When the University of Alabama and the University of Wisconsin meet in Arlington, Texas, at AT&T Stadium for this year’s Cowboys Classic, both squads will be making a bit of a double dip — for lack of a better term. 

When we last saw both teams in significant action, they were pitted in Big 10-Southeastern Conference tilts — with Bama taking a loss to the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes and the Badgers eking out an under-appreciated win over Alabama’s chief rival, Auburn University. 

And, much like the sentiment before the game with the Buckeyes, the Alabama faithful aren’t giving much credence to a potential loss to the boys from the Badger State, but I’m here to tell you: Wisconsin isn’t the type of team you take lightly. It has impact personnel on just about every level of both units and plays a physical brand of football commonly associated with teams in our beloved SEC. 

Actually, to the contrary, more like most teams used to be in the SEC.

In this day and age of hurry-up, no-huddle squads operating out of Cheetah and King personnel attempting to press the edges in the run game while constantly going vertical with its passing attack, Wisconsin would rather employ multi-tight end sets complete with a fullback for some serious between-the-tackles punishment and the manufacturing of first downs through the quick passing game.

While the Tide used to be the masters at that particular approach, they’ve slowly evolved into a more explosive, finesse team, first under former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and now under current OC Lane Kiffin. But let’s not get lost in the details, Bama is still the most talented team in college football and has the personnel, and coaching, to flip any style it needs to on any given Saturday.

This aspect will come in handy, as it will need to fight fire with fire against the Badgers.

How The Tide Match Up Against Wisconsin’s O

I’ve been a huge fan of new Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst since his days as the offensive coordinator for the Badgers under current University of Arkansas head man Bret Bielema — a position he held from 2005-11 before taking over as the HC for the University of Pittsburgh.

I was initially drawn to his style of football, as the physical nature in which his scheme was deployed was right up my alley as Rover/strong safety at the time. While the general consensus were moving more towards three- and four-receiver sets, Chryst opted to feature running backs and tight ends in a manner most would associate with receivers.

He sought matchup problems in the form of deploying “12,” 13,” and “22 personnel,” and forcing defenses to counter with its base packages. Most teams don’t have second-level defenders who can matchup with 6’5″, 250-pound “Y” and “U” targets that add value in the run game as blockers, but can also be used as slot and wide receivers.

This version of the Badgers is no different as Chryst has in his possession a dynamic TE he can detach, Troy Fumagalli (6’6″, 243 lbs), an offensive line with a couple of impact players — most notably left tackle Tyler Marz — and a stable of RBs led by potential breakout star Corey Clement. And that’s glossing over the fact that he has a couple of receivers who can win in the quick game and manufacture first downs in the process (Alex Erickson, Rob Wheelwright).

But make no mistake about it; this game will be won along the line of scrimmage.


Here’s Chryst running out of “Regular Strong Right,” also known as “21 personnel,” when we last saw his scheme at Pitt. The “Strong Right” alignment allows for versatility in the form of Counters and Traps, and it really forces the defense’s hand on runs to the strong side of the formation as no coordinator wants to get outflanked.


“Ace Solo Left,” aka “12 personnel,” is an alignment we may see most from the Badgers, as it’s a multi-tight set with some serious versatility. As a defensive coordinator, your natural instinct may be to counter with a base personnel grouping, due to the threat of the run, but the offense can easily press the seams with the TEs as well. Additionally, a team like Wisconsin can go to its tempo pace while going to four- and five-wide sets from this grouping.

Chryst’s style truly does cause a conflict in personnel.

Best Way For Bama To Defend It

All offseason I tried to initiate the stay-in-base-defense movement through countless radio appearances dealing with Alabama football. I did a film study on how the Tide could replicate the Ohio State’s formula of deploying an even-front alignment with three off-the-ball linebackers who can function in what some may deem sub-package situations.

Head coach Nick Saban has become the premier defensive mind in the sport behind constructing personnel groupings and fabricated-pressure packages for every situation imaginable — while being deeply rooted in 3-4-based defense — but a trip back to the basics may be just what the doctor ordered for the Tide to reclaim the throne. Quietly, Bama played with a four-man front over 60 percent of the time last season; it should shoot for 70 this season.

Bama has the ability to deploy a plethora of hand-in-the-dirt 6-technique defensive ends, and it also has a host of interior linemen that can slide between one- and two-gap principles at a moment’s notice. However, something tells me Bama will rely on Old Faithful, the “34,” against the Badgers.

