A Scout’s Take on the Wisconsin Versus Alabama Game

Last week I was once again able to speak with NFL scout Chris Landry on 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.

One of the topics we talked about was the game which will be played this upcoming Saturday between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In terms of No. 20 Wisconsin possibly upsetting the third-ranked Crimson Tide, Landry gave me his take.

“Well, it’s going to be tough,” Landry said. “Because that is the style of team that Alabama doesn’t have problems with. You are talking about the best defensive line in college football. A team that defends the run very well.

“You have to throw the football to beat them, and I don’t know if Wisconsin is equipped to do that. I still think they will be able to run the football this year.

“However, running against a quicker, more athletic LSU front [like in 2014], is a lot different than a physical, gap-control defense.

“That being said, Alabama still doesn’t know who they will play at quarterback. They are not going to score 40 points. They like to compress the game and possess the football.

“This could be one of those 24-14 type games, that when you watch it you might say Alabama dominated, but the score won’t be an indicator.

“I’m very curious to see the quarterback play of Alabama and I don’t know how much offense they are going to have. If that’s the case, it could be close and would be interesting if it is.”

Landry has a great site called LandryFootball.com, and he did a preview of the Badgers a couple of weeks ago.

Landry believes the Badgers will have a pretty nice season under new head coach Paul Chryst.

Here are some points that Landry made about the Badgers going into the 2015 season:

In Paul Chryst, Wisconsin got another Bret Bielema who understands the Wisconsin culture and approach to physical line of scrimmage football.

While Bielema is turning into one of college football’s elite head coaches, there could only be one Head Man In Charge in Madison, and Barry Alvarez was and is it. His presence and ego has caused coaches problems in the past but Chryst understand the landscape.

Bielema did some terrific things to not only keep the Barry era rolling, but improve it in several ways by taking the program to a consistently higher level. However, two straight Rose Bowl losses didn’t give him quite enough juice to get all the things he wanted to try to take the Badgers even higher.

The transition from Alvarez to Bielema was seamless, while the hiring of Gary Andersen brought in a totally different personality and a change of style and tenor.

Very nice and relatively humble, Andersen was the polar opposite to Bielema’s hard-ass act. Each turned out to be what Wisconsin needed at the respective times, but each style eventually didn’t work out.

Andersen picked the wrong time for his team to get destroyed by Ohio State – little did anyone know at the time just how much of a juggernaut that team was turning into – just as Alvarez was settling into the digs in Grapevine, Texas with his fellow College Football Playoff members.

Bielema was the rising superstar hire, and Andersen was the steady selection. Chryst is more of a guess, considering he went a non-descript 19-19 at Pitt. However, he knows the Wisconsin program, he was Alvarez’s offensive coordinator for a long stretch, and he’s a true Barry guy. But none of that matters if he’s not winning Big Ten championships and bowl games.

This is the year Wisconsin was building towards under Andersen. The O line needs some retooling, and replacing Melvin Gordon isn’t going to be easy, even for Wisconsin, but the defense has the talent and upside to be among the best in a long, long time.

There’s no grace period here. There’s no giving the new guy a shot to change some things around. The schedule is light enough and the team is good enough to get back to the Big Ten championship – at the very least.

The No. 1 priority is to get the passing game going a bit more, but overall, Wisconsin can’t do what Wisconsin does without dominating the turnover margin. Bielema’s teams absolutely killed it when it came to holding on to the ball, and while it’s not Andersen’s fault that Melvin Gordon had a fumbling problem, the -9 overall last year was devastating in key moments. The Badgers survived the bowl win under Barry despite going -3, but they were -4 in the Big Ten title game, Joel Stave couldn’t stop throwing picks in the Northwestern loss – going -4 – and they were -1 against LSU. In the other ten games combined, Wisconsin was +3 and went 10-0.

The schedule:

For some reason, Wisconsin thought it wise to go to a whole other level when it came to the non-conference scheduling. It didn’t work out well last year against LSU to start the season, and now it gets Alabama to kick things off. Of course, a win changes the narrative, but it’s asking a lot to get through with a win over the Crimson Tide in Dallas.

Playing Alabama makes the remaining non-conference slate against Miami University, Troy and Hawaii forgivable. At worst, the Badgers should be 3-1 going into the Big Ten slate.

Maryland and Rutgers from the West? No Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State or Michigan? Merry Christmas, Paul Chryst.

