Head coach Paul Chryst and his staff have elevated the entire University of Wisconsin program since arriving in 2015, but the Badgers’ offensive line took more steps forward than perhaps any position group over the last three years.
Junior right guard Beau Benzschawel even laughed in a recent interview when listening to a reporter recall the struggles of UW’s offensive line during that first Chryst season in 2015.
“Yeah, definitely,” Benzschawel said. “I was here."
Two years have made all the difference. Benzschawel became one of three Badgers offensive linemen — along with right tackle David Edwards and left tackle Michael Deiter — to earn All-American honors this season.
The fabled UW offensive line of 2010, littered with NFL Draft picks, failed to accomplish that feat, as did every other Badgers line over the past 96 years. Not since center George Bunge and tackles R.H. Brumm and Jimmy Brader all made the cut in 1921 has UW fielded three All-American offensive linemen in a single season.
“I feel like we have gotten back to (the level of) those 2010-2012 teams,” Benzschawel said. "Those were obviously the best guys. ... I don’t think we’re quite there, but I think we’ve had games where we’re very close to how good they were and what they put on tape."
Edwards earned All-American honors from four of the five outlets recognized by the NCAA — the AFCA, the FWAA, the Associated Press and the Walter Camp Foundation. Benzschawel earned third-team honors from the AP, while Deiter was a second-team selection by Sporting News.
Only two seasons ago, Benzschawel and Deiter were starting as redshirt freshmen, while Edwards was a 239-pound tight end. All took different paths to becoming among the best in the country.
Edwards gained 75 pounds and mastered a new position. Deiter became one of the most versatile linemen in the country and earned the honor in his first year playing tackle. Benzschawel, who initially started at right tackle, found a home at guard and steadily improved.
“Everyone’s on a different curve,” UW offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph said. "I think Coach (Ross Kolodziej) has done a great job with that group in the weight room of helping those guys to develop. I think the guys have been dedicated to getting better as technicians.
You have free articles remaining.
"All of them have had a different curve, a different area where they’ve needed to (improve). David’s probably the most obvious because he had weight-gaining to go along with it, but all of them had areas that they took big steps in."
The three aren’t reflecting on their accomplishments too much, however — at least not right now. They’re trying to focus on the upcoming Orange Bowl against Miami on Dec. 30, where UW’s offensive line will attempt to bounce back from its worst outing of the season in the Big Ten Championship game.
The Badgers gained just 60 yards on 32 rushing attempts in a 27-21 loss to Ohio State.
Edwards said UW couldn’t create enough push off the ball against the Buckeyes and that Miami could present some similar challenges.
“I would compare them in the same category (as Ohio State),” Edwards said of the Hurricane’s defensive front. "They’re super athletic. They’ve got big, physical guys. They’ve got guys that will come in and do a good job for them, regardless of who it is."
The loss to Ohio State pushed the Badgers out of the College Football Playoff, but they now have another opportunity to win their 13th game for the first time in school history. For UW’s offensive line, a dominant final game could further validate the flurry of All-American honors that came its way this month.
The Badgers’ success up front could continue on an upward trajectory next season as well. Edwards already announced he won’t be leaving early for the NFL, while Deiter and Benzschawel may also decide to return for their senior years.
At least one UW offensive lineman has earned an All-American honor in seven of the past eight years — with that 2015 season the exception. Not only are the Badgers now fielding three just a couple years later, but all three could have an opportunity to do the same thing again in 2018.
“At the University of Wisconsin, you at least want one guy per year,” Deiter said. "That’s kind of a standard that’s been set for a while here.
“But to have three guys, that is really special."