Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Keys to Victory


The 2015 season is upon us and once again there is a ton of hope and expectations on Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide, but for the second straight year there are also many questions surrounding the Tide. The biggest and boldest question, like last year, surrounds the QB position and who will be under center for the Tide. I have never seen a QB battle, at least in terms of the rumors and speculation that have surrounded it, quite like this year’s. Over the Summer, I have seen people on the internet, many claiming to have “insider information,” declare  David Cornwell first, then Jake Coker, then Blake Barnett, then Alec Morris, then Cooper Bateman, and finally back to Jake Coker again as the man leading the way for the #1 QB spot.

I think there is a highly likely chance that more than one QB plays against Wisconsin but head coach Nick Saban is more than likely being very vague about the QB battle by design. Whether or not that helps or hurts the team is yet to be seen. Regardless, they don’t start the year off with an easy test as they travel to “Jerry’s World” in Dallas, TX for the second time to face off against the Wisconsin Badgers this go around. And the last time Alabama faced off with a Big Ten opponent, last year’s Sugar Bowl, it ended in a big disappointment. In my opinion, these are the keys to gaining a bit of redemption and once again declaring Alabama as one of the top contenders in the country.

The Quarterback
I think Jacob Coker is going to end up trotting onto the field when Alabama’s offense walks onto the field at Cowboys Stadium for the first time, but whether or not he remains the QB under center for the majority of that game will be up to him and his control of said offense. I think either way we will see another QB in the game, likely Alec Morris, but Lane Kiffin will try to get Coker some rhythm early to gain his confidence. Coker has world class arm strength and is strong and tough as hell but the questions surrounding him have come from his abilities between the ears. Can he read the defense quick enough and diagnose coverages quick enough to get the passes he needs to make, and has the arm talent to do, out on time and not late is one of the bigger questions?

Another possibility for Saturday is Cooper Bateman. He has been surging during fall camp. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Alec Morris, on the other hand, doesn’t have near the arm strength that Coker does but has been praised by Nick Saban for his grasp of the offense and ability to manage the offense. Sounds a bit like Greg McElroy doesn’t it? So that shouldn’t come as a shock that McElroy has declared Morris as Alabama’s best option at QB. Morris seems to have that “game manager” label that Nick Saban loves so much and would likely be much less of a risk, in terms of turnovers, but at the same time doesn’t have the arm strength to lead to many home run throws that Coker could provide.

The wildcard here could be true freshman Blake Barnett who is said to have gained a firm grasp on the Alabama offense fairly quickly, and also provides the ability that Coker does with his arm, as well as the scrambling/running ability Blake Sims did last year. He is still very young and would likely suffer even more growing pains as Morris or Coker would being a true freshman.

Regardless, whoever plays against Wisconsin will be going against a solid secondary which is the strength of the Wisconsin defense. All of Wisconsin’s corners are under 6 foot so bigger receivers like Richard Mullaney, Robert Foster, and Derek Kief who are all big, physical receivers could push around those corners a bit if given the chance. The biggest thing for that passing game will be Alabama’s running game which takes us to our second point.

Pounding The Ball
Alabama must pound the ball and must feed the beast that is Derrick Henry. Henry was nearly unstoppable against Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl but for no reason that anyone can seem to explain, Lane Kiffin did not feed Henry in the second half of that game. I truly believe Kiffin will learn from that mistake in 2015 and feed Henry early and often. The big bruising back along with the speedy Kenyan Drake will give the receivers some room to work with as the Wisconsin defense sells out to try and stop the Alabama run. As the Badgers defense stacks up in the box to stop that run, that is where the passing game must take advantage and that is where Kenyan Drake comes into play.

Jan 1, 2015; New Orleans, LA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry (27) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes in the 2015 Sugar Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Alabama will surely attempt to frustrate Wisconsin by putting Henry and Drake on the field at the same time with Drake lined up at wide receiver. Drake offers a matchup nightmare with defenses and his speed will allow for some deep shots. Henry needs at least 20 touches in this game for Alabama to have the success that I think they can have. Wisconsin’s defensive line is undersized and Alabama’s massive offensive line is going to be leaning on that group all night. One guy to watch for in the running game is senior Dominick Jackson. He is a scary strong run blocker that will be opening up holes on the right side of the line for Henry all night. He and Cam Robinson may be the best run blocking tackle duo in the country.

Defense Making a Statement
Alabama’s defense was destroyed by the Ohio State running game in the Sugar Bowl and that ever talented defensive line of the Tide was embarrassed. I feel like this defense is coming in with a chip on their shoulder, especially the defensive line. A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, and Jonathan Allen may be the best starting defensive line in the country, especially when you toss in names like D.J. Pettway, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Da’Shawn Hand as well.

Last year, Wisconsin’s running game was one of the best in the country with Heisman runner-up Melvin Gordon accounting for 2,587 yards and 29 TDs last year. Any team losing that kind of production in the running game could be crippling but last year backup Corey Clement added 949 yards and 9 TDs with 6.5 yards per carry during the year. He also ran for over 100 yards in Wisconsin’s Outback Bowl win over Auburn to end the season. Clement is the man in the backfield for Wisconsin this year and the Badgers will rely on the senior as QB Joel Stave struggled mightily last year.

Dec 6, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during the 2014 SEC Championship Game against the Missouri Tigers at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports.

Stave was very inaccurate at times last year and Alabama will undoubtedly send the house at him to try and rattle his cage. Rushing the passing and creating turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the Alabama defense in both spring and fall camps. The Alabama secondary struggled again last year but expects to rebound this year with Eddie Jackson moving to safety and youngsters Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey moving into the rotation at corner along with Cyrus Jones and Tony Brown. This group of corners is fast but extremely physical as well. The guy to watch in this game, though for me, is going to be defensive end Jonathan Allen who I believe will LIVE in the Badger backfield with the Wisconsin offensive line struggling with injuries.

The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide faces off with 23rd-ranked Wisconsin Badgers at 7:00 PM on ABC. Check out coverage of that game here on BamaHammer!