WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 3 at 2:30 pm CT
WHERE: Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisc.)
TV/RADIO: ABC or WatchESPN; LSU Sports Radio Network - 98.1 FM in Baton Rouge; Sirius Satellite Radio - ch. 113; XM Radio – ch. 190
SERIES: LSU leads 3-0.
LAST MEETING: LSU won 28-24 in Houston in 2014.
LINE: LSU -11.5
The main question entering this game was Leonard Fournette's ankle, but expect a healthy Fournette against the Badgers. One of the top running backs (if not the best) in the country was hampered by an ankle injury earlier in camp, but he's healthy, he says. While Fournette expects to get a heavy workload against the Badgers, he'll see other running backs like Darrel Williams and certainly Derrius Guice get time to take the pressure off him. It'll be interesting to see how new running backs coach Jabbar Juluke works the rotation.
With the running game expected to be its usual dangerous self, Brandon Harris returns to lead the Tigers' offense, but how much will the improvements LSU has made offensively standout? Receiver Malachi Dupre said the changes are more in the playcalling more than anything, but that has yet to be see. Play-action and high-percentage throws will be a larger part of the LSU offense. Expect tight ends and the fullbacks to be more involved in the passing game as options. Dupre said LSU will look to get the ball to the receivers earlier in the game to help Harris get into a groove. How LSU manages the passing attack will be something to watch.
It's finally time for the long awaited debut of the 3-4 defense under LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The disguising, aggressive, guerrilla warfare defense will be asked to shutdown a potent rushing attack, but not without some occasional mistakes in the first outing. LSU lost Isaiah Washington and Christian LaCouture along the defensive line for the season and will be without Corey Thompson for the first few weeks of the season. That means LSU has to have its front three step up in a big way.
Lewis Neal, Greg Gilmore, Travonte Valentine, Davon Godchaux and others will see plenty of time along the line and they'll be responsible for opening up lanes for linebackers like Duke Riley and Kendell Beckwith to make plays. If LSU commands double teams from Wisconsin's line, that will make it easier for the linebackers to make plays. That's key to Aranda's defense being successful.
Scouting the Badgers
Wisconsin breaks in a new starting quarterback in Bart Houston while he returns both of his running backs from last year in Corey Clement (below) and Dare Ogunbowale. Both are healthy and ready to go. A young offensive line could hamper that ability to run the football. If Houston has to take on the load for Wisconsin on his own, that's likely bad news for the Badgers.
The top target for Wisconsin figures to be Troy Fumagalli at tight end, who caught 64 passes last year. Without any burners on the outside, LSU will likely be able to gamble a little more in Aranda's first go as defensive coordinator with the Tigers. DBU, which was less than impressive last year, will have to matchup against Rob Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy at receiver, who both didn't have more than 500 yards receiving last year.
Wisconsin will still employ a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, but will go through growing pains of their own with a new playcaller. Vince Biegel leads the way at outside linebacker for the Badgers and will be a huge factor in Wisconsin's ability to slow the LSU rushing attack.
Matchup to Watch
LSU BUCK Arden Key vs. Wisconsin OTs Ryan Ramczyk and Jacob Maxwell: Ramczyk comes over from Division III UW-Stevens Point and sat out last season while redshirting while Maxwell is a returning starter along the Wisconsin line. Key is poised for a huge year in Dave Aranda's defense and all indications are expectations are that both the staff and Key are waiting on his assault on LSU's single-season sack record. Key set his goal of 20 sacks on the season and while that might be difficult to reach, Key has the upper hand on Saturday when LSU sends him off the edge.
At 6-6, 250-pounds and elite athleticism, Key could be in for a multi-sack performance if he gets enough opportunities. If Wisconsin can limit Key and other LSU edge rushers, there's a good chance Houston will have time to pass and create some balance offensively for the Badgers.
Keys to the Game
Fast start offensively. Whether it's through the air or on the ground, LSU has to start fast in a hostile environment. Get Harris into a groove early, but don't overthink it. LSU has a relatively new group of offensive linemen playing together and the Tigers need to let them settle in. The best way to do that is with short passes and running the ball. Let the line take over the game and get up early on Wisconsin. That will take the air out of the stadium and allow LSU to operate offensively.
Take a deep breath defensively. LSU had a few busted coverages last season under Kevin Steele, but Aranda's defense is supposed to be simplified. That will help players like Tre'Davious White, Donte Jackson, Jamal Adams and others in the secondary play without having to think as much. That will lead to the Tigers being able to play more aggressive as well. Don't overthink it in the Tigers' first game with Aranda at the helm. Play smart, but play fast.
What to Watch For
When LSU is on offense: It's no secret. LSU is going to run Fournette and the other running backs early and often to help loosen up the passing attack. Harris will benefit from that and have better passing windows to work with. How LSU gets Harris into a groove has yet to be seen, but it's something the players have stressed is bound to happen. If LSU gets the short passing game going, expect targeting the tight ends and fullbacks early in this one.
When LSU is on defense: In Aranda's 3-4 defense, LSU isn't year fully up to speed with all of the disguises, but Aranda has a lot of new personnel to work with and better athletes than at Wisconsin. How Aranda uses all of his new toys on defense will be fun to watch. There's no doubt Aranda will dial up some intense pressures for the first-year starter in Houston, but where and how he dials them up will be something to watch.
When Wisconsin is on offense: Wisconsin is similar to LSU in that it's not going to get away too much from its identity as a power run offense. Houston (above) is a fifth-year senior that stuck around through all of the changes from Gary Anderson to Paul Chryst and now his time has come. Houston will be asked to manage the game and make timely throws to take the pressure off the running backs. Similar to Harris, but with less experience, Houston has a strong arm and he can make all the throws, but how will he fare against LSU's talented secondary? If he's able to diagnose an Aranda defense that he competed against for three years, that will help him find windows to throw the ball.
When Wisconsin is on defense: With Justin Wilcox taking over for Aranda, Wisconsin will not go away from the 3-4 defense, but there will be some changes. Of course Biegel will be the centerpiece still, but how does Wisconsin attack LSU? Do they blitz the entire game to try to create turnovers? Do the Badgers stack the box and force Harris to beat them? The Badgers defense will still disguise a lot, but how much of the time the Badgers end up blitzing will be interesting.
LSU has won all 11 openers under Miles and most don't expect that to change. In a huge game for Chryst and Wisconsin, how much energy will the Badgers come out with? LSU will be walking into a tough environment, but the Tigers also have a lot to prove. With all nine paid assistants on the sideline, Miles has a lot of direct support for his players now. Bringing Cam Cameron down in the Texas Bowl to the sideline worked wonders for the Tigers. Now if they can build off that, expect a big statement win from the Tigers on Saturday.
TIGER BLITZ STAFF PREDICTIONS
Billy: LSU 42-28
Christian: LSU 34-17