By Greg Bates
ACN & Times-Press sports correspondent
The offensive line has always been an important factor in how well a season goes for the University of Wisconsin football team.
The Badgers are ranked No. 21 in the country in rushing this year at 2,979 yards (229.2 yards per game) and averaging 5.09 yards per attempt. There’s a lot of pride amongst the linemen. They know the success of their predecessors.
One player who has been a major contributor on the line is Jon Dietzen. The 2015 Seymour High School graduate has started 11 of the 12 games in which he’s played at left guard.
“It’s special to know that I’m impacting the offense, especially the offensive line – being an in-state offense recruit. Playing O-line here is a big deal,” Dietzen said. “It means a lot, and it’s not something a lot of people can say because a lot of great people have done it.”
Wisconsin’s rushing offense has been phenomenal and has helped the team to a 12-1 record and a spot in the Orange Bowl. Freshman running back Johnathan Taylor excelled behind his offensive line – averaging 152 yards per game — finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy race.
Dietzen, who is 6-foot-6, 320 pounds, is having a lot of fun this season with his teammates.
“Having guys like Jonathan, making plays like he does, and having our defense stand out the way they do,” Dietzen said. “Everybody that’s been doing good things on the offense and the defense has been fantastic to have and makes everything really fun.”
The year didn’t start out the smoothest for Dietzen. He missed all of spring practice due to a right ankle injury. He underwent surgery after last year’s Cotton Bowl.
Dietzen started in Wisconsin’s first two games this season, but sat out against BYU with a broken toe on his right foot. He hasn’t missed a game since. However, he’s had to fight off lingering injuries – hip and ankles — all season. But that won’t slow him down to start in the second bowl game of his career.
“I should be playing in the bowl game,” Dietzen said. “I’ve just been kind of dealing with stuff all season since the first game.”
Dietzen is excited to play against Miami in the Orange Bowl. The two teams will square off at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Dec. 30 at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be awesome; I’m really looking forward to it,” Dietzen said. “It’s going to be a really unique experience being that it’s basically playing Miami at home. It’s going to a hostile environment.”
Dietzen, who started in seven of the 10 games he played in last year, has really settled in at left guard. At the beginning of his freshman season, he was getting reps at right guard but switched over to the opposite side. That was a big change with footwork on the left and not right. Also, the Badgers have a left-handed quarterback in Alex Hornibrook, which is rare.
“It’s a little bit different and a couple of the play calls are opposite of what they are when we had a right-handed quarterback, so it’s different to hear,” Dietzen said.
Dietzen enjoys the left side of the line and has built some amazing camaraderie with All-American left tackle Michael Deiter and center Tyler Biadasz.
“All the way through camp, one thing we were really stressing as a group was trying to have that chemistry and playing for one another,” Dietzen said. “I think that’s something we really did, especially along the O-line. I think every single guy who was out there was out there for the guy next to them and not just for themselves.”
Dietzen feels like he’s become a better offensive lineman this season. But he needs to keep working on his strength, agility and athleticism.
“I think one thing I really improved on is just making sure I’m coming out of the first two steps a lot quicker than I have been in the past,” Dietzen said. “My redshirt freshman season was pretty slow doing that kind of stuff. I think I’m just trying to improve on my speed and coming off the ball quick and make sure I’m violent right off the snap.”
Two years into his career, Dietzen feels fortunate he’s been able to play in 22 games and experience great competition in the Big Ten.
“I didn’t know how that was going to work out,” said Dietzen about playing time in his redshirt freshman season. “I didn’t know if I was going to kind of be riding the bench for a few years or what, but things kind of took off faster than I expected. Right now, I’m just playing the card I was dealt.”
If anything, Dietzen knew he was entering a great situation at Wisconsin. The Badgers have been an NFL factory for producing offensive linemen. In the last 11 drafts, 11 Wisconsin O-linemen have been selected, four of whom were first-round picks.
Dietzen, who will have two years of eligibility remaining after the bowl game, knows he needs to get healthy in order to show what he’s capable of on the field. He’s hoping to turn some heads and give himself the best shot to play at the next level.
“I think that’s part of the dream for anybody who’s in my position or any position on a Division I team, that’s definitely part of your dream. That’s part of mine,” Dietzen said. “But at the same time right now there’s nothing more important than the game that’s in front of us, so I’m kind of just focusing on that.”
Wisconsin Badger left guard Jon Dietzen, No. 67, a 2015 Seymour High School graduate, looks for a block against Big Ten foe Purdue. Dietzen will help lead the No. 6 ranked Badgers in the Capital One Orange Bowl on December 30 against No. 11 Miami Hurricanes.- Photo courtesy of David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications