INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 06:  Devin Smith #9 of the Ohio State Buckeyes tries to get around Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter of the Big Ten Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 6, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Saturday, Sept. 5, 7p.m. CT
Where: Arlington, TX; AT&T Stadium (80,000)
TV: ABC
Radio: Badger Sports Network
Last Meeting: Wisconsin Win, 15-0 (1928)
All-Time Series: Badgers lead, 1-0

 

Position Breakdowns:

Wisconsin Pass Offense vs. Alabama Pass Defense: 
UW Passing Stats (2014): 2,082 yards, 15 touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 148.7 yards per game, 114.7 QB rating
Alabama Pass D Stats (2014): 3,164 yards, 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 226.0 yards per game, 116.5 QB rating

The Lowdown:

Joel Stave begins the season as the starter for just the second time in his four-year career at Wisconsin, but he’s no rookie, having won 21 games coming in to the season. Unfortunately, he had the luxury of some really good wide receivers during his first season as a starter and hasn’t seen that since the 2012 season.

Having Alex Erickson back, after his 55 reception, 772 yard, three touchdown season last year is going to be a big help. So will having a 6-5 wide receiver in the form of Tanner McEvoy. However, McEvoy hasn’t done it in game action and the rest of the receiving group, including the tight ends, are wholly unproven on the big stage.

For all the questions the Badgers have, Alabama has plenty in the secondary themselves. The Crimson Tide will break in two new starters at safety, each of whom started as cornerbacks in their careers. Oh, and there’s also a big question about whether Marlon Humphrey and his readiness at corner after redshirting last season.

However, the thing that puts the Tide over the top is its All-American defensive line against a young and inexperienced Wisconsin offensive line. A’Shawn Robinson leads that group and has arguably the best linebacker in the country in Reggie Ragland behind him too. If Wisconsin neutralizes those two, congrats, because few have before or will after this matchup.

Advantage: Alabama

 

Wisconsin Rushing Offense vs. Alabama Rushing Defense:
UW Rushing Stats (2014): 4,428 yards, 46 touchdowns, 6.9 yards per carry, 320.1 yards per game
Alabama Rush D Stats (2014): 1,434 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3.2 yards per carry, 102.4 yards per game

The Lowdown: 

As much as an improved passing attack will help, Wisconsin simply isn’t a team built to be able to win a football game without successfully running the football either. Looking at the 2014 stats for both of these teams may be a bit misleading, as it always is with the nature of turnover in college football. However, UW returns a running back in Corey Clement, who had 949 yards and nine touchdowns as the No. 2 back behind Melvin Gordon’s 2,587 yard and 29 touchdown performance.

What is different is the offensive line in front of Clement and the fact that he really is the man, with only Dare Ogunbowale’s 34 carries as experience behind him. Interestingly, this backfield may be the most diverse with bruiser Tawain Deal in the No. 3 position to start the season.

As much change is happening for the Badgers run game, Alabama is going to be very solid against the run. That’s the nature of any Nick Saban-coached team. It won’t change this year thanks to all the returning talent and crazy depth that Alabama has in the front seven. Few running backs get the best of Saban, but if Ezekiel Elliott can run for 230 yards, Clement can do some damage of his own too.

Whichever side wins this battle, wins the game…and that could be…(see below)

Advantage: Alabama

 

Alabama Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin Pass Defense:
Alabama Pass Stats: 3,890 yards, 32 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 277.9 yards per game, 155.7 QB rating
UW Pass D Stats: 2,352 yards, 15 touchdowns, 6 interceptions, 168.0 yards per game, 116.7 QB rating

The Lowdown:

This is one machup where you can throw the stats out of the window, at least for the Alabama side of things. With Amari Cooper gone to the NFL and Blake Sims graduated, the two biggest pieces of the puzzle that put up ridiculous numbers are gone. There’s talent in the wide receiver group, but overall it is a group that hasn’t racked up anything worth worrying about on the stat sheet — yet.

Oh, and no matter who starts for the Crimson Tide, it will be that person’s first ever collegiate start.

Wisconsin comes in to this one eager to make the Crimson Tide throw the ball against a secondary that is on lockdown mode. Cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton are a good tandem, and paired with the impressive play of safety Michael Caputo its a dangerous trio for opposing offenses to try and test. Add in Leo Musso, who was a turnover machine all fall camp long, and Wisconsin’s secondary has more than enough fire power to handle what Alabama brings to the table.

Not to say there won’t be tests, but Wisconsin’s secondary was tested plenty in 2014 and as long as Shelton of fall camp is back, it will pass plenty of those same tests in 2015.

If there’s a single matchup that goes the Badgers way before this game is played, it is this matchup and it may be the one that saves Wisconsin if they want to give themselves a chance to win.

Advantage: Wisconsin

 

Alabama Rush Offense vs. Wisconsin Rush Defense:
Alabama Rushing Stats: 2,893 yards, 35 touchdowns, 5.1 yards per carry, 206.6 yards per game
UW Rush D Stats: 1,765 yards, 19 touchdowns, 3.6 yards per carry, 126.1 yards per game

The Lowdown:

Strength on strength if you look at the 2014 numbers. However, these are two very different looking teams in 2015. Wisconsin has just one starter on the defensive line back, and it is going younger and smaller along the line because of it. Also missing are both starting inside linebackers, replaced by two very inexperienced players in Leon Jacobs and redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards.

Alabama, well they will replace star running back T.J. Yeldon with 990-yard rusher Derrick Henry. It will also have to deal with a very different looking offensive line, anchored by two of the best in center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Cam Robinson. The rest of the group is very inexperienced and still in flux.

That gives Wisconsin a big chance in this game, but asking it to contain Derrick Henry is easier said than done. If it happens look for outside linebacker Joe Schobert and safety Michael Caputo to have a whole lot to do with it.

Given all that is different on these two teams, it could be a toss-up in the run game matchup. It’s hard to shake the fact that Henry averaged nearly six yards a carry as a backup and has two anchors still on the line. Let’s see if youth is served or stands up in this matchup.

Advantage: Alabama 

 

Staff Predictions:

Andy — Alabama 33-30

Nate — Alabama 28-21

Sawyer — Alabama 28-19

 

 

Prognostications:

– Tanner McEvoy leads Badgers in receiving yards: It is tempting to think of Wisconsin’s tall wide receiver as the guy who will get most of the TDs thrown his direction, but most also forget that McEvoy ran for 574 yards and averaged 8.8 yards per carry last season with the ball in his hands. It means he’s also got some speed and some moves to him, enough so that he’ll get deep and be the beneficiary of the play-action pass game that is Chryst’s bread and butter.

– Derrick Henry rushes for 120 yards: Let’s be real, Derrick Henry is going to get his. If you’re Wisconsin the key isn’t to just stop him cold, it has to be to contain him and not let him be the reason Alabama wins. Containing him means allowing under 125 yards if you ask me, and Wisconsin can live with that as long as there aren’t big runs for touchdowns in the mix.

– Sojourn Shelton gets an interception: If you are a cornerback you have to have a short memory, but 2014 was more like a long nightmare for Sojourn Shelton. He simply couldn’t put it all together after a four-interception freshman season and the sophomore slump got him. Look for him to take advantage of whichever quarterback (read Jake Cocker) at least once for an interception and get back on the track of his freshman campaign.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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