In 2015, Wisconsin undoubtedly had one of the top-ranked defensive programs in the country under the leadership of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda.
Wisconsin ranked first in the nation in scoring defense, second in total defense, second in first down defense and fourth in rushing defense and had star players such as Joe Schobert, Michael Caputo, Vince Biegel, Darius Hillary and Tanner McEvoy.
Aranda was hired before the start of the 2013 season. The former Utah State defensive coordinator followed his head coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin. When Andersen unexpectedly left the program to take a head coaching job at Oregon State in 2014, Aranda remained with Wisconsin as the team transitioned to a new head coach in Paul Chryst. At the end of the 2015 season, as many people speculated, Aranda took a defensive coordinator with LSU.
This weekend, the Badgers will come face to face with their former defensive coordinator as they play the LSU Tigers at Lambeau Field. Badger players wish nothing but the best for their former coach—except for this weekend when the Wisconsin offense and defense hope to prove they are a top-ranked team and strong competitor this season.
Following Aranda’s departure, Chryst hired former USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to fill his role. Wilcox, Chryst said, has smoothly transitioned into this role during spring ball and fall camp, working well with both coaches and players.
“One of the things that I’ve really liked and appreciated from Justin is this isn’t about him,” Chryst said at his weekly press conference. “I think it’ll [the Wisconsin defense] will take on the identity of the players.”
“He’s a big guy on why you are doing what you are doing,” safety D’Cota Dixon said. “That’s really helped me improve. I respect Coach Wilcox.”
Chryst noted that Wilcox had to deal with several big changes in the Wisconsin defense include the loss of several key starters to the NFL. That being said, defensive players expressed that not much as changed on the Wisconsin defense, simply new guys are stepping into the role as team leaders.
Wilcox’s ability to find a role for each defensive player is what Chryst believes makes him such a vital asset to the program.
“One of the things that was most important to Justin was finding out what each and every one of those kids could do and how do you play to their strengths,” Chryst said.
The head coach believes the Wisconsin defense will continue to evolve as the season progresses and as players and coaches get comfortable with their roles. Of Aranda, Chryst said that it will definitely be odd playing against him this Saturday.
“The last game we played Dave was with us, and the first game we play now he’ll be on the other sideline,” he said.
The Badgers preparation for Saturday’s game, however, did not change significantly from any other game.
“There’s some knowledge that Dave has of us be it personnel or the base schemes that we like, and we’ve got an idea of his starting points,” Chryst said. “But we’re also doing it with different guys, different defense. Players change what you can do and how you do it.”
Several members of Wisconsin’s starting defense played for Aranda in the previous seasons and deeply admired and respected the defensive coordinator. Those feelings have not changed, though they hope all they learned from him will show in a Wisconsin win this weekend.
“He’s a great coach,” safety Leo Musso said. “Nothing but respect from Dave Aranda. It’ll be different seeing him on the other side of the sideline wearing the other team’s colors, but nothing but love and respect.”
Inside linebacker Chris Orr wanted to make it clear that while he greatly respected his former defensive coordinator, his only goal this weekend was to go out, play well and ultimately beat Aranda’s team.
“It was good to work with him, got a lot of tips from him, sharpened my tools, a little bit of the game from him,” Orr said. “That’s what you do with every coach in your life: you take a little something from each coach and use it to form your own game. I think Coach Aranda helped us out a lot. I wish nothing but the best for him except for Week 1.”
Wisconsin and LSU kick off at 2:30 PM CT on ABC.