Wisconsin’s first opponent is the Utah State Aggies, a familiar name given that is the school that gave us Gary Andersen and the one that put a real scare in to the Badgers last time around. That was 2012 though, and these two programs are in vastly different positions.
Earlier this week we took at look at what to expect from the Aggies offense, now it is time to flip the script.
So, let’s take a look at the state of the Utah State Aggies defense heading in to Friday night’s game.
Biggest Strength: Secondary
Utah State has a lot of holes to fill on its roster period. One area they are totally fine with appears to be in the secondary. The Aggies return starters at both cornerback spots and have two safeties with starting experience as well.
In fact, there are five players with starting experience in the secondary as the season opens. If that isn’t a sign of strength then I don’t know what is.
Leading the group is fifth-year senior cornerback Jalen Davis, who was at one point an honorable mention all-Mountain West pick. That was two years ago though, and he’s looking to bounce back after a rocky season in 2016. In fact, he made some bold predictions before the season:
“After last year, I’m not going out like that,” he said, via the Cache Valley Daily. “I’m not going to have any of that be tolerated. I’m going to be all-Mountain West. I will be. That’s how I’m going to help my team out.”
One theme you will see with Matt Wells’ team is that there are a lot of questions surrounding the roster, and even with a lot of experience back, there are new players who are stepping up as well. It means competition amongst the secondary is good and that’s never really a bad thing when you’re looking to get your four best players out there.
A great example of this is the corner opposite Davis, as Ja’Marcus Ingram is listed as the starter despite offseason legal troubles and returning starter Wesley Bailey on the roster still.
Biggest Weakness: Defensive Line
The exact opposite of the secondary is the Aggie defensive line. Only senior defensive end Ian Togiai returns as a starter from last season and he does represent a good challenge for the Badgers offensive line. He finished last season with 38 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, not bad numbers for a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme the Aggies like to run.
But, as they turn to 2017, he’s a known quantity that can be dealt with. Beyond Togiai there is little in the way of known depth and what is there wasn’t all that productive last season either. Junior Gasetoto Schuster starts at nose guard, but he’s just 295 pounds and has big shoes to fill with the departure of Chad Seefeldt.
The other starting end spot goes to fellow sophomore Jacoby Wildman, who had just two total tackles while appearing in 11 games last season.
Add in the fact that this group gave up an average of 203 yards rushing and 378.9 yards of total offense and you can see why this group is a weak spot heading in to the 2017 season. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a strength, but going up against a much more settled and physical Badgers offensive line is certainly not a fun way to find out how good or bad you really are.
Biggest Question Mark: What to make at Linebacker
Utah State technically return two starters at linebacker entering 2017, but neither of them are going in to this game listed as a starter on the two-deep. Instead, Wells is hoping an infusion of new talent via recruiting the JUCO ranks has paid off.
The goal is speed and strength, and Wells didn’t see that on the roster as he was looking forward to 2017 and made the changes needed in his mind. JUCO transfers Louy Compton (OLB) and Suli Tamaivena (ILB) are in the fold as are sophomores Chase Christiansen (ILB) and Justus Te’i (OLB).
Wisconsin’s coaching staff should be plenty familiar with what the Utah State defense wants to do, after all the basis for UW’s own 3-4 scheme is the one brought by former Aggies DC Dave Aranda, who is now with the LSU Tigers.
Given the infusion of new names, there has to be a big question mark as to the ability of this group to be up to speed heading in to the opener.
Player to Watch: Ja’Marcus Ingram, CB
As we mentioned before, the secondary appears to be the strength of the defense. But, there is one player that comes to mind to watch in this game and that is redshirt freshman cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram. He’s 6-1, 185 pounds and with so much youth in the Badgers wide receiver group this could be a very key matchup to watch.
Ingram got himself arrested in the offseason, but amazingly has been allowed to play despite a plea deal for witness tampering charges.
On the field, few players have been talked about more this offseason in Logan, Utah than Ingram has.
Even veterans like senior leader Jalen Davis have called him out by name.
Wisconsin has two young receivers to watch in Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis. Expect Ingram to draw duties on those two and whomever isn’t named Jazz Peavy as necessary in this one.