One of this weekend’s most anticipated collisions, and I don’t throw that term around loosely, personifies the saying “the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. ” Football purists will love this defensive slugfest pitting two smash mouth teams against each other. This will be the first time Wisconsin and Alabama have played since 1928, so there isn’t much recent history to go off of. Here’s a quick summary of both programs coming into this season:
Wisconsin Badgers, 11-3 in 2014, Outback Bowl Champs
The Badgers are headed to Dallas with a new man in charge, as the hometown hero Paul Chryst has returned to Madison after a three year hiatus at the University of Pittsburgh. He was able to retain resident evil-genius Defensive Coordinator, Dave Aranda, the lone holdover from the Andersen regime (remind me not to mention him again). Chryst brings with him former UW coach Joe Rudolph to be his Offensive Coordinator, both who look to bring back the classic Wisconsin brand of football that the aforementioned former coach was getting away from. After beating Auburn in the Outback Bowl to end last season, this is the first game for Wisconsin since the Melvin Gordon Show left town; it’ll be interesting to see how the offense performs against an elite defense. The Badgers’ schedule is below-average to put it nicely, so a statement game against the highly regarded Crimson Tide would be a great beginning to the Paul Chryst era at UW.
Alabama Crimson Tide, 12-2 in 2014, lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl
Nick Saban will lead his massive in talent, and in stature, football team to Dallas with the intention of maintaining their Non-conference winning streak at neutral site games. After disposing of Michigan in 2012, they seem to have regressed in the past two seasons, only defeating Virginia Tech and West Virginia in somewhat modest double digit fashion. Alabama loses their 3 year starter at Runningback in TJ Yeldon, Quarterback Blake Sims, but most importantly Heisman trophy candidate Amari Cooper, who hauled in over 100 catches last season. Without this trio on offense, there is a lot of opportunity to be taken by the returning players. Alabama faces 7 ranked teams this season, to Wisconsin’s one, so this is a huge game for the Crimson Tide, who have more to lose than the Badgers.
Keys To Victory for each team:
- Protect a young, inexperienced Offensive Line by running the ball effectively and getting Stave short, rhythm throws early.
- Limit Alabama’s explosive plays, and make this a Bo Ryan type football game. Deliberate, and at the Badger’s pace.
- Turn Alabama over. The Badgers struggled to turn opposing offenses over last season, and being opportunistic will be huge to swing the momentum in Wisconsin’s direction.
- Make Joel Stave beat you. Stifle Corey Clement and Badgers’ run game and make an at-times spotty Quarterback beat your defense.
- Be aggressive early and often on defense. The Badgers are starting 3 Offensive Lineman with no prior significant playing experience. Trial by fire, as Alabama blitzes them into submission.
- Out-athlete them. It’s not a secret, Alabama simply has Wisconsin beat both in quality and quantity; use your speed and athleticism to run past Wisconsin.
Players to Watch:
- Joel Stave. The 5th year senior has to alleviate some of the pressure off of the Badger defense by converting on 3rd down. He also has to take pressure off of the O-Line in the run game. If Stave’s accuracy is as shaky as he’s shown at times in the past, Wisconsin could be in trouble.
- Corey Clement. Stepping out from behind the shadows of James White and Melvin Gordon, it’s finally Clement’s time to shine. Having run for 1,700 yards so far in his career as a backup, Clement has shown what he’s capable of, it’s just a matter of the blocking in front of him on Saturday.
- Tanner McEvoy. Yeah, that Tanner McEvoy. After starting at Safety, then Quarterback, then Safety again, McEvoy will be starting both at Wide Receiver and Safety for Wisconsin this season, and if the 6’6″ 230 pound freak athlete can run roughshod through the Crimson Tide secondary, Stave could be a lot more confident from jump street.
- Leon Jacobs and TJ Edwards. The two Wisconsin Inside Linebacker’s will be given the task of stopping Alabama runners Derrick Henry and Kenyon Drake. If they can, man does Wisconsin have a chance. If they can’t, it could be a long night in Dallas for the Badgers. Oh, by the way, there’s 1 career start between the two.
- Whoever Nick Saban decides to start at QB. Alabama still hasn’t announced a starter, listing three guys as potential starters. He has also said that he wouldn’t be against playing multiple Quarterbacks in the game. They’ll need to keep Wisconsin honest and prevent them from zoning in on Henry and Drake.
- Derrick Henry and Kenyon Drake. The two returning runners for Alabama, they’ll need to take the game over offensively, considering their Quarterback situation. If they can’t, they might get more than they bargained for from the scrappy Badgers.
- The Alabama Defensive Line. Boasting names such as A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed, the Crimson Tide’s front line in their usual 3-4 alignment is massive, and will likely toy with the inexperienced Offensive Line of Wisconsin. If they can control the Line of Scrimmage, forcing Stave to beat them through the air, Alabama could make quick work of the Badgers.
- Alabama Corners. If they can shut down whatever passing game the Badgers can muster, namely senior Alex Erickson, the Badgers could be in trouble in a hurry. If Wisconsin’s receivers can create just enough separation, Wisconsin could hang around longer than Alabama wants.
My Prediction: Alabama 24 Wisconsin 13
After hanging tough for as long as they can, the Wisconsin defense finally gives as the Badgers struggle offensively. Neither team displays an offensive juggernaut, but Alabama simply has too much talent on the field for the Badgers, who play gritty and hard-nosed, but don’t have the fire power to threat the “weakness” of the Crimson Tide, their secondary.
For the record, I’m a Badger fan, and can very well see the Badgers playing well enough under Chryst to potentially pull off the upset, but ultimately it’s a win-win for Wisconsin. If they win, great, off to the races to Indianapolis with a potential 12-0 record. If they lose, they have the built-in excuse of, “Well it’s Alabama”, and still likely win at least 10 games and end up back in Indy. This should be a great game, and I look forward to the return of FBS football, we’ve missed you.