Badgers look like Tigers

Playing LSU earlier this month in Atlanta provided Tennessee with more than a shot at the SEC championship. It provided the Vols with an advance look at their bowl opponent.

Wisconsin, which faces the Big Orange Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl, is quite similar to the Tiger team Tennessee battled in a 21-14 loss one month earlier.

For instance:

Like LSU counterpart Ryan Perrilloux, Badger quarterback Tyler Donovan is mobile enough to hurt opponents with keepers and scrambles.

Like LSU counterpart Jacob Hester, Badger tailback P.J. Hill (5-11, 227) is a stocky bruiser who offsets in power what he lacks in speed.

Like LSU, the Badgers boast big receivers (6-4, 213-pound Paul Hubbard and 6-5, 195-pound Kyle Jefferson) who will tower over UT's defensive backs.

Like LSU, the Badgers love to run behind an imposing offensive line that averages 6-feet-6 and 310 pounds per man.

Given all of this, facing LSU's offense on Dec. 1 probably helped Tennessee's defense prepare for the Wisconsin offense it will face on Jan. 1.

"It definitely did," junior linebacker Jerod Mayo said. "Just like Louisiana-Lafayette helped us get ready for the (Arkansas) Wild Hog formation. It really prepared us well for Wisconsin."

Here's more good news: Tennessee's much-maligned defensive players got a significant emotional lift from limiting LSU's offense to one touchdown and two field goals in the SEC Championship Game.

"It definitely boosted the confidence of a lot of us, especially the young guys and the guys upfront," Mayo said. "Those guys did an excellent job all game without giving up points. We were pretty disappointed losing the game but, at the same time, we saw the potential this defense has."

Defensive tackle Dan Williams also was encouraged by the stop unit's solid work against LSU.

"It was a good accomplishment for the team," he said. "We gave up a lot of yards but it was 'bend and don't break.' We still held 'em down (in points) but it's mixed emotions because we didn't get the win."

Perhaps the momentum Vol defenders built vs. LSU will carry over and help them against Wisconsin.

"We'll see," Vol defensive coordinator John Chavis said. "We played well but that wasn't the best we played all year. We were extremely happy with the way we played. We've been looking for improvement all year. I think, for what it's worth, that we've made improvement the entire year. You'd like to be playing your best football at the end of the season, and I think we're very close to that defensively."

Tennessee's stop unit appeared to be playing its best at the end of the season, and that has Vol defenders feeling better about themselves heading into the Outback Bowl.

"Oh, yeah, it helped the defense's confidence," Williams said. "Toward the end of the season the defense started playing stronger as a unit. We got more comfortable with each other, knew what to do and got better as a unit."

The obvious question: Why were Vol defenders so much better in November than they were in September and October?

"Just the guys upfront growing, mentally and physically – Dan Williams, J.T. Mapu, Demonte Bolden, Walter Fisher," Mayo said. "All of those guys did an excellent job, and all of them will be back next year except for Mapu."

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