PASADENA, Calif. — Before they were part of the University of Wisconsin football team, Tyler Biadasz and Garrett Groshek hugged on the field at Camp Randall Stadium.
They had just won the WIAA Division 5 state championship for Amherst in 2015, but they didn’t know what the future held. Biadasz had a scholarship to UW, but Groshek was still deciding on his college future. In that moment, they shared how much they appreciated each another, not knowing if they’d ever play together again. They learned they would months later when Groshek chose to join UW as a walk-on, and the redshirt juniors have enjoyed successful careers with the Badgers.
A similar scene could play out after Wednesday’s Rose Bowl — the Badgers (10-3) take on Oregon (11-2) with Biadasz’s and Groshek’s future as teammates again in flux.
Biadasz is one of the top-rated interior linemen eligible for the NFL draft and is a projected first- or second-round pick. He hasn’t announced a decision yet, but he did submit his name to the NFL’s College Advisory Committee for a second consecutive year.
Biadasz and Groshek have taken on leadership roles and been key players in UW’s offense since their redshirt freshman seasons — an unlikely experience for many players, especially players from Amherst, a town of about 1,000 people 16 miles southeast of Stevens Point.
“What Tyler and ‘Grosh’ have done, they’ve done it their style. They’ve done it by being true to who they are, incredibly unselfish. It’s pretty cool because you would never guess, just percentage-wise, you get two guys from that town maybe in the history of the program. And those two to be doing it side-by-side, in very different ways, it’s pretty cool,” UW coach Paul Chryst said.
Entering what could be their final game as teammates, they know the path they’ve forged together was built on sacrifice and a strong friendship — and that they’ve made an impact on the program.
“As we’ve been here for a few years now, four years, you kind of start to realize how special it is. And at first you don’t really realize it, but as the end starts coming, then you start to realize it more,” Groshek said.
Ability to adapt
At UW, Biadasz and Groshek each play a different position than the one they excelled at for Amherst.
That’s saying something when you consider how valuable each has become at their new spots for the Badgers. Biadasz won the Rimington Award as the nation’s top center this year, and was a unanimous All-American pick. Groshek has been a do-everything tailback behind junior Jonathan Taylor and a special teams ace throughout his UW career.
Mark Lusic, their coach at Amherst, wasn’t surprised when Biadasz made the transition from defensive lineman to center — especially after he saw offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Joe Rudolph pull Biadasz to his group to have him watch and learn at a spring practice. But Groshek’s move from quarterback to running back stunned Lusic.
“Not in a million years. I’m not saying he couldn’t succeed (at running back), but I never thought he’d be there to be honest with you,” Lusic said. “I remember I went down to spring practice when he got moved. He got a lot of carries because (Taylor) wasn’t there yet and Bradrick Shaw and Chris James were penciled in to start. Garrett took a lot reps, and he actually looked pretty good running the ball, looked pretty smooth back there. That spring practice you could tell he had something going on. You could see he was hitting his holes, reading the offensive line when they opened up for him.”
Lusic didn’t let Groshek to play defense at Amherst — he was too valuable at quarterback. But Lusic told college coaches Groshek was smart enough to play any spot on the field that they thought he could fit athletically.
Groshek has been the best pass-blocking back for UW through his career, which speaks to the unselfish nature Chryst sees in both him and Biadasz.
“I think it does go back to love of the game, and I think love of a team. Like, ‘Whatever you need us to do, we’ll do.’ And then when they do it, they go all-in,” Chryst said.
It’s rarely what they intend to have happen, but people tend to follow Biadasz and Groshek.
Being as talented as they were and as important as they were to their Amherst teams, it was natural they’d take on leadership roles. They were starters on a state championship team as freshmen, and by the time they were juniors, Lusic made them captains.
Problem was, neither wanted the role.
“I said, ‘Tough. That’s how it’s going to be. You’re the two best players, everybody knows it, and you guys do it right. This is how it’s going to be,’” Lusic said.
“Year by year, they molded into that, they found their voice. The big thing was the weight room — they led there. A lot of times those guys would lift three times a day. They’d come in the morning, lift in the morning, they’d lift during our weight room period or study hall, and then come after school when they could. So they were always in there, always encouraging guys. So that was probably the biggest thing — guys trusted them.”
Those leadership qualities came with them to UW. Biadasz’s role at center makes him a natural leader because he’s making calls at the line of scrimmage. Groshek’s varied roles and success in them made him someone to emulate, Chryst said.
“Our passion is to get the guys ready to play, each and every group, and bringing an energy. When we do that, and we see each other do that, I think that says enough,” Biadasz said. “If we lead together, and do stuff together like we always have, that’s special to me. Just to carry that over from high school and to do that at a collegiate, Division I level, I’m really proud of us and what we’ve done so far. But we’re never satisfied. That’s the thing that’s awesome about it.”
Leaning on each other
While they were friends in high school, being at UW brought Biadasz and Groshek much closer.
“We never went different ways. We never had a chance to not talk to each other and not communicate and interact with each other. So that’s really helped to grow our friendship,” Groshek said.
They’ve lived together and been there for each other through difficult times, like this past offseason when Biadasz needed surgery on his hip.
People around them see their bond clearly.
“I think they’ve probably always pushed each other and enjoyed doing that for each other along the journey. And I think they continue to — they have fun back and forth but they count on each other in a big way. And it’s awesome to see,” Rudolph said.
Appreciated in Amherst
Groshek laughed when asked about what it’s like to go back to his hometown.
It’s rare that they get the chance, as school and football take up so much of their time, but when they do, it’s always an event.
“I know when they come back, they get mobbed pretty good by the community,” Lusic said.
Amherst, a town already full of Badgers fans, has had two players to feel connected to for four seasons. That’s been something Lusic said is felt every Saturday — the community roots especially hard for its native sons.
With Biadasz’s NFL decision on the horizon, and Groshek’s career about to enter its final year, Lusic said it’s been bittersweet.
“It’s going to be a sad day, for me personally. I haven’t coached them in four years, I wish I could coach them again, every day I wish I could coach them again,” he said.
“But it’s going to be a great day. Hopefully they get the ‘W,’ that’s the biggest thing, but it’s going to be different if Tyler decides to move on. And Garrett’s going to graduate no matter what next year also. It’s going to be a different, but hey, to go out on a Rose Bowl, there would be no better place to go if they can take care of business. They can walk off that field together, it’ll be a special moment, no doubt.”
Badgers vs. Oregon: Who has the edge?
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
The Badgers played one of their best halves of offense to open the Big Ten Championship Game, and held a 21-7 lead at halftime. That didn’t stick, as Ohio State stormed back to win, but the things that worked early on are what UW can focus on against the Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
A lot of attention will be on Doak Walker Award winner Jonathan Taylor (above), who is likely playing in his final game for UW. His 1,909 yards were second in the FBS this year, and he has a chance to end his college career on a high note. Before the Pac-12 title game against Utah, Oregon played just one team (Auburn) whose rushing offense finished in the top 50 in the FBS.
Receiver Quintez Cephus and quarterback Jack Coan continued to show a strong connection against Ohio State, and Cephus is a tough matchup for an Oregon secondary that 222.8 yards per game in the air (58th in FBS). UW will look to maintain variety in its offense with jet sweeps, end arounds and Coan’s willingness to keep the ball on read options.
Linebacker Troy Dye led the Ducks with 75 total tackles, 9½ of which were for loss. Kayvon Thibodeaux is the bright spot up front for the Ducks with 14 tackles for loss including nine sacks. Coan will need to be smart with the ball against Oregon’s secondary, which has 19 interceptions.
EDGE | UW
WHEN THE DUCKS HAVE THE BALL
Led by senior quarterback Justin Herbert (above), the Ducks have one of the best passing attacks in the country. Oregon’s team passing efficiency rating of 160.37 is 13th in the FBS. Herbert threw for 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and used a bevy of receiving threats to do it.
