Come Aug. 30, the LSU defense will begin its quest to clinch a spot for the Tigers in the first ever college football playoff.
The Wisconsin Badgers, led by star running back and Heisman Trophy hopeful Melvin Gordon, look to use their classic physical, pro-style offense to get past a talented LSU defense that ended the 2013 season ranked 15th in the country.
In his second year with the Badgers, head coach Gary Andersen is looking for his first career win against a Southeastern Conference school, and he knows the game will be a battle.
“LSU is LSU,” Andersen said at the Big Ten Football Media Day. “One of the best in the country year in, year out.”
Like their SEC opponent, Wisconsin has a battle between two talented quarterbacks in Joel Stave and Tanner McEvoy. Recent reports suggested McEvoy will the start and that the Badgers have added option plays to utilize his running abilities.
McEvoy, a highly-touted recruit out of New Jersey in 2011, spent his first season on the bench with the South Carolina Gamecocks. He then transferred to Arizona Western College, a junior college in Yuma, where he passed for 2,301 yards and 29 touchdowns while throwing just seven interceptions.
He transferred to Wisconsin in the summer of 2013 but played safety and wide receiver when he arrived, finishing with 27 tackles and one interception. McEvoy is an elusive quarterback, but LSU junior linebacker Lamar Louis believes the Tigers can contain whichever quarterback they go up against.
“We’ll be ready to face two quarterbacks,” Louis said. “We’ve been practicing for both, so whoever we face, we’ll be ready.”
Entering his third year, Louis is one of the many leaders at the linebacker position. Tied for the 2013 team record for tackles in a game with seven, Louis looks to improve off of a solid year and believes this year’s linebackers are a special squad.
“We get overlooked at the linebacker position a lot at LSU,” Louis said. “We might not be the typical linebackers, but we are looking to make some waves this year.”
Gordon is entering his junior season as a frontrunner for numerous awards, including the Heisman Trophy, and was named to the 2014 preseason first team All-Big Ten team and first team All-America by Athlon Sports. Andersen has faith in Gordon as his primary back and wants the team to help him succeed.
“In my opinion, he’s well deserving of being on the list and being in that situation,” Andersen said of Gordon’s Heisman hype. “We need to make sure that we do everything we can to help out.”
Averaging 8.1 yards per carry on 288 attempts in his career, Gordon’s numbers have been compared to those of former Badger and current Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball, who ended his college career as a Heisman finalist with 5.6 yards per carry on 924 attempts.
LSU senior defensive end Jermauria Rasco believes if the Tigers’ defense can stick to their fundamentals, they will be able to stop a running back like Gordon.
“We’ve just been focusing on the little things,” Rasco said. “Making sure we are keeping our eyes on our keys and playing with good technique and trying to capitalize on the opportunities we get.”
Similarly to LSU, Wisconsin will use many fresh, untested receivers throughout the 2014 season. Senior receiver Kenzel Doe, the most experienced player of the group, will have to emerge as a leader in order to drive the young wide receivers.
“We have little experience on the field,” Doe said at the Badgers’ Media Day. “But we have the guys that can do it, and we will do it this fall. Once the freshmen come in and start learning the plays, we’ll be a whole different receiving corps.”
LSU and Wisconsin are both highly regarded teams, sitting at No.’s 13 and 14, respectively, in the preseason AP poll. With the LSU defense trying to bounce back from a down season, Andersen said the team who proves to be more physical could come out on top.
“They’re going to be very, very talented,” Andersen said. “LSU is going to carry themselves with a physical presence. Wisconsin is going to carry themselves with a physical presence. It’s going to be a pounding for four quarters.”
You can reach Michael Haarala on Twitter @haarala_TDR.