Wisconsin’s offensive line vs. Northwestern’s defensive line
The battle of the big uglies will be big this weekend. The Badgers have been scoring essentially at-will this season. This offense is putting up points we haven’t seen since Russell Wilson was leading the team. This isn’t a coincidence. Wisconsin football is at its best when the running game is rolling along.
This Wisconsin football team is averaging 264 yards per game on the ground, good for the ninth-most in the country. Jonathan Taylor already has 440 yards on just 58 attempts, averaging 7.6 yards per game with seven rushing touchdowns already.
Yes, Jonathan Taylor is one of the best if not the best running back in the country, but he can’t do it all by himself. His linemen make life a lot easier for him by opening up huge holes on the line that allow him to turn on his breakaway speed and break off huge runs. Take the 72-yard score against Michigan for example. The offensive line blocked everything and sealed off so well, that Taylor just had to cut left and turn on the jets and he was gone.
This line, which has essentially been rebuilt, has been absolutely dominant this year. They have been great in not only run blocking but pass blocking as well. It feels like Jack Coan has had time to make some nice passes this year. Coan already has more completions and yards this year than he did last year and in two fewer games. I think the offensive line has a lot to do with that as well.
On the other side of the ball, Northwestern’s defensive line has struggled a little bit with the run. They have allowed over 150 yards per game, including 210 to UNLV, who averages under 200 yards rushing per game. Wisconsin should be able to run on this team, which could be a problem for the Wildcats.
As far as pass-rushing, Northwestern can get to the quarterback. They have nine sacks on the year, seven of which are from a defensive lineman. Defensive ends Joe Gaziano (#97) and Earnest Brown (#99) have 2.5 and 2 sacks respectively, while the big guy in the middle, Alex Miller (#95) has 2.5 sacks.
This unit may struggle with keeping Jonathan Taylor contained, but they have the ability to get home on a pass-rush, so the Wisconsin offensive line will need to keep their quarterback clean. If Northwestern can effectively get to Coan, it could keep Northwestern in the game long enough to pull off the upset.