Badgers’ biggest test vs. LSU: Stopping talented DEs

Two of the athletes most concerning to Wisconsin when it faces LSU Saturday night will be the Tigers' defensive ends. But the Badgers are confident in their offensive linemen, like Rob Havenstein (left) and Tyler Marz.

Jeff Hanisch

MADISON, Wis. — The picture looks like something culled from a comic book. There stands LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter in his Tigers practice jersey, veins bulging in all directions from his arms, the definition of a chiseled, superhero-esque physique.

You’d expect a starting defensive end in the SEC to be strong and sinewy, of course. But this is ridiculous. So ridiculous, in fact, that the popular sports entertainment website The Big Lead wrote this headline to accompany the photo: "LSU Defensive End Danielle Hunter Looks All-American-Level Ripped."

"As you can see," the site jokes, "Hunter seems to spend some time in the weight room."

LSU no doubt has athletes all over the field. And two of the athletes most concerning to Wisconsin when the teams meet Saturday night in Houston are Tigers defensive ends Hunter and Jermauria Rasco. Both men will attempt to wreak havoc on the Badgers’ backfield by using a rare blend of speed and power to overtake Wisconsin offensive tackles Tyler Marz and Rob Havenstein.

How to describe the abilities of LSU’s talented tandem?

"Athleticism," Wisconsin offensive line coach T.J. Woods began. "Length. Speed. High motors. Where do I start? Where do I stop? They’re tremendous players, both of them. It’s going to be a good challenge for Rob and Tyler right out of the gate, which I think they’re excited about."

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Hunter tied for sixth on the team with 57 tackles last season, including eight tackles for a loss and three sacks. He also earned the SEC’s Defensive Lineman of the Week award following his performance against Florida when he registered seven tackles and two pass breakups.

LSU Tigers standout Danielle Hunter (left) and teammate and fellow defensive end Jermauria Rasco.

Rasco, 6-3, 247 pounds, tallied 56 tackles, six tackles for a loss and a team-high four sacks. Combined, the two players have appeared in 60 games with 23 starts.

"Just watching them on film, those are two guys who really stick out," Badgers quarterback Joel Stave said. "They get off the ball well. I know 94 [Hunter], he can probably dunk a basketball without jumping. He’s tall. He’s long. He’s a guy that you’ve got to be aware of when you’re trying to throw routes into the flat and stuff like that. He can get up. He can get his hands on the ball."

Marz, Wisconsin’s starting left tackle, and Havenstein, the Badgers’ right tackle, are no strangers to playing in big games. Havenstein has more games played and starts (40 and 28) than any player on Wisconsin’s team, while Marz has appeared in 23 games with 13 starts. Both players recognize the difficult task at hand — and both are relishing the opportunity with the season opener looming.

"Obviously, they’re very fast," Havenstein said. "They’re very long and they’re very athletic. Especially for me and Tyler playing the tackle spot, it’s going to be a great test for us going up against some of the cream of the crop of the defensive ends. It’s only going to make us better in the end."

Badgers coach Gary Andersen has called Havenstein the offense’s unquestioned leader, a 6-8, 333-pound slab of man that is as intimidating as they come in college football. Woods described him as someone who had become more than willing to speak his mind to teammates if necessary.

"Sometimes being a leader means being uncomfortable and telling guys what they don’t want to hear," Woods said. "Maybe not winning the election for governor everyday. But I think he’s doing a tremendous job of that."

Marz, 6-5 and 321 pounds, is more of a leader by example. And he demonstrated his ability to respond from tough moments late last season, earning consensus honorable mention all-Big Ten honors.

During Wisconsin’s regular-season finale, Marz struggled against Penn State defensive ends C.J. Olaniyan and Anthony Zettel and was benched late in the game. It was a moment Marz said he learned from, understanding the importance of not ruminating on one bad play because it can lead to more.

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A month later, Marz performed admirably against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the Capital One Bowl. Clowney finished with five tackles and went on to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

"I think he was on my side the whole game," Marz said. "I feel like I held my own. That was a confidence boost for me and stuff I could build on this summer and this camp to look forward to the LSU game and going against other guys."

Both Marz and Havenstein acknowledged the importance of sticking to their fundamentals against Hunter and Rasco. It will be necessary, Marz said, to recognize the demeanor of both pass rushers and mirror their moves. If an end tries to make an inside move, for example, Marz said the goal will be to lock him up immediately and power down the maneuver.

"They’re tremendous pass rushers," Andersen said. "They’re very gifted athletically and they’re also very powerful. They’ve shown that on tape. You’ve got to be on guard. You’ve got to make sure the offense hopefully can help our tackles a little bit of keeping people off base as far as what we’re doing.

"Tyler and Rob will be fine. They’re two good players. I think we have two good tackles."

On Saturday, 1,141 pounds of mass will collide between the four of them. And Marz and Havenstein hope they’ll perform better than good to be the last ones standing.

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