I hadn't seen much of Paul Chryst previously (aside from when Pitt played Notre Dame on national TV) until I watched him at B1G media day. He clearly loves Wisconsin, but what's his biggest strength as a coach that might get him some early success?
There are two things about Chryst that stand out. When he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, he had an ability to be a "quarterback whisperer" with his pro-style offense. In his last two seasons before jumping to Pitt, Scott Tolzien and Russell Wilson ran high-octane offenses that helped them take the Badgers' offense to new heights in terms of scoring offense (41.5 and 44.1 points per game in 2010 and 2011, respectively) and 49 combined touchdown passes between the two in those seasons (Wilson threw 33 of them in '11). Tolzien also completed 72 percent of this throws in '10. I don't believe senior quarterback Joel Stave will capture Tolzien-like efficiency (definitely not Wilson's, but really, who will in Wisconsin history?), but I think Stave has the ability to have a very good season under this pro-style offense with a proven offensive-orientated coach like Chryst.
As you mentioned with him loving Wisconsin, he played quarterback as a Badger, he was an assistant at Wisconsin, and now he runs the football program. His biggest strength is knowing how Wisconsin operates and the blueprint that's taken them to six Rose Bowls in the past 22 seasons, but has the ability to put players in positions to succeed, and will tailor his offense and play-calling to their strengths (see 2010 and 2011). The players have responded to him well so far in him getting to know them -- some of them he did recruit, like the walk-on Stave, so there's familiarity.
Chryst had a nice line about Corey Clement becoming the new starting running back, following James White and Melvin Gordon. What's Clement capable of this year with a new staff, even when Chyst had a few successful rushers at Pitt?
Clement's bound to have a big year, and he'll get plenty of carries to showcase his talents. He's 5'11, 219 pounds, and has a combination of speed and power that allows him to get to the second level of defenses quickly, and will have the ability to contribute in the passing game (14 receptions, two touchdown catches last season). Clement noted during Big Ten conference media days that he wants to rush for no less than 2,000 yards, which would be quite the follow-up to Gordon's 2,587 yards a year ago. With a couple of unproven running backs in converted cornerback Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal battling for the No. 2 spot behind Clement, expect the New Jersey native to receive a bulk of the carries. Along with more of a pro-style offense, which may make defenses not stack 8 or 9 in the box as seen in 2013 and 2014, and Clement may find holes even quicker.
One variable that needs to be considered, however, is the Badgers' starting offensive line. Wisconsin's replacing three starters from a year ago, including St. Louis Rams' second-round draft pick Rob Havenstein. There have been injuries in the spring with center Dan Voltz and left guard Ray Ball as well that didn't necessarily help gel a younger unit. However, the year before, Voltz and Dallas Lewallen missed all of spring camp, and the unit still helped Gordon, Clement and Co. rush for over 4,000 yards in 2014. Expect redshirt freshman Michael Deiter to play at right guard, who popped up to replace Voltz at center in Spring '13, and he could be another great Badgers linemen in the coming years.
Same can be said of Joel Stave, who was not the permanent starter last year but appears to have that locked down going into the season. Do you think Chryst will change much with Stave's development right away or is it more aimed at implementing a new playbook with a similar system? Will the defense change much with Dave Aranda being the lone holdover from Anderson's staff?
Stave actually redshirted in 2011 when Chryst was in his final season as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, so there's familiarity there already with the offense. I think Chryst will help Stave's development as they implement the more pro-style looks and progress him further. Chryst naming him starter at the beginning of spring camp will benefit in terms of timing and chemistry with his receivers -- which Stave noted during the spring he wanted to improve upon. Chryst said after the spring game that he still wants Stave to work on trusting the offense and his receivers, but also said the summer months would help with that. I don't expect Stave to put up crazy numbers like those before him, but I think 62-67 percent completion percentage and a 2:1 ratio of touchdowns/interceptions should be expected, if not higher. Stave, in his first six starts last season, completed 60 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and one interception (before those games against Ohio State and Auburn), so even under the circumstances last year, he succeeded in most of those games. As noted earlier, Chryst will put his players on offense in a position to succeed, and I think that'll only benefit the former walk-on.
