BE: What can we expect Wisconsin with Bart Houston at quarterback? With him being a veteran of the system, is the whole playbook open? Do you expect them to be conservative when starting with him?
BW: Houston has a power arm and can move a little bit in the pocket, both upgrades over what Wisconsin had last year. In Houston’s major game action from a season ago, some of his better throws occurred when he rolled out to his right and made a throw on the run (part of that was because UW’s offensive line leaked like a sieve). He has a gunslinger mentality, which can cause him at times to make mistakes or misfire on passes. Knowing what a quarterback can and can’t do on the field obviously comes with game experience, which Houston really doesn’t have a lot of in big-time situations.
I’ll be interested to see how head coach Paul Chryst – who doubles as the play caller – will plan this game. A year ago against Alabama, Wisconsin and its fifth-year senior quarterback went with short throws in the flat to get players in space. UW appears to have more weapons (and a stronger line) than it did a year ago, so Houston will have a lot of different options and the threat of a play-action game at his disposal.
Houston never gets too high or too low with his demeanor, so that could be an added bonus in a game like this.
BE: You mentioned that the offensive line is still working on getting a groove together with it being young. How much of a worry do you see that group being and what can the Badgers do to get Corey Clement in the best spot to succeed behind that line?
BW: Honestly, I’m not too concerned about how this line will work together, even though it didn’t get finalized until the middle of last week. Left guard Micah Kapoi, center Michael Deiter, right guard Beau Benzschawel and right tackle Jacob Maxwell all started multiples games as redshirt freshmen a season ago (and in some cases at multiple positions), while left Ryan Ramczyk sat out last season after transferring from division 3 UW-Stevens Point. He’s been incredibly impressive and has taken all the first-team reps since the spring.
This season is critical for Clement, who had a disaster junior season filled with injuries and off-the-field problems. The one silver lining for the Badgers for never having a healthy Clement a year ago was the program developed some quality depth behind him in sophomore Taiwan Deal and senior Dare Ogunbowale. All three are capable of being the starter and have pushed Clement throughout the offseason.
Now if UW loses a starting lineman due to injury, the Badgers will be in real trouble because the program has no experienced depth currently on the roster
BE: Defensively, what can we expect the Badgers to do to confuse LSU's relatively new group of linemen?
BW: Your guess is as good as mine. Wisconsin media got to watch 12 fall practices in its entirety throughout camp and the 3-4 defense we saw from new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox looked quite similar to what we saw the last three seasons from Dave Aranda – mixing pressures, different stunts on the line of scrimmage, etc. I am guessing once UW went into LSU prep mode, Wilcox dipped deeper into his bag of tricks.
I think the main thing we’ll see this season if Wisconsin blitzing from all four linebacker spots (Aranda didn’t send the young ILBs a lot a season ago, choosing to flip them with the outside backers and send them into pass coverage), more aggressiveness from the secondary spots and generate some pressure from the defensive line, a group that opened up alleys for the backers a season ago but didn’t nearly make enough plays for themselves.
BE: What's your biggest area of concern going into this game? There's no doubt the Badgers will be pumped for this one, but is there an area they just won't be able to overcome?
BW: I’ll be interested to see how the young secondary handles this challenge. Wisconsin’s secondary was a strength a season ago with three seniors and three three-year starters on it. This year the Badgers have a four-year starter in Sojourn Shelton, but UW will have a new safety combo in senior Leo Musso and redshirt sophomore D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal moves up from nickel to starting corner and Natrell Jamerson moves into the nickel spot. LSU boast a big back who is hard to tackle and taller receivers who can be hard to cover. If there’s one area on this roster I’d point to as a weakness, it’ll probably be this one because of the unknown factor.
BE: Wisconsin wins if the Badgers...and got a prediction?
BW: Can run the ball. Wisconsin’s M.O. for years is pound the ball on the ground, win time of possession and wear down opposing defenses. UW wasn’t able to accomplish that a season ago because of Clement’s injury and an ever changing starting offensive line. The Badgers still won 10 games because their schedule was incredibly easy, but they won’t have that luxury this season.
LSU’s injuries on defense has been well publicized, so if the Badgers can orchestra sustained drives and cap them with points, their chances to win go up exponentially. It would also help if UW’s defense doesn’t allow LSU to execute big chunk plays and quick strikes, negating its momentum.
This is game that Wisconsin fans have been pointing to for years for a number of reasons, the one main being a game many felt the Badgers have a real chance at winning. I tend to believe that, because I think many nationally have overlooked this year’s UW team for one reason or another. After all, Wisconsin has won 10 games five times in the last seven years and 21 games the last two years, so this is a program that knows how to win.
I haven’t made up my mind on a prediction yet, but I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a four quarter game and UW didn’t cover the 10-point underdog spread