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Linemen keep Wisconsin on the run

Badgers offense relies heavily on a ground attack that runs like a well-oiled machine largely because of the guys opening the holes.

December 26, 2010|By Gary Klein

The plays sent in from Wisconsin's sideline didn't vary much.

During the second half of their victory over Michigan last month, the Badgers ran the ball 29 consecutive times.

Not that the Wisconsin offensive linemen got excited, or wondered in the huddle whether the coaches might mix in a pass. They barely even noticed.

"We just listen for the call," tackle Gabe Carimi said. "We're not thinking about getting any glory."

Wisconsin's offensive linemen have received it anyway, flattening opponents while leading the Badgers to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 2000 game.

Carimi, a 6-foot-7, 327-pound left tackle, is the Outland Trophy winner and the marquee name in a unit that will face a New Year's Day test against unbeaten Texas Christian.

After helping to lead Wisconsin to an 11-1 record, Carimi and 6-5, 323-pound left guard John Moffitt were selected first-team All-American. They combine with center Peter Konz (6-5, 313 pounds), right guard Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315) and right tackle Ricky Wagner (6-6, 322) to give the Badgers one of the beefiest lines in college football.

Size, however, is only part of the equation for a group that has flourished under the guidance of offensive line coach Bob Bostad.

"They're workers," senior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "That gets to be an overused term a lot of times, but it's different with these guys. They live it."

Wisconsin's linemen paved the way for an offense that averaged 247 yards rushing per game. But the Badgers are not one-dimensional; Tolzien has completed a nation-leading 74% of his passes.

"They're big and they can run over you," Texas Christian Coach Gary Patterson said, "but they do a great job with play action and knowing how to create mismatches."

Carimi, a fifth-year senior, poses one every time the Badgers break from their huddle.

When the Cottage Grove, Wis., native arrived on campus in Madison in 2006, he was a developing redshirt trying to find his way on a team that included left tackle Joe Thomas, the Outland Trophy winner that season and the third pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

Carimi replaced Thomas in 2007 and has started nearly every game since.

"He's not [going to] stand-up in front and yell and scream," Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said. "He just goes about his work and I think that transcends into our group."

Moffitt, from Connecticut, was part of the same recruiting class and has also started at center during his career.

"I don't think there's anything like a secret to it," Moffitt said when asked about the line's success. "We've all bought into trying to be as physical as possible."

That style kept Wisconsin's rushing attack on track this season even when running back John Clay was sidelined because of a knee injury. Clay, a fourth-year junior who in six of the Badgers' first seven games rushed for more than 100 yards, was injured against Purdue on Nov. 6 and did not play against Indiana or Michigan.

Sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White stepped in and the running game kept moving, Ball scoring 13 touchdowns, White five in the last four games.

White has rushed for 1,029 yards, Clay for 936 and Ball for 864.

"Honestly, I don't know who's in there a lot of times," Carimi said. "I just tell whatever running back comes into the game, 'You better hold onto the ball.' "

Wisconsin took that philosophy to an extreme in its 48-28 victory over Michigan, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal during its 29-rushing-play streak.

"That's an extreme, but we've been on drives where we run the ball 13 or 14 times," Moffitt said. "That's the kind of football we kind of prepare for."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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