1, Personnel Changes
Auburn will be missing its No.1 receiver Duke Williams (suspension) and this helps overcome one of the main mismatches in this game. UW’s defensive backs were badly outplayed against Ohio State. However the No.2 Auburn receiver, Sammie Coates, actually has a higher average yards per reception. Wisconsin is not reporting any major losses in terms of personnel for the game, but the main personnel change for UW to worry about comes from the coaching staff.
Will UW be able to be organized and focused in terms of all the coaching changes in the last few weeks? If this game were seen as a defensive struggle, perhaps preparation would not be as important, but Auburn’s offense is complex and full of talent. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall has a pass rating approaching 150 and can also run the ball, while starting tailback Cameron Artis-Payne ran for 1,500 yards. The last time UW’s Barry Alvarez was forced to be the on-field coach, the results weren’t stellar. Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is known to be inventive. The weeks of preparation for this game heavily favor Auburn.
Will Wisconsin be ready? After a no-show performance in a championship game and a bizarre coaching change, the question must be asked. Indications and past performance tells us UW will bounce back, so another blow out is probably not in the cards, but will UW be ready to keep up the scoring pace? BadgerNation tries to avoid the imponderables and rely on match ups and stats, but this is a different situation. If UW shows it can respond to an early Auburn score, expect the game to be close. This perhaps applies to quarterback Joel Stave more than any other player in the game. Relegated at the start of the season to backup status, as the previous coach wanted a dual-threat QB, Stave will now have a shot to prove himself. Inspiration remains a big question going in to the 2015 Outback Bowl.
3, Auburn’s Rushing Defense
Auburn’s overall defense – ranked 60th overall - was not the team’s strength. If Badgers fans are looking for a bright spot, consider the Tigers’ loss at Georgia. The Bulldogs had two backs with close to 150 rushing yards and scored an unanswered 34 points with a QB who had a rating of 58.6 for the game. UW’s Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement certainly have the ability to run the ball. Keep Auburn’s high-flying offense in check (somehow) and Wisconsin can make a game of it.
4, Discipline on the Field
Flowing from preparation is a sense of discipline on the field. If Auburn eliminates mental breakdowns in order to avoid penalties and turnovers, UW might have a very long day. In each of its losses Auburn gave up more penalty yardage, including home games, sometimes being penalized 50 percent more than the opponent.
5, Melvin’s Last Run
If UW’s group of tight ends, wide receivers and fullbacks can hold their blocks, Gordon will have a huge day. It is necessary for UW if they want to win. For an early indication, look to see if Sam Arneson can sustain his blocks.
Fearless prediction: Too many indicators point to an Auburn victory. It will be a major achievement for UW to win. Auburn 35, UW 27.