Badgers football: Despite many holes to fill, LSU presents mighty challenge in opener

2014-08-29T06:40:00Z Badgers football: Despite many holes to fill, LSU presents mighty challenge in openerANDY BAGGOT abaggot@madison.com, 608-252-6175 madison.com

If there’s an ideal tone the University of Wisconsin football team wants to strike about its high-profile season-opening assignment, Melvin Gordon pretty much obliged.

The Badgers face Southeastern Conference power LSU on Saturday night in the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium in Houston.

LSU has been a consistent SEC force since 2000 when Nick Saban coached the Tigers and engineered a turnaround that produced a national title in 2003.

His successor, Les Miles, won a national championship in 2007 and appears to have the ingredients for another as soon as 2015.

During Big Ten Conference media days earlier this month, Gordon was asked what intrigues him most about facing such a quality opponent to begin the season.

“Just how good they are and how competitive it’s going to be,” the junior tailback said. “LSU is a great team. I’d never take that from them.

“They win. They win ballgames and they’ve been successful. The way they do things works. I can’t talk trash about a high-caliber team like that.

“But we’ll be ready to play them, I can tell you that.”

It’s a matchup of teams with similar personnel issues.

The Tigers, ranked 13th in the preseason coaches’ poll, must replace a starting quarterback, a 1,000-yard rusher, two 1,000-yard receivers and a good chunk of the defensive line.

The Badgers, situated 14th in the preseason coaches’ ranking, must settle on a starting quarterback, rebuild their front seven on defense and find new go-to people at tight end and wide receiver.

A lot of college teams build their schedules so as to ease into a season. UW coach Gary Andersen has a different take on this particular matchup, saying all his young players will benefit from having an early baptism of fire.

“It’s not going to be the first Big Ten game,” he said. “It’ll be the first snap of the season. I’d look at that as a positive for this year, right now.

“I really believe that it’s good for this team to get into that situation early on. I wouldn’t be surprised if LSU felt the same way.”

History hasn’t been kind to UW in moments like this, though.

The last time the Badgers won a season opener vs. a non-conference opponent ranked in the top 20 was 1958. They are 0-6 since with an average margin of defeat of nearly 30 points.

The run began in 1969 and ’70 when UW played Oklahoma — ranked sixth and 18th, respectively — in a home-and-home series. The results were nasty: 48-21 and 21-7 setbacks.

The trend continued in 1989 when third-ranked Miami (Fla.) came to Camp Randall and produced a resounding a 51-3 victory over the Badgers.

Before Barry Alvarez became the UW athletic director he endured the other three losses during his coaching tenure.

There was the 27-10 decision at the hands of second-ranked Washington in 1992; the 43-7 pounding vs. No. 13 Colorado in 1995; and the 34-0 beating absorbed at the hands of 17th-ranked Syracuse in 1997.

UW senior right tackle Rob Havenstein said the marquee opener against the Tigers is driven by good, determined intentions.

“Just that opportunity to play them and kind of show what Wisconsin has to offer,” he said.

“Obviously a lot of eyes are going to be on that moment. It’ll be a huge stage, a lot of fans and a lot of media, which is just awesome.

“As players you want to play in those games. You want to play in those big games where everybody wants a ticket.”

The nationally televised meeting kicks off the first season of the College Football Playoff. The winner will take an important step forward to earning a berth in the national semifinals, but the loser still has a chance to get back into the national championship discussion.

“Even though this game has such huge hype, it’s not a bowl game, which I think people have to realize,” Havenstein said. “It’s not the end-all, break-all for the season.”

A year ago the teams had very similar statistical footprints. UW had 6,251 total yards — 3,689 rushing and 2,562 passing — while outscoring opponents by an average of 35-16. LSU had 5,893 total yards — 2,630 rushing and 3,263 passing — while outscoring opponents 36-22.

A lot of personnel changes have been made on both sides — excellent players have moved on to the NFL — but the LSU hallmarks remain the same.

“It’s not just speed; they’re also physical,” UW senior nose guard Warren Herring said of the Tigers. “The more physical team’s going to win that game.

“It’s going to be interesting, but you see that every week in the Big Ten. It’s a battle every week.”

Herring dismissed the notion there’s an aura around LSU because of its prominence in the SEC and the fact that league has produced seven of the past eight national champions.

“We treat every game the same,” he said. “They’re a great team and they’re going to give us their best shot. We’ll give them our best shot.”

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(2) Comments

  1. w8rh3wk5
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    w8rh3wk5 - August 29, 2014 11:22 pm
    Who cares what happened in the 80s...
  2. RichardSRussell
    Report Abuse
    RichardSRussell - August 29, 2014 4:05 pm
    I remember that 51-3 blowout vs. Miami mainly for the fact that the student section was still packed solid well into the 4th quarter — long after the outcome had been decided — and had invented a new cheer: "We scored first! Hey! We scored first! Hey!" Ya gotta love that kind of fan support.
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