ARLINGTON, Texas - The moment Wisconsin fans have been patiently waiting for is finally here. All the questions that were swirling around No. 20 Wisconsin this offseason will finally start to be answered when the Badgers take on No. 3 Alabama at AT&T Stadium.
If the Badgers want to pull the upset, here are Wisconsin’s five keys to victory.
1, Offensive Line Needs to Come to Play
Easily the biggest storyline surrounding Wisconsin during fall camp was the offensive line coach Joe Rudolph trying to replace three starters and having to deal with usually high rash of injuries to key personnel. Wisconsin didn’t announce its starting five until this past Monday, and the youth of the line will have to grow up in a hurry. Not only are left guard Michael Deiter, right guard Walker Williams and right tackle Hayden Biegel slated to make their first career start, the Badgers have to try to neutralize one of the best front sevens in football. Alabama returns five starters from last season’s stingy front that only allowed five rushing touchdowns in 2014. Left tackle Tyler Marz and center Dan Voltz will need to be heavily counted on for leadership and stability.
2, Inside Linebacker Debut
Redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards and junior Leon Jacobs could prove to be a formidable inside linebacker combination as the season progresses, but they will face a stiff test against Alabama’s athleticism. Second year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will find different ways to attack Edwards and Jacobs with tailback Derrick Henry, who rushed for a team-high 990 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Edwards and Jacobs both have the talent to keep up with Alabama’s skill players but will need to be smart with the angles they take on the football.
3, Winning the special teams
Wisconsin may not have many opportunities to return punts against Alabama with sophomore J.K. Scott averaging 48 yards per punt last season. Where Wisconsin could help its case is if senior Drew Meyer can bounce back from a down junior year and consistently pin the football inside the 20-yard line. If Meyer can deliver, it should allow defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to put a little more pressure on an offense that only returns three starters.
4, A Confident Joel Stave Appears
The offense will go as far as Stave can take them. As much as Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst would like to rely on the ground game, Chryst will have to put Stave in situations that will help open up running lanes. Stave will need to show patience in the pocket to allow his wide receivers and tight ends to get open downfield. Named the starter in the spring, we’ve heard all offseason that Stave is more confident in himself and the offense. Now would be a good time for him to prove that.
5, A successful two-back combination
Corey Clement won’t be able to take a pounding the entire game against Alabama’s stifling defense, making it important that junior Dare Ogunbowale is ready to give Clement a breather. Coming off a solid fall camp, Ogunbowale will be able to bring a slight change of pace opposed to the power back that Clement is. The one concern with Ogunbowale is his inexperience at the tailback position in critical situations. Can Ogunbowale consistently protect the football against an Alabama defense that forced nine fumbles last year?
Fearless Prediction: Wisconsin is catching Alabama at a good time as the Crimson Tide have to replace a number of players on offense and likely won’t be operating at full capacity for a couple weeks. Even so, Alabama’s defense might be too tough for Wisconsin’s offense to overcome. Alabama wins 24-17.