The next level
One LSU defensive back said he’s “salivating” over this fact: Wisconsin is starting a first-time starter at quarterback, Bart Houston, in Saturday’s game.
LSU’s defensive line might be foaming at the mouth, too. The Badgers are starting a first-year player at left tackle. After quarterback, left tackle is the most important position on the team, many coaches will tell you. The left tackle must protect the quarterback’s blind side in pass protection, and the spot is in charge of walling off the left side on rushing plays.
Ryan Ramczyk will be doing this for Wisconsin. The last time Ramczyk, a redshirt junior, played in a football game was in 2014 at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point. On Saturday, he gets Arden Key and LSU’s experienced and athletic front seven — full of pass-rushing talents playing in a new defensive scheme.
Welcome to major college football.
The Ramczyk vs. Key battle is the interior battle of the big game — two 6-foot-6 giants whom teammates each referred to as “freaks.” They’ll fight against one another for much of Saturday’s game, but Key, an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid, will have help in LSU’s new revolving front.
The story of Arden Key’s freakish, athletic build didn’t really begin until a stunning growt…
Look for Davon Godchaux, Lewis Neal and Tashawn Bower to join in the battle against Ramczyk, but Key might poise the biggest threat. Key is the “disguise,” he said, of LSU’s new 3-4 defense under Dave Aranda. He’s a player whose role — he can drop back in coverage or rush the passer — is supposed to confuse offensive linemen.
The good news for Ramczyk: He faced a similar kind of player in the same defense all of last season, while serving as a scout-team member batting Wisconsin’s starting defense — a group led by Aranda.
Matchups to watch
Wisconsin receivers vs. LSU defensive backs
The Badgers had serious trouble against LSU’s secondary in 2014 (8-of-24 passing, 2 interceptions, 50 passing yards). There’s no reason to think the Tigers won’t have a distinct advantage again. They return all but one starting DB, and every starter was a four- or five-star recruit out of high school. Wisconsin lost its top receiver from last season, too.
LSU RB Leonard Fournette vs. Wisconsin’s front seven
The Badgers pride themselves on stopping the run and running the ball. LSU’s Heisman Trophy favorite will run against a unit ranked in the top 25 in rushing defense four straight years, including fourth in 2015 and fifth in 2013. Wisconsin returned most of its starters from the front seven but did lose coordinator Dave Aranda to LSU.
LSU: Keep an eye on No. 83, Travin Dural
Many put the blame for the Tigers’ passing woes last season on QB Brandon Harris, but the receivers, Travin Dural said, need to take some of that blame. The speedster said LSU’s WRs and Harris are more connected mentally than ever. The senior leads an athletic group against a Wisconsin secondary that lost team leader Michael Caputo, a standout safety.
Wisconsin: Keep an eye on No. 47, Vince Biegel
Redshirt junior OLB Vince Biegel is the heart of Wisconsin’s defense, a 6-4, 246-pounder ranked the nation’s top returning outside linebacker by Pro Football Focus. He is the Badgers’ most experienced player with 28 starts. He ranks eighth in school history with 17.5 career sacks, too.
SCOTT RABALAIS' FOUR DOWNS
1. BAND ON THE RUN
With Leonard Fournette, LSU’s identity as a power running team is set in concrete. But Wisconsin loves to run, too, with a potential 1,000-rusher in oft-injured Corey Clement. The Badgers suffered a blow when top blocker Dan Voltz quit because of injuries. LSU is 55-6 under Les Miles with a 100-yard rusher. Win the rushing battle, win the game.
2. STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND
LSU’s last road game against a Big Ten team was 1988 at Ohio State. This game isn’t exactly that, but even with 25,000 to 30,000 Tigers fans at Lambeau Field, LSU will be at a fan disadvantage, as Wisconsin was in Houston two years ago. Les Miles said the road team has to be the better team to win. So true.
3. AVOIDING TURNOVERS
Winning the turnover battle will be crucial, as evidenced by the teams’ stats from last year. LSU was plus-9 in turnovers in its nine wins, minus-2 in its three losses. Wisconsin was plus-11 in turnovers in its 10 wins in 2015, minus-8 in its three losses. The Badgers can’t afford to lose this stat.
4. PASSING THE BLAME
LSU’s anemic passing game isn’t all on Brandon Harris. His receivers, namely Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural, must be better, too. Dupre and Dural, who combined for 71 catches for 1,231 yards and nine TDs in 2015, must outperform Wisconsin’s starting duo of Robert Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy (combined 52 catches, 684 yards, four TDs).
BY THE NUMBERS
LSU's record in season openers under Les Miles
Rushing yards Leonard Fournette needs for 3,000 in his career
FBS-fewest points per game Wisconsin allowed last season
LSU's offensive TDs in 2015, all from returning players
LSU’s FBS record nonconference win streak
THE LSU-WISCONSIN SERIES
The Tigers and Badgers have met only three times. Here’s a look at the first three meetings:
Sept. 25, 1971 – LSU 38, Wisconsin 28: Paul Lyons, a converted defensive back, takes the starting job from future All-American Bert Jones and proves coach Charlie McClendon’s faith in him. Before a capacity crowd of 78,535 at Camp Randall Stadium, Lyons sets an LSU single-game record with 304 total yards (165 passing, 139 rushing).
Sept. 30, 1972 – LSU 27, Wisconsin 7: The Badgers enter Tiger Stadium with the nation’s second-leading rusher in Rufus “Roadrunner” Ferguson, but LSU bottles him up for 63 yards on 17 carries. Chris Dantin outshines Ferguson with 115 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. Juan Roca, LSU’s first soccer-style kicker, drills a then-school-record 52-yard field goal.
Aug. 30, 2014 – LSU 28, Wisconsin 24: The Tigers looked destined for an upset at NRG Stadium in Houston before mounting a furious comeback from a 24-7 third-quarter deficit. Anthony Jennings finds John Diarse on a 36-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter, and Kenny Hilliard scores the winning touchdown on a 28-yard run with 9:41 left.