HOUSTON - Kickoff for the 2014 LSU football season is now only a day away. The Tigers will meet No. 14 Wisconsin from the Big Ten in Houston’s NRG Stadium Saturday at 8 p.m. ESPN will have the live television broadcast.
To get you ready TSD’s breaking down LSU’s season-opening foe on both sides of the ball. Already Hunter Paniagua took his turn with the Badgers offense. Today I’m honing in on the Wisconsin defense under second-year coordinator Dave Aranda.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
NG: Warren Herring (R-Sr., 6-3, 283)
DE: Konrad Zagzebski (R-Sr., 6-3, 277)
OLB: Joe Schobert (Jr., 6-2, 240)
ILB: Marcus Trotter (R-Sr., 6-0, 220)
ILB: Derek Landisch (Sr., 6-0, 231)
OLB: Vince Biegel (R-So., 6-4, 244)
CB: Sojourn Shelton (So., 5-9, 178)
SS: Lubern Figaro (Fr., 6-0, 179)
FS: Michael Caputo (R-Jr., 6-1, 212)
CB: Darius Hillary (R-Jr., 5-11, 188)
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
The Badgers return the core of last year’s secondary, but, in terms of familiarity, that’s about it. Wisconsin’s front seven, which is listed in a 3-4 alignment but can shuffle into a 4-3, is hitting the overhaul button this fall.
Consider that of Wisconsin’s top 11 tacklers in 2013, six have graduated and are no longer on the roster, and one is likely to start at quarterback for the Badgers (former safety Tanner McEvoy). The returning four – Caputo, Shelton, Landisch and Hillary – includes three defensive backs, further spelling out the holes Aranda & Co. have to fill up front.
And the players counted on so far in the backfilling process will be new to starring roles.
The starting three-man line features two redshirt seniors who’ve played largely in a platoon capacity during their time in Madison, making a combined five starts in their careers, and a redshirt freshman in Obasih. Moving back a level Wisconsin plans on starting a quartet of linebackers that did average 26.3 tackles a season ago but have little in the way of starting experience.
For Aranda, who was at Hawaii for four years before joining Gary Andersen’s Utah State staff in 2012, the hardest player to replace will be reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Chris Borland. The Badgers’ stalwart inside linebacker cleaned up an awful lot of messes in 2013, finishing the campaign with a team-high 112 tackles, 73 solo, to go with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Much of that responsibility is likely to fall on Landisch, who has three career starts to his name but has taken the field 38 total times as a Badger, second most on the entire team.
In the secondary only Figaro is without game experience and that’s because he’s a first-year collegiate. The three-star signee from Everett, Mass., has carved out a starting spot at strong safety in a short period of time.
Next to Figaro is the strength of the defense. At cornerback Wisconsin returns Hillary, a fourth-year junior with 14 career starts, and Shelton, a sophomore who played in 13 games in ’13, starting 12 times as a true freshman. The duo combined for five of UW’s nine interceptions last year. Caputo, the starting free safety, notched 63 tackles last season, second only to Borland. There’s also redshirt senior Peniel Jean, a reserve safety who’s played in 31 games for the Badgers.
Wisconsin projects to have an advantage when its secondary goes up against a young, revamped LSU receiving corps, but everywhere else on the field could be an uphill climb for the Big Ten Badgers. Particularly with how often the Tigers like to run it, Aranda will have to dig into his two-deep often to keep fresh legs on the field in the front seven. And if the starters up front are relatively green, imagine the state of the backups.