The Bucky season should hinge on the road game at Nebraska. Going to Minnesota to finish things up will be dangerous, but beating the Huskers in Lincoln should make it really, really hard for anyone else to get by the Badgers for the West title.

Maryland is a road game to start out November and just before the week off. The Terps are going to need a while to rebuild, and if they’re going to be okay, it should happen by this point – and they might be desperate.

The Badgers aren’t going to be better than Ohio State or Michigan State, so it’s asking a wee bit much to win the title and go to the playoff, but with this D, and this schedule, 10-2 is there for the taking, and 11-1 is possible.

The October 10th game at Nebraska is actually the biggest game of the year – Wisconsin can lose the opener to Alabama and make the playoff by running the table, including a Big Ten championship, but the season-opener is bigger for the program’s status on a national scale. Wisconsin has solidified its place among the very, very good, but a win over Alabama – ALABAMA – would be the instant statement type of victory to get the Paul Chryst era rolling.

OFFENSIVE OUTLOOK

The wide receivers have to be better. Wisconsin can win ten games in its sleep just by running the ball over and over and over again, but to from 11-3 good to Big Ten championship and College Football Playoff great, the passing game has to be efficient, even if it’s not rolling up the massive yards. QB Joel Stave only seems like he’s been around since the Don Morton era, and while he has the experience, he needs help from a mediocre receiving corps. The Badgers don’t have to be 2011 Russell Wilson good throwing the ball, but they can’t be sad like they were completing 8-of-24 passes in the loss to LSU and 17-of-43 in the loss to Ohio State.

Junior RB Corey Clement is the next back up. The lineage of Wisconsin running backs go on and on and on, and Clement has the talent to be yet another big producer. While he might not be Melvin Gordon, he has good size, power and toughness to do what Wisconsin running backs do. The key will be the reserves with Dare Ogunbowale leading a relatively green group.

The receiving corps has to be better, but the talent just isn’t there. For whatever reason, Wisconsin just can’t seem to get top-shelf wide receivers over the last few seasons – Jared Abbrederis was a walk-on – and even with Alex Erickson returning, opposing defensive coordinators aren’t going to worry about the Badger targets. Senior QB Joel Stave doesn’t have to be great, but with his experience and his decent skills, his job will be to just not screw things up. The three interceptions against Northwestern were a killer, the three against Ohio State didn’t help, and the three against Auburn were a problem. He can’t have any more games like those.

Don’t expect anything to change. Wisconsin will still run the ball as effectively as anyone in college football with a terrific group of running backs behind a big, strong line, but the big question mark will be the passing attack that has to be more efficient and effective. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph was a part of the Badger coaching staff from 2008 to 2011 and was a master at developing tight ends, and he knows how to get a ground game moving after spending the last few years as the Pitt offensive coordinator. Can he help make Joel Stave a more consistent quarterback? Can he help out the mediocre receiving corps? If not, Wisconsin will just keep on pounding away.

DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK

More of a reliance on the secondary. The defense has adapted and adjusted under coordinator Dave Aranda, but this time around, the 3-4 style will do more to allow the secondary to shine. The linebacking corps should be terrific, and the line will be a rock against the run, but it’s the pass defense that should be the calling card. CB Sojourn Shelton has the look of a Big Ten all-star leader of a defensive backfield that returns all four starters from a group that finished fourth in the nation in pass D.

Junior CB Sojourn Shelton might have regressed a bit statistically last season, but don’t be fooled – teams were staying away from him. The strength of the defense is at linebacker – and that’s a good thing when the Badgers go to a 3-4 front – but the secondary isn’t far behind in terms of talent and should be even more productive. Shelton is the veteran star corner who knows what he’s doing, and he should be even stronger surrounded by excellent defensive backs Michael Caputo at safety and Darius Hillary at the other corner.

The D should be phenomenal after finishing fourth in the nation in total defense and fourth against the pass. Sticking around with the new coaching staff is defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who helped make it all work over the last few seasons. The defense has been building to this point, and now it’s going to be tremendous in the secondary and with a terrific linebacking corps that’ll be more than fine despite losing Derek Landisch and Marcus Trotter on the inside. The front three will be a brick wall against the run.

2 thoughts on “A Scout’s Take on the Wisconsin Versus Alabama Game

  1. Thanks. Joel Stave can’t make the mistakes he made in 2014 and throughout his career this season. Especially against a team like Alabama. I was at the Outback Bowl and it’s hard to believe that the Badgers beat Auburn despite Stave throwing three picks. Paul Chryst will definitely help No. 2 this season.

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