|Badgers will be tough test for Vols in Outback Bowl |
| Good omen? |
The last time Tennessee offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe left the program to become a head coach, all the Big Orange did that January almost 10 years ago was win a National Championship. Cutcliffe has once again departed, this time headed to the coaching graveyard at Duke. Will the Volunteers respond against Wisconsin in the same manner that the 1998 team went about their business when they smacked Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl nine years ago? We will find out soon, but recent bowl performances by Fulmer’s teams might cause some to doubt whether or not UT will be able to handle a Badger team that played the last half of this season as if it were a gathering tropical storm off the horizon.
Some uninformed Tennessee fans have called Wisconsin just another big, slow running team. Those guys are in for a rather shocking surprise. This Badger team may be large in the trenches, but their skill people are not slow and they actually threw for more yards than they gained on the ground this season (2,418 rushing, 2,549 passing).
Big is still in at Wisconsin. The Badger O-line averages about 6-6 and 320 pounds from tackle to tackle. But quarterback Tyler Donovan, a seasoned senior, is a mobile passer who is not afraid to tuck the ball and run when he sees some open field.
Wisconsin won’t come into this game fearing a charter member of the mighty Southeastern Conference. With a fiery, young head coach at the helm, the Badgers will be confident and aggressive. In the last two Capital One Bowls in Orlando, the guys from cheese country have polished off Auburn (24-10) in 2006 and Arkansas (17-14) on Jan. 1, 2007.
In his second season as the head man at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema, who is the fourth youngest coach in the NCAA Division I ranks, led the Badgers to 17 wins in his first 18 football games. He is now 21-4 and was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2006. He is considered a defensive mastermind. Teams where he served as either defensive coordinator or head coach compiled a record of 61-17 since the beginning of the 2002 football season.
• John Chavis vs. Paul Chryst — During Chryst’s three seasons as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, the Badgers have averaged 31.4 points per game, the highest three-year scoring totals in the history of the gridiron program. Chryst is noted for being able to find a kink in the opponent’s defensive armor and exploit that weakness consistently. This season against Michigan, Chryst’s offense rushed for 232 yards, passed for 245 and held the football for 38 minutes and 15 seconds to only 21:45 for the Wolverines. If Tennessee is going to win this game, it will be up to Chavis to scheme a way to force many three downs and out possessions vs. the balanced Wisconsin offense. The Badgers led the Big Ten and ranked No. 2 nationally in time of possession during the regular season this year. Not a particularly good sign for Chavis, who has struggled all year long against teams that could run and throw with equal effectiveness. Wisconsin averaged a gaudy 420 yards per contest in total offense this year.
• Chris Scott vs. Matt Shaughnessy — The Volunteers’ left offensive tackle will certainly have his hands full with this Irishman who was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the week following his performance against Michigan. The junior defensive end for the Badgers is a 6-6, 250-pound pass rusher who comes hard on every snap. Scott will have to be ready to man up and be very aggressive in this confrontation.
• Tennessee linebackers vs. Tyler Donovan — The Vols can’t afford to lose containment on this very mobile and experienced quarterback. Donovan is a fine passer, but he can also scramble. His rushing numbers are deceiving because sack yardage was deducted. He actually ran for well over 400 yards this season. Vol linebackers cannot bite on his play fakes nor can they commit too quickly to coming after Donovan.
• Vol special teams vs. David Gilreath — A first-team freshman All-American, Gilreath has the ability to go coast to coast on most any kick return, be it a punt or a kickoff. He is already the only player in Wisconsin history to combine for over 1,000 yards in a season on punt and kickoff returns. This year, Gilreath totaled 1,218 yards.
Watch for this — Who will cover No. 9, Travis Beckum of Wisconsin? The talented and versatile junior tight end is not in the game to block. At 6-4 and 225 pounds, he has the speed to motor past linebackers and the strength to out-muscle corner backs and safeties. This year Beckum caught 73 passes for 960 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 13.2 yards each time he touched the football.
Secret weapon — Tennessee’s rookie wide outs, Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore, could be important in this game. With a month for his injured finger to heal, quarterback Erik Ainge may be able to heave the deep ball in this game. Jones and Moore have the quickness and speed to get open in the deep zones. Wisconsin will not be expecting UT to attempt to stretch the field, so the element of surprise will be on the side of the Big Orange offense if they will throw the rock down the field instead of sideways.
Point of attack — Tennessee’s front four on defense must at least get a stalemate at the line of scrimmage against that huge Wisconsin blocking front. If the Vol tackles and defensive ends get knocked off the ball, it will be a long morning and early afternoon for the Big Orange next week.