Tampa, Fla.--Entering the Outback Bowl off its best offensive performance of the season in an Iron Bowl loss, Auburn will have its hands full on New Year’s Day when the Tigers take on a Wisconsin defense that has been among the best in the country this season.
Despite giving up 59 points in a loss to Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship Game, the Badgers are still fourth in the nation in total defense and No. 13 in scoring defense.
Allowing just 283.2 yards per game and 20 points, Wisconsin gives up just 118.9 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 17th-best in the country.
Where the Badgers really shine is against the pass. Giving up just 164.3 yards per game through the air, fifth nationally, interim Coach Barry Alvarez brings in a defense that has been solid for much of the year and has definitely impressed Gus Malzahn and the Tigers.
“They do a great job of disguising things,” Malzahn said. “They do present a lot of challenges with their odd front and their even front. They mix up man. They mix up zone. They don’t show the same look very much. That's going to be the challenge.
"Any time it's a bowl game, there are a lot of adjustments that go on, and you have a lot of time to prepare," Malzahn said. "They present a lot of challenges, and they have a lot of good players, too.”
Redshirt senior linebacker Marcus Trotter is a key player for Wisconsin.
Making the challenge even tougher for Auburn is the uncertainty surrounding leading receiver Duke Williams for the game. Sitting out the first week of bowl practices on campus while dealing with a sickness and treatment related back to the loss at Alabama, Williams didn’t make the welcome dinner with the team on Friday, but was expected in according to Malzahn.
Even if Williams makes it to Tampa there is no guarantee he will be able to play. If that is the case it puts more pressure on Sammie Coates, Ricardo Louis, Quan Bray, Marcus Davis and the rest of the group to pick up the slack. Senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said no matter who can or can’t go, it doesn’t change the way the team handles business and that means the next man up.”
“This foundation has been built on more than any one great player,” Wright said. “That what Coach Malzahn preaches. Auburn was great before and it'll be great even after you got here. This team has just kind of keep going. I feel like Nick has enough familiarity with Sammie, Ricardo, Marcus--all those guys who were here last year. It shouldn’t be much of a problem.”
Running back Corey Grant is shown at Saturday's practice. He is one of the seniors preparing for his final Auburn game that will kick off at 11 a.m. CST on New Year's Day at Raymond James Stadium.
With more on the line than just getting a ninth win, the Tigers are focused on playing this game for SEC pride. It’s something that is strong within the league when it gets to bowl time and C.J. Uzomah said playing a team known for being physical is the perfect chance to show the world what Auburn is all about.
“Being from the SEC, we're hoping to assert a form of toughness or dominance, but we know Wisconsin is a great team,” Uzomah said. “We've watched tape and they play hard on both sides of the ball.”