2015 Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

    Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3) Jan. 1, Noon, ESPN2 Here’s The Deal: Both teams can throw the ball. Auburn might do it a little bit better than

    December 30, 2014

    Auburn (8-4) vs. Wisconsin (10-3) Jan. 1, Noon, ESPN2 

    Here’s The Deal: Both teams can throw the ball. Auburn might do it a little bit better than Wisconsin, but yeah, there is a passing element to both offenses. But that’s not why you called. 

    The Badgers started out the season with a loss to LSU, collapsing in the fourth quarter mainly because it couldn’t throw a forward pass without looking sad and pathetic – and because, depending on what you believe, Melvin Gordon was either forgotten about or hurt. It wasn’t necessarily a defining moment in the Big Ten’s miserable start to the season – Ohio State took care of that at home against Virginia Tech – but it didn’t help. Closing out with a win over Auburn wouldn’t necessarily save the B1G’s bacon in terms of national respect, but it wouldn’t be a positive if the team that lost the Big Ten championship lost to an SEC West runner-up. 

    When we last saw Wisconsin, it was getting its doors blown off by Ohio State, and now it’s a program in transition with Paul Chryst taking over after the bowl season and Gary Andersen deciding Oregon State was a better job/was politely told to enjoy Corvallis after the Ohio State loss – again, depending on what you want to believe. 

    The 59-24 pasting of Nebraska will be what everyone remembers, but Wisconsin could use something splashy. Beating Iowa and Minnesota was nice, and taking care of Maryland and Rutgers was solid, but beating Auburn would be a desperately needed shot in the arm after losing four straight bowl games and six of the last seven. With Andersen gone, Barry Alvarez is stepping in and taking over like he did when Bret Bielema was done just before the 2013 Rose Bowl – a 20-14 loss to Stanford – with a chance to add to his legacy. But to do it, he’ll have to figure out how to stop the Auburn offense. 

    While the Tigers didn’t get into the College Football Playoff and didn’t have quite the season they might have been hoping for, part of the problem was simply playing in the SEC West. Auburn came up with a tough win at Kansas State, and got by Ole Miss and South Carolina, but it lost three of its last four games thanks to a defense that couldn’t seem to come up with a key stop – or any stop against Alabama. Even so, this is still an explosive and dangerous team with the speed, talent, and ability to rip apart a Badger D that was great statistically, but not practically against Ohio State. 

    Can Gus Malzahn close out on a high note with a nine-win campaign and a win over a Big Ten school? It would help solidify the narrative of SEC West dominance this season, and it would be a nice finish after a rocky final month. Auburn lost the 2014 BCS Championship to Florida State in the final moments, but before that it was consistently one of the nation’s better bowl teams winning five straight and eight of nine. The one loss? Wisconsin in the 2006 Capital One. This is the fourth meeting between the two schools with Auburn winning the 2003 Music City and the two tying 7-7 in 1931. 

    The Outback has been terrific over the last several years with LSU beating Iowa in a 21-14 slugfest last season and the last 13 all entertaining – even the 31-10 Iowa win over South Carolina in 2008 – and most tight. The SEC has won four of the last five. 

    Why Wisconsin Might Win: Auburn plays defense. It’s just not very good at it. The Tigers have allowed 31 points or more in their last six games against FBS teams and were run over by Alabama for 227 yards and four scores, Georgia for 289 yards and three touchdowns, and Mississippi State for 223 yards and four touchdowns. The four worst performances by the run D were all losses, giving up 176 yards or more in each. Wisconsin ran for 200 yards or more in every game this season except the easy, didn’t-really-shot-up win over Western Illinois, and the Big Ten championship vs. Ohio State. 

    – There’s no way Melvin Gordon is going to close out his career with 76 yards on 26 carries. Stuffed by Ohio State, Gordon should come back roaring against the athletic, but occasionally porous Auburn run D. With 2,336 yards on the year and 26 touchdowns, MGIII is in the hunt for a 2,500-yard season, and he’ll get more than his share of carries to give it a try. Expect at least 30 touches. 

    – Is this a case of Wisconsin potentially being able to figure out the Auburn offense after having a month to prepare? The run D got ripped to shreds by the ultra-motivated Buckeyes, but it’s been strong for the most part this season allowing more than 200 yards just twice. This is a smart and active defensive front seven that should be able disciplined enough to not overpursue and keep the big gains to a minimum. 

    – Auburn isn’t too bad when it comes to penalties, committing about seven per game, but Wisconsin doesn’t beat itself averaging just 4.8 sins per outing and with no more than seven in any game this year. There might be turnover problems, but there are almost never any crippling penalties to get past. 

    – While the Badger secondary can be beaten deep, it’s been strong for the most part only allowing more than 300 yards to Iowa and giving up more than 200 just four times all year long. Auburn likes to hit the big play and it’ll take its shots, but Wisconsin only allows 6.6 yards per attempt. However … 

    Why Auburn Might Win: When teams really do try to push the ball on the Wisconsin secondary, they have success. LSU averaged 11.4 yards per attempt and Ohio State & Cardale Jones chucked it for 14.3 yards per try. Nick Marshall is known as a runner, but he’s a far better passer than he gets credit for completing 60% of his chances with 18 touchdowns and seven picks. He has thrown for 200 yards or more in six of the last ten games and hit Alabama for 456 yards. He’ll throw. 

    – The ground game isn’t close to as deadly as it was in 2013 running for 4,596 yards and 48 touchdowns, but it’s still among the best in the nation running for 200 yards or more in every game but the close call against Kansas and the losses to Georgia and Alabama. Marshall will throw, but he’s going to try to get moving with the running game first along with … 

    – Cameron Artis-Payne might not get the hype of Melvin Gordon, but he cranked out a terrific season finishing with 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns as a bit more of a grinder than Tre Mason was and the Auburn offense came up with last year. He has the speed to come up with a big dash, but he’s a workhorse, too. 

    – Under Bret Bieleman, Wisconsin was the Greek God of turnover margin. It was great in Gary Andersen’s first year, but this season there have been a few too many problems, and they’ve been costly going -4 in the loss to Northwestern and -4 against Ohio State. Wisconsin as turned the ball over two times or more six times this year. 

    – Auburn might have a porous D, but it can get into the backfield from time to time and has the potential to stop the Wisconsin running game before it starts. If the Badgers are throwing well, the Tiger front four should tee off. UW isn’t consistent enough with the passing game for Auburn to worry – if the Badgers hit on a pass play here and there, whatever. Focusing on stopping the ground attack shouldn’t be a problem. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Can Alvarez come up with the right defensive gameplan to stop the Auburn O? Nope, but Auburn won’t be able to stop Gordon and the Badger attack, either. It’ll be a fun and wild shootout with the Tigers coming through on a few deep passes from Marshall – Auburn will hit its big pass plays, and Wisconsin won’t. 

    Prediction: Auburn 38 … Wisconsin 34 
    Line: Auburn -6.5 o/u: 63.5 

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