It’s only been two years since LSU rallied for a 28-24 win against Wisconsin at NRG Stadium, but the Badgers have changed quite a bit since the two teams squared off in Houston.
The rematch of LSU football against Wisconsin on Saturday at Green Bay's Lambeau Field means the return of our weekly Pick 6 series, a Q&A with a reporter covering the Tigers opponent. Jeff Potrykus, who covers Wisconsin athletics at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, kindly joined us to answer our questions about this Badgers squad.
You can follow Potrykus on Twitter @jaypo1961 and read his work here.
1. Fifth-year senior Bart Houston beat out redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook for the starting quarterback job. It appeared Hornibrook had the upper hand early in preseason camp. What changed for Houston during preseason camp and could we see both quarterbacks play on Saturday?
Houston knew he was pressing during the team’s first scrimmage of camp. He went home that day, told himself to relax and came back the next day and performed well during two practices closed to reporters. From that point on he was solid.
It is possible both play. But (head coach Paul Chryst) doesn't have a history of playing two and said he doesn't want Houston looking over his shoulder. I don't think both will play but can't be certain.
2. Much has been made about former Wisconsin defensive coordinator and current LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda facing his old team in the first week of the season. But what has changed for the Badgers defense under Justin Wilcox? Do you think he can replicate Aranda’s success?
I doubt it. But I would have said the same had Aranda stayed on. UW lost the best linebacker in the Big Ten (Joe Schobert) and three starters in the secondary (cornerback Darius Hillary and safeties Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo).
Dave is good but he wouldn’t be able to add a few inches to UW’s starting safeties, both of whom are listed at 5-10, or give them years of experience with the wave of a hand. UW's defense was going to have a few growing pains no matter who was running the show.
3. Leonard Fournette comes into the season as a Heisman favorite and the clear workhorse for the LSU offense. In the previous meeting between the two teams in 2014, Fournette wasn’t much of a factor. What have Wisconsin players said about facing Fournette and how do they plan to defend him?
They know he is a stud. They respect him as a player and as a person. They are eager to see whether they can contain him.
4. Like LSU, Wisconsin is known as a run-first team, but the Badgers struggled to do that last season, ranking 95th nationally in rushing yards per game. Senior Corey Clement, who missed most of last year due to a sports hernia injury, is listed as the starter. What are you expecting from Clement on Saturday and going forward?
Corey Clement had the misfortune of playing behind Melvin Gordon and James White early at UW. Last season was a disaster because of the sports hernia. I’ve always said that a healthy Clement behind a sound line is a 1,500-yard rusher.
5. On top of the question marks at running back last season, the Wisconsin offensive line was plagued by injuries and instability, finishing the 2015 season with four redshirt freshmen offensive line starters. Then, fifth-year senior offensive lineman Dan Voltz announced his retirement last week due to injuries. How much confidence does coach Paul Chryst have in this unit and will it being improved?
The unit has a chance to be better than last season – eventually. Unfortunately for UW, the Voltz situation and minor injuries during camp to several other players prevented the No. 1 unit from getting much work together. That leads me to believe the unit will struggle early this season but will gradually improve. The talent is there.
6. Wisconsin’s schedule to begin the season isn’t exactly favorable, to put it mildly. Not only do the Badgers open up with LSU, but their first four Big Ten opponents are Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa – three of which are on the road. Looking at the big picture, how important is Saturday’s game to Wisconsin’s season?
As much excitement as the game has generated – among players, coaches and fans – a loss to LSU wouldn’t hurt UW at all. The Badgers go in unranked so they can’t fall out of the rankings. They wouldn’t lose ground in Big Ten play. Also, they’ll still have four consecutive games against ranked Big Ten games in a span of five weeks, including a bye, waiting for them.
A victory? Obviously, that would help them jump into the top 25. But a loss or two early in Big Ten play could knock out of the rankings again.