MADISON, Wis. — Dave Aranda is a quiet guy.
He’s so quiet, LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White says, that if Aranda begins yelling one day — if that day ever arrives — he and his teammates “won’t know what to do.”
He’s so quiet that running back Leonard Fournette, as of Monday, hadn’t asked LSU’s first-year defensive coordinator for a scouting report on his old defense. The Tigers face Wisconsin in their season opener at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Green Bay's Lambeau Field.
He’s so quiet that it took Aranda three years at Wisconsin to “open up” to his defenders. And that, Badgers defensive end Chikwe Obasih says, is why Aranda’s departure to LSU in January was crushing.
“We’d gone three years with some guy, got closer with him every single year, seeing him open up,” the fourth-year junior said. “He’s all serious, but he kind of lightened up with us that last year.”
Jamal Adams does not play offense for the LSU football team.
LSU’s season opener didn’t need this storyline: Aranda vs. his old team, in his first game as the Tigers' coordinator. It had plenty going for it already.
It’s the Southeastern Conference vs. the Big Ten, the hottest of rivalries. It’s at Lambeau Field, historic home of the Green Bay Packers. It pits two party-loving, beer-drinking, Bourbon-consuming fan bases.
ESPN’s "College GameDay" is broadcasting from the game, picking this one over four matchups of Top 25 teams on college football's gargantuan opening weekend.
This game didn’t need “Dave Aranda vs. his old team,” but it has it anyway. Aranda has been anticipating this day for eight months.
A day after being hired by LSU, he said this about his former players during an interview with The Advocate: “They all want to beat my (backside) when we get up there.”
“That’s what makes this game such a big deal: You’ve got Dave Aranda vs. the Wisconsin Badgers,” Wisconsin outside linebacker T.J. Watt said before rephrasing the comment as “Dave Aranda and LSU vs. the Wisconsin Badgers.”
Aranda’s quiet off-field demeanor and successful on-field strategy helped accumulate his nicknames: “The Professor” and “The Defensive Coordinator Whisperer.” Aranda’s variable, attacking 3-4 defense never finished outside the top seven in three seasons in Madison. At LSU, he has installed only a portion of his scheme, bent on disguising and simulating pressure and confusing the offense.
They called it the 50, Billy Cannon says.
With the Badgers, he only ran his full-fledged scheme, he said, in Year 3, after recruiting enough linebackers to make it work.
His addition is the true game inside the game Saturday.
Exhibit A: Wisconsin senior linebacker Vince Biegel told reporters last week that, while watching LSU’s spring game, he knew the defensive plays before they happened. Asked about that earlier this week, Watt smiled. He knew them, too.
“Let’s just say it looked pretty similar. Looked pretty similar to what we were doing. That’s all I can say about that,” Watt said. “It’s going to be interesting to be on the sideline and looking out there and know what the calls are, but, who knows? Maybe they changed things from spring as well.”
Wisconsin changed things, too. Justin Wilcox, formerly coordinator at Southern California, replaced Aranda. He kept the 3-4 look, but “some things changed,” he said, “and some things didn’t.”
Wisconsin offensive players say they have tweaked calls to avoid Aranda’s recognition. After all, he spent the past three seasons watching his unit battle the Badgers offense in practice.
Aranda has shared knowledge on Wisconsin offensive personnel with his current team, safety Jamal Adams said, and he has revealed plenty about his old unit to guys like quarterback Brandon Harris. How much?
“If I told you that,” Harris said over the summer, “I’d be giving away our game plan.”
More than anything else, Aranda has lifted the veil on Wisconsin’s starting personnel, coach Les Miles indicated Monday.
“More of a personnel, what kind of personnel and what kind of … and really more the strengths than anything,” Miles said. “He basically gave the thumbnail sketch of a guy.”
Aranda didn’t feel comfortable revealing more than that, Miles said.
“(He) really didn’t feel like (it) was all that professional to give too much,” Miles said. “So he kind of gave me the overview, and that's all I asked for.”
This storyline is about more than X's and O's, though. It’s about emotions.
Obasih and inside linebacker Jack Cichy remember when and where they were when they received the call from Aranda on New Year’s Eve, sharing the news of his departure. Aranda’s call to Obasih interrupted a movie session with his older sister, and Cichy took the coach’s call after leaving a theater with his father after watching “The Hateful Eight.”
“We had a nice conversation,” Cichy said. “I said, ‘I understand. It’s a business.’ I wished him all of the best.
"Besides this game, I wish him all of the best.”
Dave Aranda directed one of the best defenses in the nation while Wisconsin’s coordinator over the past three seasons, putting the Badgers among the nation's best: