We caught up with Andrew Coppens at our Bloguin blogmates Madtown Badgers to get a feel for what to expect on Saturday from the Wisconsin perspective. You can also check out their site for our insight into the Tigers.
Saturday Night Slant – It seems both coaches want to open things up more offensively. LSU is going with a mobile QB no matter who is in the game, but it looks like Gary Andersen wants to do the same with McEvoy. Do you see that as a larger offensive philosophy change (harkening to his Utah State offenses), or just a way to combat the athleticism of the LSU defense?
Andrew Coppens, Madtown Badgers – It may be easy to think that considering the look of Utah State’s offense under Gary Andersen and McEvoy’s obvious athleticism. However, the Badgers are not really going to change what works for them all that much. Wisconsin will still run the ball down your throat, it just will do it with more options available to them than in the past. Additionally, Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, Andy Ludwig is a pro-style guy to his core. What adding McEvoy to the picture (or any other mobile QB for that matter) does is give the Badgers an option to attack the edges even more and it also opens up the bread and butter of Ludwig’s offense—the play-action pass.
SNS – The Badgers are replacing a bunch of guys up front defensively. How do you see it holding up against the LSU run game?
MB – For me that is the No. 1 question in this game. Wisconsin’s front seven is very different that it was a season ago, and that isn’t a bad thing. Losing Chris Borland is not fun, as a guy like that isn’t replaceable. However, this team will be much more in the image of DC Dave Aranda this season with “his” players in the system. Wisconsin is much more athletic across the board and will be much more attacking than it was a season ago. I fully expect it to be a challenge against a very intriguing LSU O-Line, but don’t be surprised to see Wisconsin up to the task on more than a few occasions.
SNS – The national media is making a big deal about LSU replacing their top two receivers, yet they never mention Wisconsin is doing much of the same after losing their two leading receivers and top pass catching running back in James White. Who is in the cards to replace the receivers, and what running back can we expect to catch passes out of the backfield?
MB – That’s a very good question actually. What we do know is that Wisconsin is much deeper at wide receiver than they were a year ago at this time. Last season it was Jared Abbrederis and no one else stepping up to the plate. Throughout fall camp the Badgers have seen two freshmen really step up in Natrell Jamerson and George Rushing and they are in the two-deep for the game. However, the biggest movers in camp were senior speedster Kenzel Doe and sophomore Reggie Love. Love, Jamerson and Rushing all come from Florida and all have huge potential. This is a group with sure hands and good route running, but the real strength is the speed this group has. Look for the vertical pass game to be very impactful if the Badgers are going to win.
Wisconsin did lose James White, who was the primary catching back last season, but don’t think that doesn’t mean Melvin Gordon can’t be that same back in 2014. In fact, the Badgers were working often with Gordon on screens and even splitting him out wide during fall camp. I’ve seen him in enough practice situations to know he’s got the hands to do it, the question is if he can be patient enough because we all know when he’s on the edge he loves to take off quickly. Look for the pass catching game to be a bigger part of what the Badgers do with Gordon in 2014. Don’t sleep on Corey Clement either, as he’s proven to be pretty capable in those situations in camp as well. The real weapon though could be fullback Derek Watt (brother of Texans DE J.J. Watt), who simply is a great athlete and just too big to play a normal running back role. He is the key to the swing pass game that could be developed with McEvoy at quarterback.
SNS – Special teams has been a strong point at LSU for years, but its still the forgotten dimension. If it comes down to it, what can we expect from the Wisconsin kicking & return game?
MB – Funny you should bring up special teams, because Wisconsin’s kicking game was a disaster in 2013, but it should be a strength for this team thanks to wunderkicker Rafael Gaglionone. The freshman has a cannon for a leg and can easily knock them in from 55-plus yards.
Wisconsin also has a very dangerous return game with Kenzel Doe, who took one back 91 yards on a kickoff by South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. He’s taken a few punts back in his day and is always a threat with the ball in his hands.
SNS – Predictions. Who ya got and why?
MB – I agree that this game is going to be close, in fact I think these are two teams that could look in the mirror and see much of the other team in it because they have so many of the same questions to answer. However, I think the Badgers offensive line does just enough to allow Melvin Gordon to get his and the pass game surprises LSU a bit. I see this a bit more high scoring because adjustments won’t happen until halftime for both schools. I’ll say 34-31 Wisconsin simply because few are giving the Badgers a real shot, and when that happens Wisconsin surprises people (see 1999 Rose Bowl or 2012 Big Ten Championship game).