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September 14, 2011

Offensive line motivated to improve

MADISON - Wisconsin's first quarter offensive debacle against Oregon State can't be blamed on a lack of continuity up front. It's just not fair to siphon the irregularities of that first 15 minutes to the fact that Ryan Groy was making his first start at left guard.

It can, however, be whittled down to the simple, almost excuse-like fact, that it was just a bad start to what turned out to be a pretty good game.

"Lack of focus," UW junior center Peter Konz replied when asked to describe what went into that unusually slow start. "Not doing the little things like keeping your hands in and moving your feet. We weren't taking it to somebody and hitting them.

"It was basically a lack of effort."

Montee Ball, one of two standout tailbacks for the Badgers, didn't tally positive rushing yardage during the first quarter of that game. James White, the second piece to that tandem, only mustered 14 yards on six carries, good for a meek 2.3 yards-per-carry clip in the same timeframe.

Factor in Russell Wilson's nine-yard sack and the Badgers running game accumulated just three yards on the ground throughout the first quarter.

"I was just thinking we'd have to adjust to some things because there were some things we haven't seen before," Konz said. "Then later in the first quarter I knew we weren't being characteristic of ourselves.

"I think we can chalk it up to not hitting somebody in the mouth. We just kind of glided by."

UW's offensive line coach Bob Bostad preaches fundamentals and aggression. With pure technique and a hard-working, blue collar mentality, the Wisconsin offensive line has developed a tradition of punishing opponents with big, athletic lineman that want it more than the defensive line does.

So when things don't go well and when things start off slow against a much inferior opponent, it's almost like a slap to its collective face.

"It hurts your pride a little bit," Konz said. "When you expect to run over people and you expect to be the most physical and you don't do that you have to hear about it after you already knew you messed up and the coaches on the sideline already told you how you messed up.

"I think it will be a lot more fun when we get on our stuff and stop acting like we made the national championship or something already and just play."

The second quarter of that 35-0 win over Oregon State, while it won't be classified as great, was certainly a marked improvement over whatever happened during the first frame.

Once halftime rolled around, Ball (46) and White (33) had rushed for 79 yards on 20 combined carries, but neither of them scored a touchdown. All 21 of Wisconsin's first half points stemmed from the arm of Russell Wilson and the sure hands of Nick Toon and Jacob Pedersen.

"I'm glad for those guys," Konz said. "Nick Toon had a great game and Russell Wilson had a great game. The receivers were working hard. We had good protection, but as far as our run game goes you never like having no rushing yards.

"You take pride in every yard you get."

Filling in for an injured Travis Frederick, Groy admitted that he thought he played a pretty solid game. He made it a point to play as aggressive as he possibly could and that element of his performance showed up on film.

"I think it's a lot harder to do," UW offensive line coach Bob Bostad said in regards to the aggressive nature Groy played with. "There's some technique involved and things like that. You don't just go in there with your arms flailing around and flying all over the place.

"It doesn't work that way."

Groy wasn't the problem.

"I think it was a few miscues," Groy said. "I don't think there were any communication problems. I think there were a few physical errors, but I think we spread it out a little bit. Nobody really messed up themselves, but I think we each kind of took turns messing up a few things and I think that overall kind of hurt the team."

It's funny how a team, and in this case an offense, can look so choppy and out of rhythm for one half of a ball game and still hold a comfortable three-touchdown lead at the break. It's also funny how a running game that was essentially dormant throughout the first 30 minutes can rack up more than 200 yards on the ground, 118 of which came from a player (Ball) that had negative yardage following the first quarter.

But that is what this team did. And that is what it will continue to do.

Last Saturday's game against Oregon State, at least in the minds of some of the key players involved, was nothing to be proud of offensively. That's why you can probably expect this Saturday's game against Northern Illinois to be a bit different.

"Our coaches were just after us hard after we watched (Oregon State) film," Konz said. "If you're NIU don't expect a lot of passing. They're getting us going."


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