Halting the Heisman
After accumulating nearly 2,000 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns in 2015, junior running back Leonard Fournette will undoubtedly be the focal point of LSU’s offense come Sept. 3. The Heisman favorite will be motivated to run through a Wisconsin defense that limited him to just 18 yards on 8 carries in his season opener at NRG Stadium in 2014. While Fournette will be one of the most skilled players the Badgers will face this season, UW returns every piece of its front seven except for linebacker Joe Schobert. If Wisconsin can limit the 6-foot-1, 230-pound back to under 100 yards, consider it a success.
Calm, cool and collected
Having never played at Lambeau Field in school history, the Wisconsin players will have the opportunity of a lifetime playing in one of the most prestigious stadiums in the country. While the matchup against LSU is officially listed as a neutral-site game, the location will certainly be an advantage for the Badgers as the stadium lies just a few hours north of Madison. With ESPN College Gameday showing up for the game, UW can make a statement with a win in the national spotlight against a College Football Playoff contender. Yet, with all this attention, the Badgers will need to remain focused. In 2015 and in 2014, UW had season openers in similar environments and ended up losing both matchups. However, with two straight years of this type of experience, Wisconsin may be better prepared this time around.
In 2014, senior running back Corey Clement rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing second fiddle to Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon. Led by his power, quick agility and ability to catch the ball, Corey became one of the better backs in the nation even though he was a primarily used in a backup role. In 2015, however, that story changed. Plagued with injuries and a suspension, the running back finished the year with just over 200 rushing yards and became an afterthought on the national level. Now, with a clean slate and a motivation to showcase his talents, Clement could be poised for a Heisman-like year. The back certainly has the skillset to become the focal point of the Badgers’ offense this fall.
After being compared to NFL superstars Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette will be heavily relied on in the Tiger offense this season. Within just two seasons, the junior has compiled 3,273 yards from scrimmage and 33 touchdowns and will look to solidify his case as a potential first round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. It will certainly be interesting to see whether or not the back can penetrate UW’s stout defense. The Badgers boast one of the top linebacking corps in the country with Vince Biegel, T.J. Edwards and Chris Orr and finished the 2015 season with the fourth-best rush defense in the FBS. Yet, despite this potential, UW’s defense has struggled to contain running backs in their last two season openers. In fact, in their previous two season openers, starting running backs have amassed 257 yards and four touchdowns. If LSU can exploit UW’s defense, it could turn ugly quickly.
Recently hired Tiger defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will take over a loaded LSU defense. Aranda comes to Baton Rouge after serving as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator for the past three seasons. While it may take some time for his players to adjust to his schemes, the defensive mastermind is notorious for producing stellar defenses. Between 2013 and 2015, the Badgers finished in the top ten in total defense in the FBS under his play calling. After analyzing and practicing with UW offensive players for three years, Aranda will provide LSU with a significant edge. Whether or not his players can adjust and follow his lead is something to look out for.
While LSU boasts one of the best rushing offenses in the country, the Tigers must develop a sound passing game in order to give Fournette some breathing room. Last season, junior quarterback Brandon Harris produced an efficient, but quiet, year as he threw 13 touchdowns and just clipped over 2,000 passing yards. If the dual-threat quarterback can develop a chemistry with his receivers and be poised in the pocket, he will present Fournette with better running opportunities as the Badgers will have to avoid stacking up the box. With a new defensive coordinator and a secondary that only returns one starter, Harris will have plenty of opportunities to throw the ball.