MADISON - The word “OR” is probably the most dangerous conjunction in college football, especially when its listed on a depth chart.
Listing two players (and in some cases more) as the potential starter when only one can play brings with it an aura of mystery for fans and frustration for college coaches trying to prepare a game plan that has an unknown element involved.
So with Alabama placed three starting quarterbacks on its initial depth chart, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda had his work cut out for him, even though he thought, to a degree, it was brilliant.
“That’s what I would do, too,” said Aranda. “I think it’s the smart way to go about it. It makes you have to do what we’re doing (preparing) for things.”
There is a lot of mystery Aranda is trying to sift out in order to coordinator a game plan for No.3 Alabama – No.20 Wisconsin’s opponent this Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. In addition to the quarterback uncertainty, the Crimson Tide have three new starters on the offensive line and are looking to replace their top three receivers from a year ago.
To add even more intrigue, much like LSU in the season opener last year, one Crimson Tide quarterback is pro-style based and the other’s strength is the spread, or so Aranda thinks.
“The game could go spread, much like our game with LSU did, so we have prepare for that” said Aranda. “The game could go big and pound it out and you want to be able to match that, not get so involved in front that you leave your back end all alone. That’s the goal of pound-the-rock-type approach, so you have to have contingencies for that.”
But while there are so many unknown Aranda and the Badgers have to scheme for, Wisconsin knows exactly what’s in store for them with junior tailback Derrick Henry.
In a career that parallels Wisconsin’s Corey Clement, Henry is getting the chance to start after excelling as the backup for the past two seasons. He only has one career start but rushed for 990 yards and 11 touchdowns a season ago – both team highs.
According to Aranda, who started preparing for the Crimson Tide in the spring and reached out to a lot of coaches who are familiar with the Tide, Alabama’s run game is similar to what Iowa likes to stretch the field, getting defenders running sideways and looking for a vacated gap to attack.
The only difference is Henry is a load to handle, a 6-3 back who weighs 242 pounds with a good deal of speed that makes him tough to bring down.
“Henry is a great player,” said outside linebacker Vince Biegel, who has been a part of a Wisconsin defense that has only allowed six opposing players to rush for over 100 yards the last two seasons. “He does a lot of great things. He’s a very versatile running back. He can catch it out of the backfield, great runner, big guy to bring down … He’ll be one of the best running backs we’ll see all year for sure.”
The boundary run game is a new element to Alabama that emerged when Lane Kiffin was hired to run the offense prior to last season. Trying to push teams into loading up against the power run game, Kiffin’s goal is to generate a one-on-one matchup with an elite receiver and feed him the ball early and often. It’s a method of attack that turned Amari Cooper into a star a year ago.
“That’s a mismatch for a lot of people, so that’s the quandary right there,” said Aranda. “What do you do?”
The answer for Aranda is developing and installing a large variety of schemes, personal packages and rotations based on what Alabama’s offense will supposedly try to throw at them. It’s caused a large amount of offseason study but has been nothing Wisconsin’s veteran defense hasn’t faced in some form or fashion before.
“We are versatile in the sense that we can make adjustments in game, right before the game or from play to play,” said senior safety Michael Caputo. “I wouldn’t say anything is hard, just that we have a lot to prepare for. It comes with experience. During camp you develop a level of experience throughout the whole team and play up to a high standard that you need to play at to be able to compete.”