Saturday’s showdown in Madison, WI might not be determined by the production of the quarterbacks or running backs, or even the kickers; both teams’ fates might rest on the shoulders of the offensive linemen.
For Wisconsin, their identity has been a dominant, smash mouth power running game coupled with a stout defense.
The rushing attack for the Badgers has been a mainstay and has even produced two Heisman Trophy winners, but neither back would have won the award without a solid offensive line.
To call Wisconsin’s 2010 offensive linemen solid would be a huge understatement. Not only do all five starters return from 2009, but two of the Badgers’ starters are also slated to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft next spring.
The first one is Wisconsin’s starting left tackle, Gabe Carimi. The 6'7", 320-pounder is pretty intimidating, as is the rest of the line, as the Badgers average 6'6", 320 pounds across the front.
Now Arizona State, on the other hand, will not have any linemen winning awards or huge first-round signing bonuses anytime soon, but through the first two games, ASU’s unit has put forth a “hard hat and lunch pail” effort. Then again, the defensive lines that the Sun Devils matched up against were not quite up to par with what Wisconsin will bring on Saturday.
Not only are there fresh faces on ASU’s offensive line this season, it is also looking like Dennis Erickson will be making a change to his starting five this week. Mike Marcisz, who started nearly a year ago to the day against the Georgia Bulldogs, will replace left guard Adam Tello.
Tello had started the first two games for ASU next to his Norco High School (CA) teammate Garth Gerhart, but maybe Erickson reviewed the game tape from two years ago, when Georgia’s athletic defensive front made Tello and the Sun Devil offensive line look like Swiss cheese.
Replacing the shorter and lighter Tello, Marcisz gives the Sun Devils a bigger body at left guard. However, coaches will hope the continuity of the line will remain constant. Arizona State’s starting five up front will look like this: LT Dan Knapp, LG Mike Marcisz, C Garth Gerhart, RG Evan Finkenberg, and RT Brice Schwab.
There were grumblings about potentially starting Aderious Simmons instead of Schwab, but that does not seem to be likely. Also, Erickson is pretty wise, there was no way he was going to start Simmons for the first time ever in a Division I football game against Wisconsin, on the road no less.
Then again, Erickson pulled the trigger in a similar fashion last fall when then-true freshman quarterback Brock Osweiler made his first career start on the road at rowdy Autzen Stadium.
When analyzing the Sun Devils' offensive line, one has to be impressed with the total transformation from a season ago. In recent years, ASU lacked the attitude and determination that the 2010 line has believed in. Against Portland State and Northern Arizona, it is easy to believe that the offensive line will overpower the opposition, but will the same intensity be present at Camp Randall this weekend?
Whether it is the change in offensive style, fresh faces, or rising leaders on the offensive line, the growth up front is evident. The true litmus test will take place Saturday. Since the position change for Dan Knapp, moving from tight end to left tackle, the “rough and tough” attitude for the Sun Devils is something that fans have only witnessed on defense.
Now, the whole team seems to have come together, uniting under one common style: total aggression. In past seasons, rough, tough, or overpowering were words that were rarely used to describe the ASU offensive line.
Already in this young season, ASU has rushed for 242 yards and 56 yards in another contest. Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall, the Sun Devils will try to instill their rough and tough attitude against a Wisconsin squad that has made a living utilizing that similar style for decades.
There is no doubt that this game shapes up to be an “edge of your seat” affair, but with Wisconsin’s ball control style, when Arizona State’s offensive line is on the field, the Sun Devils must attempt to force their offensive style on the Badgers’ stingy defense. Sure the offensive linemen on each team probably will not make the cover of any beach body magazines; however, all eyes will be focused on the line of scrimmage Saturday.
The Sun Devils’ linemen will have to play their best game as a unit on Saturday. Going on the road in a tough environment, pre-snap penalties might be an issue, but hopefully the coaches have put in place a silent snap count to alleviate any crowd issues. Any more penalties added to Erickson’s repertoire might just be the final straw.
To leave the snap count responsibilities up to two bright student-athletes—Steven Threet and Garth Gerhart—Erickson will sleep well, as he knows that ASU’s offense is in good hands.
Then again, Erickson might be startled at night when he has nightmares of Wisconsin running back John Clay racing down the sideline. Only a total and complete team effort will cure those sleepless nights. Yeah, and a win on the road wouldn’t hurt either.