Wisconsin Outside Linebackers vs. Northwestern Offensive Line
The Wisconsin defense is starting to generate pressure on the quarterback. After having the fewest sacks in the country for the first couple weeks of the season, the Badgers are beginning to bring the quarterback to the ground. Last week against Illinois and even for portions of the game against Michigan, Wisconsin has been getting hurries on the quarterback.
The duo of Zack Baun and Andrew Van Ginkel have not been as productive as most fans anticipated going into the season. Baun has been inconsistent at times and Van Ginkel has been dealing with an ankle injury since week three. Reserves Christian Bell and Tyler Johnson have had little impact on any game thus far. However, the play at outside linebacker is beginning to ratchet up.
Against Illinois, Baun and Van Ginkel each registered a sack and provided great play from the outside pass rush. Van Ginkel looks to be healthier and could be recapturing the playmaking ability we saw at the end of last year. Baun looks to be positioning himself for a solid second half as he was all over the field against Illinois. Leonhard is expanding the playbook and putting Baun in great positions to make an impact on the game. He could be on the brink of a breakout game, and there is no better time than this upcoming week against the Northwestern Wildcats.
Northwestern’s offensive line has been susceptible to giving up sacks so far this year. Last week they gave up three sacks to an underwhelming Rutgers defense that should probably have no business getting to Clayton Thorson. The pressure that Rutgers provided on Saturday made Thorson uncomfortable, leading him to finish with 150 yards off of 34 pass attempts. Thorson has shown that when he is under duress he becomes inaccurate with the football. If Northwestern’s offensive line extends their struggles from last week, Wisconsin could have the opportunity to take another step in the right direction in terms of generating a pass rush.
With Northwestern showing almost no ability or desire to run the ball, Leonhard could get creative with his outside linebackers. The many stunts and blitz packages Leonhard has showcased as a defensive coordinator could give the inconsistent Northwestern offensive line problems. Being one dimensional on offense could give Van Ginkel and Baun plenty of opportunities to pin their ears back and get to Thorson.
If it is apparent that Northwestern is going to sit back and pass the entire game, it is vital that Wisconsin’s linebackers are consistently forcing Thorson to play out of his comfort zone. Thorson has the ability to torch a defense if he is given time and allowed to sit back in the pocket. He has the arm strength and accuracy to pick apart a secondary if there is no impactful pass rush that he has to deal with.