Year two under Gary Andersen is set to kickoff Saturday when No.14 Wisconsin takes on No.13LSU in Houston for the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff; a game that Wisconsin fans have been looking forward to since its been announced.
After losing so many talented players from last year’s 9-4 team, the Badgers will have a different look in their season opener. After ending last season losing to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, the Badgers will have another chance at knocking off a quality SEC opponent.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from fall camp, expectations this coming week and need. It was not easy determining who will be important in helping the Badgers to an opening season win over LSU.
1, Melvin Gordon RB: Gordon was able to put together an excellent fall camp and looks ready to build off of his redshirt sophomore numbers (206 carries, 1,609 yards, and 12 touchdowns). Gordon has the speed and elusiveness to be able to bounce outside against the Tigers’ athletic defense. As good as the Wisconsin offensive line may be this coming year, they could struggle at times with athleticism, meaning Gordon may have to be patient and create some of his own runs.
The other interesting thing to see with Gordon is how much the coaches try and get him involved in the passing game. Gordon has displayed the ability to catch the football during fall camp, and it would be another great way to get him in space to challenge LSU’s defense.
2, Tanner McEvoy QB: Although Andersen has yet to officially name him the starter, multiple media outlets have report that McEvoy beat out the incumbent, Joel Stave. It will be interesting to see what McEvoy can bring to the table in an actual game at quarterback considering the last time he took a snap was at Arizona Western Junior College. There’s no questioning McEvoy’s athleticism and ability to scramble but his passing leaves a lot to be desired. With McEvoy not having as strong of an arm as Stave, it’s hard to imagine that Wisconsin will get to many shots downfield. McEvoy needs to do a better job of hitting his target in stride because LSU defenders Rashard Robinson or Tre’Davious White could make him pay for his mistake or poor throw. With intermediate throws most likely being the norm for McEvoy against LSU, it would be safe to assume that Badger fans will see a good amount of option to play to McEvoy’s strength to try and get Gordon or Corey Clement into the open field.
3, Vince Biegel OLB: One thing is certain in describing the Tigers’ offense is that they are athletic and fast, nothing new when describing the SEC. Wisconsin is going to have to have to be ready to slow down the playmakers on LSU’s offense. Even though LSU returns two starting skill players to its offense, what they have waiting in the wings to replace their departed starters will be just as athletic, even if they don’t have a lot of game experience.
One of the better athletes on Wisconsin’s defense, Biegel is going to have to be able to make consistent plays. He’ll also be relied upon to keep containment of one of the many talented running backs or slow down quarterbacks Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings. Like Wisconsin, LSU will most likely want to run the football opposed to pass. If Biegel and the rest of the Badgers can help slow down the run game, it will force the Tigers’ young quarterbacks to beat Wisconsin through the air.
4, Warren Herring NG: In order for Biegel to make the plays that he needs to in the backfield, the defense starts with Herring taking on blockers to try and open up holes for the linebackers. It will be a tough test for the 6-3, 294-pound Herring facing an LSU offensive line that averages 6-5, 320-pounds among their starters. Herring, who recorded four sacks last season, should be able to find ways to get after the quarterback, especially if he switches over to defensive end in certain packages. With Herring having to take on two positions along the defensive line, it will be key for him to help to try and keep drives short for LSU’s offense to stay fresh throughout the game.
5, Tyler Marz LT: In order for Wisconsin to beat LSU, Marz and the rest of the offensive line is going to have to do a good job of protecting the quarterback in the pocket. Marz said during fall camp that one area that he’s trying to focus on is improving in pass protection during fall camp. The Tigers registered 27 sacks last season, which ranked fourth in the SEC, meaning they will be a good measuring stick for Marz to see where he’s at in pass protection. With McEvoy having the ability to scramble, it will help Marz out if he gets beat on a play. Either way Marz needs to be ready to take on an athletic front seven.
6, Michael Caputo S: Caputo is expected to be one of the leaders for the defense and he’ll be expected to make sure people are consistently lined up in the correct place. It is starting to look more like freshman Lubern Figaro will start opposite of Caputo. If that’s the case Caputo has to make sure the communication is consistent between them. Caputo will also line up at times close to the line of the scrimmage where it will be expected he can use his size and speed to make plays in the backfield or help stop the run.
7, Alex Erickson WR: It is still hard to know who the go-to receiver will be for the offense, the most likely option seems to be Erickson. While the receivers have had good camps for the most part, Erickson has been one of the more consistent targets catching the football, being assignment sound and competing at all three positions. Erickson may not be the blazer that can help stretch the field but he has the ability to keep drives moving.
Others to Note
CB Sojourn Shelton: A turnover could be critical to the game, and Shelton showed last year that he was one of the more effective playmakers in the secondary. Shelton has looked good in fall camp and appears poised to take the next step in his game.
K Rafael Gaglianone: Gaglianone has been everything that Andersen hoped he would be when the Brazilian committed last fall. Gaglianone was consistent through camp and showed off his leg power. The Badgers can’t leave points on the field like they did at times last year, and if the offense can get with in Gaglianone’s range, he should be able to convert if a drive stalls.
WR Kenzel Doe: Doe will need to be able to stretch the field against LSU and help keep the defense honest. If he can show he has the ability to stretch the field, it will prevent LSU from loading up the box. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see Doe get a carry on a jet sweep to try and get the ball in his hands and see what he can do in open space.
MLB Derek Landisch: Landisch would have made the front seven if he weren’t still recovering from his hamstring injury. It is believed that he’ll be healthy enough to play, but how close will be to 100 percent? Landisch is Wisconsin’s most experienced linebacker, and if he can’t be on the field, the defense will lose a leader and a playmaker.