There are few similarities between the LSU and Wisconsin teams that faced off to start the 2014 season at NRG Stadium in Houston.
For instance, Dave Aranda was coaching the Badgers defense. Paul Chryst was preparing to coach Pitt in its opener against Delaware. Then, Aranda was game-planning to slow down Anthony Jennings and Kenny Hilliard. He was blindsided by a fake punt in which Kendell Beckwith, now his starting middle backer, picked up 5 yards and undoubtedly sparked LSU’s comeback.
There are some similarities, though. For one, that was Leonard Fournette’s debut with the Tigers.
The then-freshman tailback added 18 yards on 8 carries as part of a backfield timeshare with Hilliard and Terrence Magee. Later that season, Fournette began to find a rhythm and wound up amassing 1,000 yards.
That’s the Fournette most of the Wisconsin defenders know. That’s the player they’ve been preparing for much of fall camp.
“You’re preparing for your season, you know that you’re going to open up with LSU and, obviously, a great football player and team justifiably ranked in the top 5 in the country. But you don’t spend all of your time just getting ready for LSU, but we know the challenges they present to us, certainly,” Chryst, Wisconsin’s second-year coach, said during the Big Ten teleconference.
“Everyone is certainly excited about opening up the season and being able to do it against a team like LSU, and that’s even more exciting,” Chryst said. “On top of that, to play it at Lambeau Field is a big deal. Not many guys that even played in that game a couple of years ago. There are ones that have drawn from it, and that’s the beauty of each season — it’s a new group of guys, a new team and the first game of our season this year.”
Wisconsin may be wary of a certain No. 7 when he lines up in the backfield on Saturday. The Badgers players and coaches have an even better gauge of a coach who will be on the sidelines.
Aranda is set to make his debut as LSU’s defensive coordinator after a three-year stint with the Badgers and the architect of one of the best units in the nation. In Aranda’s first season in Madison, Wis., his defense ranked in the top 20 in all four major defensive categories. Last year when he left, it was No. 1 in scoring defense, allowing just a shade more than 13 points per game.
Chryst hasn’t had to face a former assistant coach in about 15 years when he was coaching in the NFL. The Badgers coach downplayed an advantage for either side, indicating the degree of familiarity could work in either side’s favor.
“It’s been a long time since we had something like that … the last game we played, Dave was with us, and the first game we play now, he’ll be on the other sideline. It is unique, certainly,” Chryst admitted. “There’s some knowledge Dave has of us, be it … personnel or some of the base schemes we like, and we’ve got an idea of his starting points. It’s a different defense I would imagine that he’s coaching down there than the ones we had here. Players change what you can do and how you do it. It’s a natural question, but the game will come down to players able to play and make plays.”
Sam Spiegelman covers LSU football recruiting for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play in Tiger Stadium.