Sconnie Sports Talk

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview

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What: Advocare Classic: #20 Wisconsin Badgers vs. #3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Where:
 Cowboys Stadium (Arlington, TX)
When: Saturday, September 5, at 7:00 PM CT
TV: ABC

Sconnie Sports Talk’s Zach Rosen, Jeremy Gopin, and Jordan Schwam will be live in Dallas covering the game. Zach will be in the press box, on the field at the end of the game, and in the interview room covering the Badgers. 

On Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers will begin their 2015 football season at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, one of the biggest stadiums in the world. Their opponent on the other side of the field will be none other than the Alabama Crimson Tide, arguably the powerhouse of college football. Wisconsin is a 10.5 point underdog right now to the Crimson Tide, according to OddsShark.com, and Wisconsin won the lone previous meeting, 15-0 in 1928. There’s no doubt this will be a battle of run games, as both teams have fierce rushing attacks. But, what will be the difference in the game and who has the edge? Let’s find out.

Offense

Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s offense is not built well to beat a team like Alabama as they will utilize a strong rushing attack against a fierce Alabama defense. How will the Badgers approach beating the strong and quick ‘Bama front seven? They will definitely utilize creative play calls, jet sweeps, and play action to set up potential big plays, with the offensive line’s blocking and cohesion as the key to success.

Quarterback Joel Stave, who has often been seen as a scapegoat in the Badgers’ failures through the years, is poised to lead the Badgers to a memorable senior year. Stave threw for 1,350 yards with a 53.4% completion percentage, 113.2 passer rating, nine touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. He did not play in the game against LSU due to a collarbone injury, but he threw three interceptions in the bowl game against Auburn despite leading the Badgers to an upset victory. There’s no doubt that Stave will have to step up for the Badgers if they can pull off a miraculous upset.

The guy he will be handing the ball off to the majority of the game is third year running back Corey Clement, who averaged 6.5 yards per carry last season while running for 949 yards and nine touchdowns behind Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon III. Clement may be one of the most underrated running backs in the country, and could enter the Heisman conversation just like Gordon. Fullback Derek Watt (J.J.’s brother), who will likely be drafted, will lead the way for Clement and backups Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal.

Some question marks come in at receiver and tight end, where Alex Erickson will return as the #1 guy on the outside, with utility player (he’s played quarterback and safety already at Wisconsin) Tanner McEvoy as the #2 guy, according to the team’s depth chart. In the past, the team has had very steady tight end play from guys like Owen Daniels, Garrett Graham, Jacob Pedersen, and others. But, this year, and especially in this game, the Badgers will really need Austin Traylor and Troy Fumagalli to step up.

The biggest call for concerns are on the offensive line, which has been shifted around all summer. Returning starters Dan Voltz (center) and Tyler Marz (left tackle) will be joined by Michael Deiter (left guard), Walker Williams (right guard), and Hayden Biegel (right tackle). The Badgers are known to have dominant and big offensive linemen, but this year’s line is not set-in-stone and may struggle against the Alabama front seven, arguably the best in the country. 

Alabama

After losing starting quarterback Blake Sims (graduation), starting running back T.J. Yeldon (NFL), and starting wide receiver/Heisman finalist Amari Cooper, the Crimson Tide come in with even more questions on offense than the Badgers, but strength in the rushing attack.

At quarterback, Florida State transfer Jake Coker is expected to start, although there has not been an official announcement between the competition with him and four other quarterbacks. Coker clearly has the most experience and I would assume he will start. In his limited playing time last season behind Sims, Coker threw for 403 yards with a 64.4 completion percentage, 144.2 passer rating, four touchdowns, and no interceptions. The Crimson Tide’s lack of experience at quarterback will make a difference against the experienced Badgers’ defense.

The most notable player on the Crimson Tide comes in at starting running back in Derrick Henry. He looks like a bigger Eddie Lacy on the field. At 6’3″, 240 pounds, Henry rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 172 carries last season backing up Yeldon. His counterpart is Kenyan Drake, who is returning from a broken leg, but has the potential to be dangerous out of the backfield rushing the ball and receiving screens. Those two guys could run right over the Badgers’ defense if they cannot get a read on the blocking schemes.

In terms of receivers, O.J. Howard, a big, NFL caliber tight end, is the guy to watch when ‘Bama throws the ball. Badgers safeties Michael Caputo and Leo Musso and the linebackers will definitely have to keep their eyes on Howard throughout the game. The other receivers are a bunch of highly-touted recruits and an Oregon State transfer, which all offer uncertainty to the Badgers strong secondary.

Similarly to the Badgers, the Crimson Tide only have their left tackle (Cameron Robinson) and center (Ryan Kelly) back, but their linemen are huge. As aforementioned, their blocking for those talented running backs will be a huge factor in this one.

