Pick a storyline for today’s Wisconsin opener against LSU and there’s a good chances you’ll be able to talk at length about the subject. Good thing that speculation is about to come to an end. In a game that has been seemingly talked about for months, if not years since it was first announced, all the questions swirling around Wisconsin this offseason will finally start to be answered when the Badgers take on No.5 LSU at historic Lambeau Field this afternoon
If the Badgers want to pull the upset, here are Wisconsin’s five keys to victory.
1, Slowing down Leonard Fournette
Wisconsin rushed for 1,954 yards as a team last season, which is one more yard than Fournette finished with. Wisconsin’s defense held Fournette to only 18 rushing yards in his freshman debut two years ago, but a lot has changed since then. Wisconsin’s defense is going to have to make sure that the junior doesn’t break containment and find a running lane to the outside. If Wisconsin can execute at a high level with their gap responsibilities, land some hits on him and have multiple defenders flocking to the ball, they’ll have a chance to contain him. But due to Fournette’s vision and power, he’ll find a way to take advantage in even the smallest of running lanes.
2, Successful Safety Debut
A lot has been made about the play of Wisconsin safeties Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon and if they’re capable of replacing Michael Caputo and Tanner McEvoy. Although Leo Musso (starting free safety) has started three games in his career, his counterpart at strong safety (Dixon) will be making his first career start. Musso started against No.3 Alabama last season but struggled in pass coverage and slowing down tailback Derrick Henry, who earned himself the Heisman Trophy and helped his team to a national title. If Wisconsin wants to pull the upset, Musso can’t have a repeat performance. LSU quarterback Brandon Harris will try and exploit Wisconsin’s secondary, making it important that the combination of Musso and Dixon don’t allow any big plays in the passing game.
3, Offensive Line Needs to Come to Play
Wisconsin’s projected starting offensive line have played in 44 career games with a combined 34 career starts. LSU’s projected starting defensive line have appeared in a combined 78 games with 35 career starts. The experience that LSU’s defensive line possesses will certainly challenge the Badgers’ starting five as the group weren’t able to consistently work together in fall camp until roughly the last 10 days. Outside of being able to create running lanes for the backs, the o-line has to be strong in pass protection. The Tigers’ projected starting defensive line combined for 15 sacks and 20 tackles for loss last season, and defensive end Lewis Neal tied for third on the team with six pass deflections.
4, Keeping Offensive Drives Alive
Wisconsin’s offense will need to be able to give its defense time to rest on the sidelines, making it important that senior Corey Clement and the rest of Wisconsin’s running backs have productive days on the ground. Additionally quarterback Bart Houston will need to limit his mistakes and keep the offense moving forward to prevent having constant three and outs. Houston will need to be able to develop a rhythm early, likely find success with intermediate throws. If Houston can create manageable third downs, it will allow him to rely on a multitude of running or passing options to pick up a fresh set of downs.
5, Supplying Defensive Pressure
If Wisconsin can find a way to slow down Fournette and force LSU to pass, it will be up to Wisconsin’s linebackers to be able to supply the pressure. At times Harris has shown he’s a capable passer, but he completed only 53.8 percent of his passes on 23.1 pass attempts last season. Although Harris can be hit or miss, he does have playmakers around him to rely on, especially wide receivers Travin Dural (19 yards per catch last season) and Malachi Dupre (16.2 ypc). If Wisconsin can pressure Harris and force him to hurry throws, it should give Wisconsin’s secondary a chance to make a play on the football.
One topic that surrounded Wisconsin at length this offseason was the difficulty of the schedule, but the Badgers will be able to create some attention if they can upset the Tigers. Wisconsin is certainly capable of keeping the game close but they are going to have to be able consistently execute on each play, limit turnovers and create some big plays of their own. Most importantly, the Badgers can’t allow Fournette to dominate the game like Henry did last season. While I think this game will be closer than what people are prediction, I think in the end Fournette will be too much for Wisconsin’s defense to handle. LSU wins 27-21.