Breakdown: No.19 Auburn vs. No.17 Wisconsin

Having not beaten a SEC team since 2007 and winless in its last four bowl games, No.17 Wisconsin has plenty to play for when it hosts No.19 Auburn in the Outback Bowl New Year's Day in Tampa, Florida. BadgerNation breaks down the matchup and how UW has survived the month in December.

No.17 Wisconsin (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten) vs. No.19 Auburn (8-4, 4-4 SEC West)

Date/Time - Thursday, January 1 at 11 a.m. CT

Stadium –Raymond James Stadium (65,856/Grass)

Television –ESPN2 (Bob Wischusen, Matt Millen and Quint Kessenich)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series –Series tied 1-1-1 (Series tied 1-1 in neutral sites)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 24-10, on January 2, 2006 in Orlando, Fla.

Series Notes

After a 7-7 tie in 1931 in Madison, the Badgers and Tigers have played in two bowl games against each other, a 28-14 win for Auburn in the 2003 Music City Bowl and a 24-10 win for Wisconsin in the 2006 Capital One Bowl that was Barry Alvarez’s last game before his retirement.

The Badgers are 2-7 all-time in bowl games against teams from the Southeastern Conference, including a 0-3 mark in the Outback Bowl.

Auburn is 11-7-2 all-time against current members of the Big Ten Conference, including an 8-4 (.667) mark in bowl games. That includes games against Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Rutgers and Wisconsin. Auburn’s last matchup with a Big Ten team was a 38-35 overtime victory versus Northwestern in the 2010 Outback Bowl.

Wisconsin Notes

Wisconsin’s streak of 13 consecutive bowl game appearances is the longest active run in the Big Ten and ranks as the seventh-longest in the nation. Only Florida State (32), Virginia Tech (21), Georgia (17), Georgia Tech (17), Oklahoma (15) and LSU (14) have longer active bowl streaks.

The Badgers seek their 50th win in the last five seasons, with their 49 victories since the start of the 2010 ranking as the 10th-most in the nation.

With one touchdown, Gordon can join Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders (1988) and UCF’s Kevin Smith (2007) as the only players in FBS history with at least 2,000 rushing yards and 30 TDs in a season.

Wisconsin’s defense is allowing just 283.2 yards per game to rank No. 4 in the FBS. The Badgers also rank No. 13 in scoring defense (20.0 ppg), No. 17 in rushing defense (118.9 ypg) and No. 5 in passing defense (164.3 ypg).

On the season, the Badgers have allowed just 35.3 percent of drives that started in opponents’ territory to cross the 50 yard line. That’s the seventh-best mark in the FBS in a category led by Penn State (30.6 percent).

Auburn Notes

Auburn is 22-14-2 in bowl games all-time back through the 1937 Bacardi Bowl in Havana; the Tigers are 2-1 in three previous Outback Bowl appearances (1990, 1996, 2010).

Auburn is third in the country in third-down conversion percentage this season (90- 167, .539), trailing only Georgia Tech (90-158, .570) and Alabama (100-185, .541). Since the start of the 2013 season, Auburn has converted 50.0 percent of its third downs, which is fourth-best among FBS teams.

Auburn averaged 41.5 points and 573.5 yards of total offense, including 339.5 yards rushing in four home SEC games this year. In eight SEC games, Auburn averaged 34.4 points [2nd in SEC] and 519.9 yards of total offense [1st in SEC], including 270.3 yards on the ground, which also led the league.

Auburn is one of eight FBS teams averaging at least 230 yards passing and at least 230 yards rushing per game. The others: Baylor, Marshall, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Ohio State, Oregon and Toledo.

The Tigers are +4 in turnover margin this season, but Auburn is outscoring its opponents 81-64 in points off turnovers (6.8-5.3 ppg).

Breakdown

It was such a rare occurrence that it sent Wisconsin reporters scrambling for their Badgers football fact book. When the rampant flicking of pages stopped, it became known 1997 that Wisconsin was last shutout in a football game. But while that 37-0 loss to Syracuse happened in the season opener, the Badgers’ 59-0 loss in a Big Ten championship game should have left a stingy impact on the program.