Edge: Even. Both teams have uncertainty at receiver and offensive line, but their strong running games will duke it out. 


Defense

Wisconsin 

The Badgers return several players on defense, a unit that could match up well against the Alabama rushing attack and especially against their inexperienced passing game.

With fifth year seniors Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring graduated, the Badgers lack experience on the defensive line against the big Alabama offensive line. The 3-4 defense will feature the following starters on the defensive line: Arthur Goldberg, Conor Sheehy, and Chikwe Obasih, with defensive end Alec James seeing plenty of playing time as well. Goldberg is the most experienced of the bunch, but Obasih may be the key to stopping Henry’s penetration up the Badgers’ front seven.

Returning starting linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert will anchor the team’s outside linebackers along with the less experienced T.J. Edwards and Leon Jacobs at inside linebacker. Both Biegel and Schobert are great pass rushers, but the team’s ability to stop the ‘Bama offense will depend on the inside linebackers minimizing their amount of missed tackles. Still, if Biegel and Schobert can get to the quarterback consistently, it may be a long day for Coker or whoever the starting quarterback will be for Alabama.

The secondary may be one of Wisconsin’s strongest starting four in recent memory with captain Michael Caputo anchoring the defensive backs. Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are veteran playmakers who can keep up with receivers and have a knack for playing the ball. Leo Musso will start over last year’s starter in Lubern Figaro, and is the weakest of the starters. The Badgers do lack depth in the secondary, but whoever can cover O.J. Howard will earn major praise from the Badger faithful.

Alabama

Alabama simply has one of the best front seven’s in all of college football, along with an always feared secondary.

Their defensive linemen is going to give the Wisconsin offensive line trouble, as Jonathan Allen, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Daron Payne, and Darren Lake can dominate opponents with their size. Their defensive line is so deep that as soon as you get tired, they bring in a new guy that can just punish your team.

Moving to the linebackers, Reggie Ragland was second on the team in tackles last year and will provide that typical Alabama linebacker size and athletic combination that seems to always move on to the next level. Alongside Ragland, the Tide have Reuben Foster, who looks just as scary as he plays. Dillon Lee plays a number of spots in Lane Kiffin’s packages with fellow senior Denzel Devall as the other outside linebacker.

The Badgers will try to take advantage of the Tide’s secondary, as only Cyrus Jones returns at cornerback. They have five-star recruit Marlon Humphrey to start at the other spot. Eddie Jackson and Geno Smith will start at the safety spots, but the lack of experience for this unit should give Joel Stave a chance to succeed.

Edge: Alabama. Their front seven is so deep and good enough to make up for their lack of experience in the secondary. 


Special Teams

Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a great kicker in Rafael Gaglianone, who was 19/22 on field goals and 59/61 on extra points. The Brazilian sophomore has a big foot, and could prove important as he was in the Auburn game. When it comes to punting, Drew Meyer has really struggled, and the Badgers will hope the better conditions at Cowboys Stadium will help his punts out. Natrell Jamerson and Robert Wheelwright have the speed to take one to the house in kick returning, but they don’t have much experience. Punt returner Alex Erickson will be back there for punts as a man of sure hands with Alabama’s very good punter in this one. Andrew Endicott will continue to do the kickoff duties.

Alabama

Alabama’s kicker, Adam Griffith, returns for his second full year as the starting kicker. He struggled last season, going 12/19 for field goals, but he has a big leg considering 8 of his 12 field goals were from 40 yards or longer. On the contrary, punter J.K. Scott was arguably the best in the country last season with an average punt of 48 yards. Cyrus Jones, the quick cornerback, will return punts, while Kenyan Drake will see plenty of kickoff return opportunities. The Badgers will have to be careful when kicking to those two guys down the stretch, as they are playmakers.

EdgeAlabama. Wisconsin and Alabama seem to have opposite problems with kicking and punting, but Wisconsin’s inability to tackle on special teams from years past may come back to bite them against the talented Jones and Drake.


Prediction

There’s no doubt that this game will come down to the trenches, play action, and special teams like every other big game. But, Badger fans should be interested to see how Stave plays under new head coach Paul Chryst, who is wildly regarded for paving the way to success for Russell Wilson.

Nick Saban’s team is just as talented as any Alabama team, but catching them in their first game at a neutral site could be to the advantage of the Badgers. Regardless, I think Alabama’s front seven and offensive line will wear down the Badgers despite a big showing from Corey Clement.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Wisconsin 17.


All images courtesy of UWBadgers.com and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Athletic Department and RollTide.com and the University of Alabama Athletic Department.

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