One of the biggest question marks surrounding the 19th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers entering this season was their offensive line.
That question was answered emphatically in the season opener, as the Badgers dominated South Florida up front on Friday in a 49-0 win on the road.
“It was good to get guys playing and going,” coach Paul Chryst said of the line on Monday. “Each one had some really good moments in it and each one has got some things to clean up, which means you could say the same thing for the unit, right? But I liked the group. ... I thought the line did a lot really good, certainly.”
The Badgers lost four starting offensive linemen from a year ago, including guard Michael Deiter and tackle David Edwards, both taken in the NFL draft. Guard Beau Benzschawel signed with the Lions as an undrafted free agent and made the 53-man roster. Deiter and Benzschawel started a combined 103 games and made up one of the best run-blocking guard combinations in the nation.
Despite the highly touted departures, the line seemed to not miss a beat in the run game Friday night, paving the way for 234 yards on the ground. While preseason AP All-American Jonathan Taylor led the team with 135 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns, both freshman Nakia Watson and senior Bradrick Shaw also found the end zone, with Watson gaining 80 yards in his debut.
“I think they could be very good,” Taylor said of the new group up front. “And one thing I talked about in preseason was that we have (center) Tyler Biadasz back, which was huge. A lot of people talk about our young offensive line, but for him being our anchor, being able to lead those younger guys, I knew we would be fine at that position.”
Biadasz, who, like Taylor, was a preseason AP All-American, returned for his redshirt junior season after earning first-team All-Big Ten honors a year ago. Biadasz leads a group that includes junior left tackle Cole Van Lanen, senior left guard Jason Erdmann, sophomore right guard Josh Seitzner, and sophomore right tackle Logan Bruss. Those four had a combined seven starts entering the season opener, with Bruss owning six of those.
“It’s a new year, it’s a new team, it’s a new line,” Biadasz said. “Some guys are coming back, but it’s like, it’s all new chemistry, and that’s what we’re working for. ... I think we have a great group and I’m excited. ... But we can definitely get better.”
Junior quarterback Jack Coan completed 19 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns — both to Taylor — and had zero interceptions Friday. But Coan was sacked three times. Some of that was due to the inexperience up front, but Coan, who made only his fifth career start in the opener, admitted Monday that one of those sacks was his fault.
“They just overloaded one side with pressure,” he said. “Basically, I could have gotten the ball out of my hands. Just quick and easy completions instead of going through my normal progressions.”
Despite the sacks, the line did enough up front to help secure Wisconsin’s most lopsided road shutout since defeating Northwestern 49-0 on Oct. 1, 1983. It also helped Taylor earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for the fifth time in his career. Taylor totaled 183 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, becoming the first Big Ten player with at least two rushing and two receiving scores in the same game since Illinois’ Mikel Leshoure in 2010.
“He earned a lot of whatever he gets,” Biadasz said of Taylor. “But we’re definitely helping, as well. But, I mean, he makes a lot of people miss. We can’t take credit for that.”
Wisconsin hosts Central Michigan on Saturday.