costigan said Miller proposed a 400-yard mark during halftime of the Purdue game, as well. The Badgers finished with 467 net yards on the ground in that contest.
The offensive line might want to establish a goal like they did against Indiana. While the Badgers certainly won’t aim nearly as high as they did last Saturday, Wagner still admitted that the rushing yards that the deep running back position piles up is something that the line always keeps an eye on.
“We look at the scoreboard and the rushing total,” he said. “So it’s something to play for a little bit more.”
Miller liked the added fire the line displayed as well
“I wanted to challenge them,” he said. “Obviously it showed. [And] we know it’s going to be a fight [Saturday] and we knew that Michigan State was going to be a fight. But it just depends on how long that fight really lasts.”