Bama 3-4

But as you can see from this alignment from a couple of seasons ago, the Tide tend to deploy multi-gap principles even in their odd-front schemes; don’t be surprised if the linemen are sent to manage the gap to either side of them.


As you can see right here, with the Badgers running Power out of their “Rhino” personnel package, they force defenses to maintain gap integrity as they fire off the ball using great technique and pad-level. Much like we saw last season during the Tide’s tilt with Louisiana State University, the Tide is more than capable of handling elite rushing attacks as it held the Tigers to only 183 yards on an astounding 56 carries.

0-technique Jarran Reed absolutely destroyed LSU’s run game from his nose tackle position to the tune of 15 carries, while superstar 5-technique A’Shawn Robinson pitched in with seven tackles and all-world, off-the-ball linebacker Reggie Ragland collected 13 of his own.


Just look at this “Steel Curtain” run defense out of base personnel against the talented Tigers. 

This trio will once again be tasked with dampening an elite rushing attack and rendering it one-dimensional.

Alabama finished the 2014 season with the fourth-ranked rushing defense in the entire country and returns many of the same cast of characters, while the Badgers finished as the country’s third-ranked rushing outfit. That’s why, believe it or not, this particular battle may be decided through the air.

It’s widely known that Bama’s Achilles’ heel over the past few seasons has been its pass defense — despite the presence of some of the most sought-after secondary recruits in recent memory. Its inability to stop the vertical game reared its ugly head in notable losses against Auburn, Texas A&M and, of course, Ohio State.

Noted secondary coach Mel Tucker, who spent the past seven seasons in the NFL as a defensive coordinator at various stops, has reportedly come in and made a difference with an inexperienced unit and has freshmen corners Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey in line to get some serious clock in this game.


The Stave-to-Erickson connection can connect in the vert game as the former has a very good arm while the latter can flat-out go get it. Most fans don’t associate Erickson, 6’0″, 200 pounds, with athleticism, but the kid constantly finds a way to get open by way of slick route-running skills; he caught 64 passes for 899 yards last season.

The 6’5″, 220-pound Stave was a disappointment generating a statline of nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions (53 percent completion rate), a season after going for 22 TDs opposed to 13 INTs (62 percent), but Stave is now back with the coach who originally recruited him, and he has a host of tight-end targets who’ll make his life a little easier.


This particular sequence is a reason I’m so drawn to the Badger’s style of play: running out of “Jumbo” personnel, on their own 35-yard line, no less, they target the “U,” Fumagalli, on a flag and show why it’s tough to counter their particular style with base personnel on defense.

Fumagalli has star potential as he’s an explosive athlete who adds value in both the run and pass game. But in a late development, one of the better athletes in the Big 10 has been moved to receiver from the free safety position where he’d been since losing the starting job at QB. (Now that’s a mouthful!)

Tanner McEvoy, 6’6″, 230 pounds, running a reported sub 4.5 40-yard dash, may give the Tide fits with his tight end-like size and elusiveness on screens, hitches, drags, reverses and zone-reads out of “Wildcat” formations.

“I think he is a really good player,” Stave said recently during preseason camp (per Jeff Potrykus of the Journal-Sentinel). “Obviously he has got size that you can’t teach. He is about 6-6 and 230 pounds or something like that. That is a big dude out there. That in itself is a huge asset.

“And he catches the ball naturally and he runs pretty good routes and he is learning a lot. You can tell it is something he hasn’t really been coached at.

“But with his size, speed and ability to catch the ball he has already been able to make a pretty big impact.”

It will be imperative that interior linemen like Reed and Robinson maintain gap integrity, while all-world linebacker Reggie Ragland, and his counterpart Reuben Foster, disengage from blocks to fill gaps and spill the action.

The secondary needs to be on its toes to render the Badger’s offense one-dimensional and allow for the Tide’s ferocious front seven to handle its business.

When Wisconsin and Alabama meet it will pit a nasty, physical rushing attack against a defense designed, at its core, to combat such a scheme. The difference in the tilt may very well come down to the Badger’s defense against a potentially explosive Bama offensive attack.

Alabama is simply too talented across all units to take a loss to a game Wisconsin squad; I can see Alabama winning by a score of 28-17…no matter who’s at QB.

Run the dang football, Lane Kiffin.