The No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers face a tall task against the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas. Head coach Paul Chryst and his team are 12-point underdogs to Nick Saban and the Tide.
We've previewed Alabama via Kyle Vos' in-depth preview, along with our Q&A with Roll Bama Roll's Erik Evans. For Wisconsin to win Saturday night, they'll need to capitalize on turnovers, keep Joel Stave upright and win the field possession battle.
1. Create turnovers, and score when they arise. If there was one critique of defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's scheme last season (aside from the Ohio State 59-0 blowout loss in the Big Ten Championship game), the Badgers' defense only forced 17 turnovers in 2014. Wisconsin wants to force more turnovers with Aranda's attacking 3-4 defensive scheme, and must do so to help put the offense in advantageous positions against an Alabama defense that should be the best in the country.
Expect Aranda to dial up his mastermind-like blitzes with outside linebackers Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel, along with senior captain and safety Michael Caputo, against the Tide's offensive line led by left tackle Cam Robinson and center Ryan Kelly. The "see ball, get ball" mentality will have to be in full effect -- and when an interception or fumble is forced, take advantage of the scoring opportunity. Whether a pick-six, fumble recovery taken in for a touchdown or setting the offense up with a short field, the Badgers will have to force running back Derrick Henry and the Alabama offense into mistakes.
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2. Offensive line: Keep Stave upright, get Corey Clement to second level. Wisconsin's rebuilt offensive line faces its toughest match-up of the season against an Alabama front seven that is expected to be the best in the nation. The combination of A'Shawn Robinson, Dalvin Tomlinson and Jarran Reed, along with a legitimate two-deep's worth of talent, could give the Badgers nightmares with their pass rush and offensive disruption. Senior left tackle Tyler Marz and junior center Dan Voltz will have to anchor and reel in three new starters -- redshirt freshman left guard Michael Deiter, and a combination of either junior guard Walker Williams, sophomore Hayden Biegel or redshirt freshman Micah Kapoi. Neutralizing the Tide's rush will be mandatory if the Badgers plan to showcase their revamped, pro-style passing attack. If they give Stave enough time to get the former walk-on in a rhythm, the Badgers could be in decent shape to move the ball.
If the passing game opens up -- or really, even if it doesn't -- the Badgers will need to run the ball with some sort of efficiency to get points on the board. It's not going to be easy, and with the concerns on the offensive line, it could be a rough night for junior running back Corey Clement. However, if they can put helmet on helmet and get Clement to the second level, it could spring some large runs by the junior who has to power and speed to make defenders look foolish trying to tackle him.
If they don't do either, it'll be a long night in Dallas.
3. Win the field position battle. Cliche as it is, the Badgers will need to keep the Tide deep in their own territory and not give Alabama any "easy" field position. Redshirt senior punter Drew Meyer averaged only 37.4 yards per punt in 2014. With a combination of Meyer and Bart Houston in his rugby-style punting duties, the team only had a net punt average of 33.7 yards.
For Alabama, sophomore J.K. Scott averaged a whopping 48 yards per punt average -- which led the nation -- with 23 punts of 50 yards or more, and 31 of his 55 punts were down inside their opponent's 20-yard line. That was as a true freshman.
Along with maintaining field position with the kickoff coverage teams, the Badgers will need to create opportunities somehow in the return game. Gone is Kenzel Doe, who handled the majority of kickoff and punt return duties. Expect sophomore cornerback Natrell Jamerson to take on the kickoffs, with redshirt senior Alex Erickson fielding punts. Like the defense, a score on special teams could also change the complexion of the game.