Wisconsin's Thick Red Line

Wisconsin's Thick Red Line

The coach stood in the late-afternoon shadow that stretched across the field at Camp Randall Stadium, watching his offensive linemen prepare for a one-on-one blocking drill against the scout team. This is one of Bret Bielema's favorite moments of the week: a full-contact, full-speed practice, in which the tone is set for the coming Saturday. As he watched one of his starting linemen crouch into a three-point stance, ready to unleash holy hell on the redshirt freshman across from him, Bielema smiled devilishly, as if he couldn't wait for the bloodshed to begin. "This is what Wisconsin football is all about: man-on-man smashmouth," Bielema said. "Just watch this."

A whistle blew, and center Peter Konz, a 6'5", 315-pound junior, blasted forward, hitting the smaller scout teamer with startling violence, like a brick to the face. Konz drove his man back five, eight, 10 yards, finally leaving him sprawled on his back, gasping for air. Minutes later, after a few more torturous reps, that scout player staggered to the sideline to collect himself. "There's a standard here for offensive linemen like nowhere else in the country—and no, I don't feel bad for the scout teamers," Konz said that evening as he lounged on a couch outside the locker room of the seventh-ranked Badgers (4--0). "All of us linemen have that caveman spirit of wanting to dominate the guy in front of us. We love contact. Love it."

And it shows on game days, because Wisconsin may have the most ruthless offensive line in the nation: the Big Uglies, as Bielema calls them. On Saturday night the Big Uglies will face their stiffest test to date when No. 8 Nebraska (4--0) visits Camp Randall for its first conference game as a member of the Big Ten. Not since 1974, when the Badgers beat Nebraska 21--20 in Madison, have these closely linked big red Midwestern schools squared off. "In the history of Camp Randall Stadium [built in 1917], there's never been a harder ticket to get than the one for this Nebraska game," says Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached the Badgers from 1990 through 2005. "I personally ran out of tickets two months ago."

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