Less than four days later, that potential-program-altering loss to Ohio State was off the radar thanks to Gary Andersen bolting for Oregon State. UW should probably send him a thank you card.

Andersen’s sudden departure, the vacant head coaching position for the next week and the subsequent hiring of former UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst dominated the headlines and the discussions around the football team, allowing the players to move past that embarrassment to come together to focus on the remaining goal: win a bowl game.

“It was an interesting week for us but at this point as a team we have one goal, which is win our bowl game,” said junior quarterback Joel Stave. “We knew Coach Alvarez would get us a good coach. He’s very confident in what he can do and that’s exactly what he went out and did. We just had to focus on making sure guys are getting healthy, making sure guys are taking care of business and preparing that way.”

Wisconsin’s senior class has won 38 games the past four years and needs one more victory to tie the 2011 seniors for the second-most victories in school history. That class accomplished its win total with one head coach and Russell Wilson for that final season. This class has grinded its way the wins with three different head coaches (four if you could Barry Alvarez’s two interim stints).

“We’ve got a really good veteran group, a lot of guys who understand what needs to go into this,” said Stave. “There’s a lot of guys who are really hungry for that bowl win. There’s not a player on this team who has a bowl win, and that’s something that gets to people. As a team at the beginning of the year, we wanted to get to a bowl game and win it. We have an opportunity to do that against a real good team, so we have to prepare well and everybody understands that.”

In terms of skill level, Wisconsin would be hard pressed to find a more talented offense to go against. An offense full of ability and speed, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is experienced and slippery, the Tigers run the football efficiently and are a vertical passing team with a lot of big bodies. It’s similar to Ohio State’s offense … a catch-22 since UW knows what to expect but didn’t do a great job in stopping it.

“They just have great trust,” said safeties coach Bill Busch of Auburn. “In the quarterback’s mind and the receiver’s mind, they are always open.”

The Tigers aren’t without faults. Auburn has allowed at least 30 points six times, going 2-4 in those games, and over 400 yards in its last six SEC games. In the Tigers’ 55-44 loss to No.1 Alabama, Auburn allowed 312 rushing yards in its last game.

To try and help prepare, Wisconsin interim head coach Barry Alvarez has pushed tempo in practice on both sides of the football to help simulate the overall speed and upped the physicality.

“We know what to do,” said tailback Melvin Gordon. “We know how to handle this. We told the young guys we’ve been through this (coaching change) before, so just follow our lead, we’ll take care of things, watch us and we’ll get the job done. We’ll go out there and put our best foot forward when we play Auburn.”

Players say the focus has been there over the last several weeks, content that the bad vibes from the Ohio State game are firmly in the past. Wanting to put on good show and go out as bowl winners, a win Thursday would show that Wisconsin can match up with elite teams or teams from elite conferences.

“We all want to do well, and we all want to finish off what we started,” said defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. “I look back at that championship and what’s happened since then, I think it’s very easy to lose the fact that we’ve won 10 games, we’ve been successful and we’ve done good things. We have to fight to get that back.”

Prediction

Auburn enters this game as 6.5-point favorites, a number likely based off its offense ability and Wisconsin’s goose egg on national television. Don’t expect a shutout here, as Wisconsin and Gordon will likely find success offensively and put points on the board. Question is can the Badgers defense – particularly the secondary – make enough plays to keep Auburn’s offense on the sideline? Even with the Tigers’ leading receiver (Duke Williams) out for this game, that’s a tough to expect after getting lit up in Indianapolis.

Remember how that 1997 season – the one that started with the shutout - ended? Wisconsin lost 33-6 to Georgia in the Outback Bowl. I don’t think it’ll be that lopsided, but I believe history repeats, meaning the Badgers’ inability to win big games or bowl games continues.

Auburn 34, Wisconsin 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 10-3

Against the Spread: 6-6


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