Four Oregon receivers have at least 25 catches, 400 yards and three touchdowns this season. Junior Johnny Johnson III leads the group with 55 catches and 818 yards, and his seven touchdowns are tied with Jaylon Reed (50 catches, 465 yards) for the team lead. However, the Ducks maintain balance offensively with a solid running game — an average Oregon game has 37 rushes and 33 passes.
CJ Verdell is Oregon’s top rusher with 1,171 yards this season, while Travis Dye has added 655. Cyrus Habibi-Likio has been the short-yardage back for Oregon, and he’s scored a team-best 10 touchdowns. The Badgers will need to limit the Ducks’ run game and generate pass rush against a strong offensive line.
Outside linebacker Zack Baun, who has been stacking up All-American honors this season, will have one of his top challenges to date with Penei Sewell, Oregon’s Outland Trophy-winning tackle. After playing well against Minnesota, the Badgers’ secondary struggled against the Buckeyes when quarterback Justin Fields extended plays with scrambles. Herbert has that ability as well, so the game may swing on how those defensive backs hold up on long plays.
EDGE | OREGON
Neither team has had a particularly strong year out of their kickers.
UW’s Zach Hintze missed his first field goal since taking over as the placekicker when his 48-yard field goal went left against the Buckeyes. Between Hintze and Collin Larsh, Badgers kickers are 12 of 18 on field goals this season. Oregon’s Camden Lewis is 9 of 14 on field goals after starting the year 0-for-3.
UW’s Aron Cruickshank (above) has been a dynamic kick returner, averaging 25.3 yards per return including an 89-yard touchdown. Oregon counters with Mykael Wright, who averages 38.7 yards and has two touchdowns on nine returns.
Blake Maimone’s 43.9-yard average on punts is one of the best in the country, and he has 15 punts of more than 50 yards.
EDGE | OREGON
Mario Cristobal’s short tenure as the Ducks’ coach has seen the program get back to national relevance after a couple of down seasons.
The longtime offensive line coach is 20-6 as Oregon’s top man, and looking for his second bowl win. He makes his mark on the Ducks’ offensive line, which has been one of the best units in the country. Oregon’s offensive coordinator, Marcus Arroyo, was hired as the head coach at UNLV in early December, but will coach the Rose Bowl.
UW coach Paul Chryst (above) is coaching in his third Rose Bowl after being the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the Badgers in the 2010 and 2011 games. He and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph have added layers to the offense throughout the season, blending Taylor’s between-the-tackles runs and the quick passing game well.
How defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard blitzes to pressure Herbert, who’s playing in his final game, will be fun to watch.
EDGE | UW
There’s a thought out there that because of the College Football Playoff, the Rose Bowl doesn’t hold the same meaning it once did — don’t buy it. Both teams will be thoroughly motivated to end bounce-back seasons for their programs with a strong showing, and winning the biggest bowl game outside of the playoff will do that.
The Badgers will certainly have some extra juice with two of their best players, Taylor and center Tyler Biadasz (above), likely playing their final games for the program. UW also wants to shake its three-game losing streak in the Rose Bowl.
Herbert will be looking to add a statement win to his college career before embarking on an NFL journey.
EDGE | PUSH
STATE JOURNAL'S PICK
This should be another classic Rose Bowl for the Badgers. The Ducks are a tough team and have the ingredients to win, but UW has bounced back from a midyear slump to look like a complete team. The Badgers’ last six Rose Bowls have been one-score games, and this one will be too. But Taylor puts on one more memorable performance on his way to the pros to lift the Badgers.
BADGERS 31, DUCKS 28
THE NUMBER (UW)
14: Lost fumbles for the Badgers, playing against an Oregon defense that has only forced seven and recovered three
THE NUMBER (OREGON)
59: Tackles for loss allowed by the Ducks, tied with UW and Clemson for 12th best in the FBS
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Third-down conversions: UW has converted half of its third-down attempts this season, while Oregon’s defense has allowed a 33.5 percent conversion rate
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
Completion percentage: Despite completing two-thirds of his passes this season, Justin Herbert has been at or under 60 percent completions over the past three games