For the defense, don't expect much to change from Aranda's attacking 3-4 scheme used a year before. The secondary returns all of its starters, including punishing safety Michael Caputo, and the linebacking corp may be its most athletic ever. Junior outside linebacker Vince Biegel led the team in tackles for loss last year with 16.5 and second on the team in sacks with 7.5. He and senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert form a potent duo, while two new starters in Leon Jacobs and T.J. Edwards -- despite being green at the position -- showed their abilities in the spring. The only question mark may be who starts on a younger defensive line with Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski gone, but both were injured last year, forcing sophomores Chikwe Obasih and Alec James -- along with junior nose guard Arthur Goldberg -- to step up and gain valuable experience in 2014.
Andersen claimed he couldn't deal with UW's academic admissions standards and the way the appeal process works, so he bolted. Do you foresee the same friction between Chryst, Barry Alvarez, and the UW administration or was hiring Chryst a way to get everyone on the same page while they work to get the rule changed back?
It was interesting to note how Alvarez addressed the admissions appeals process during Big Ten media days and the changes that happened five years ago. Essentially, the process went from appealing to the school of choice within the university first to the Admissions department first, along with having the assistant coaches -- who have vetted and recruited the players -- less of a say than before the change (essentially admissions would only look at scores). They state the admissions standards haven't changed at Wisconsin, only that appeals process. Alvarez stated that he hopes the changes take effect in 2016, so you hope there's alignment between Chryst, Alvarez and Wisconsin's administration before National Signing Day next February. Wisconsin's always had tougher academic standards, however, and with Chryst's familiarity of the program, I think there will be less friction. We'll see what happens, though, in the coming season and year.
Wisconsin gets thrown into the lion's den on college football's opening weekend with a game against Alabama (something Michigan knows all too well). Are they going to deploy the flip-phone strategy or smartphone strategy to give themselves a chance at a signature win?
(Protip: watch tape of what Michigan did against 'Bama and do the opposite of everything).
Wisconsin's defense will probably keep them in any game throughout the season. There's athleticism abound in the linebacking corp, and there's a veteran, talented secondary now with Tanner McEvoy complementing the three starters from last season. I'd compare Aranda's defense then to an iPhone 6 (not a 6-plus), and with Alabama having some questions on offense but still highly talented, it will be interesting to see who wins the line of scrimmage.
Wisconsin's offense will have a huge task against 'Bama's great defense. That offensive line will have to gel quick and deal with an impressive front seven of the Crimson Tide, and we'll see how the pro-style offense under Stave reacts if the running game is stymied. Which Stave will show up on Sept. 5 when he's needed -- the one who threw for nearly 300 yards at Ohio State in 2013, or the one who threw over a handful of interceptions in the final two games of 2014 against the Buckeyes and Auburn? They very well might need some smartphone-like plays on offense (i.e. trick plays) to catch the Tide sleeping here and there.
For the game itself, if the Badgers can force some turnovers, something they necessarily haven't done much of in the past two seasons (maybe the only consistent critique of the Badgers' defense under Aranda), there may be a chance for an upset here. However, if that doesn't happen, Bama's talent probably wears down the Badgers' defense late in the game -- with the Tide's defense holding Wisconsin's offense at bay in all likelihood if they stop the running game. I expect a great defensive game from both squads, however.
Beer question: New coach, new season...any new Badger brews getting you through this final month of waiting for that big game?
I'm a big Spotted Cow fan, and I'm picky about beers (shock, a Wisconsin resident not loving ALL beers! :-) ). However, there's a new beer called Inaugural Red by the Wisconsin Brewing Company that was actually made by UW students as part of a course competition last year. It's a red lager, and hoping to check that out, along with a few more Spotted Cows while awaiting the season opener.
Thanks, Jake! Follow him @JakeKocoB5Q