Wisconsin boasts huge O-line

Jeff Sherry

While preparing for last weekend’s game against Purdue, Wisconsin football coach Barry Alvarez determined that his team was a little thin at the tight end position.
With starter Ryan Sondrup injured, Alvarez needed help. He turned to reserve tackle Aaron Gibson, the biggest player in Division I-A football. Gibson promptly changed his jersey number from 79 to 81 and moved his 6-foot-8, 380-pound body to the outside.
The Badgers were thin at tight end no longer.
Now it’s the opposition, Minnesota in particular, that’s worrying about Wisconsin’s tight end position. Gibson will provide yet another big body for the Gophers to deal with in their Saturday game at Wisconsin.
“They’ve got the biggest offensive line in the history of football,” Minnesota coach Jim Wacker said Tuesday. “Pros included, I think.”
Wacker was kidding, but he may not have been that far off. With Gibson, the Badgers (4-4 overall, 1-4 in the Big Ten) have possibly the largest front line in all of organized football.
Wisconsin’s six-man front line averages 6-foot-6, 320 pounds. None of the lineman weighs less than 300. The Dallas Cowboys, by comparison, average 6-foot-4, 306 pounds up front with tight end Eric Bjornson in the lineup.
No one is comparing the Badgers’ talent level to the Cowboys’, but all that bulk has made Wisconsin’s running game dangerous.
“Why throw the ball?,” said Wacker. “Man alive, when you’ve got those kind of numbers, give it to the big guy and let’s see how many times he can carry it.”
Yes, even their tailback is a big guy. At 5-10, 260 pounds, Ron Dayne is a load to bring down. Dayne is the leading freshman running back in the country, having rushed for 876 yards. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday for his 244-yard, two-touchdown performance against Purdue.
So the Gophers, owners of the conference’s worst rushing defense (225 yards allowed per game), will likely have their hands full. But the Badgers defense could have its own problems handling Minnesota’s passing game. Purdue set school records last week against Wisconsin with 36 pass completions and 38 first downs.
“We’ve been pretty soft,” Alvarez said. “To be honest with you, I’m not very pleased with how we’ve been playing in the secondary. I thought we started the year off pretty good; just recently we’ve been soft in the back end, and that’s something we have to rectify.”
The secondary’s problems didn’t bother Alvarez that much, however. His team managed to win Saturday, 33-25, which was Wisconsin’s first conference win after losing to Penn State, Ohio State and Northwestern by a total of 10 points.
And if last weekend’s victory wasn’t enough to brighten things for the Badgers coach, the Babcock Dairy Plant on the UW campus recently unveiled a new ice cream flavor: Berry Alvarez. The ice cream has raspberries, strawberries and blueberry swirls.
Wacker joked that if someone named an ice cream after him, he’d be inspired to victory in Minnesota’s final three games. Unfortunately for Wacker, the most appropriate name is being used.
“Rocky Road — they already got one named for me,” he said. “Wacky Rocky Road.”