Wisconsin Football: Stopping Nick Marshall Priority No. 1 in Outback Bowl


With just days remaining before the 2015 Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day, Wisconsin Athletic Director and bowl game head coach Barry Alvarez and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn sat down with members of the media to talk about the upcoming matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Auburn Tigers.

Wisconsin (10-3) is coming off of a poor (Poor? I’ve run out of descriptions for the game. We’ll stick with poor) defensive performance in the Big Ten Championship, and will face a high-powered offense and a veteran quarterback in Auburn’s Nick Marshall.

Alvarez spoke highly of Marshall, and talked about the defense’s need to stay sound.

"“He’s very hard to get down and very athletic and very skilled. I think any time that you play someone with that type of ability you better be sound, you better corner the defense and try to have people chase him down and take the proper angles. You have to be sound and it’s still very difficult to get him down.”"

Coach Malzahn also had some to say about his quarterback, and said he’s been very pleased with the development he’s seen from Marshall.

"“There’s no doubt. If you look at his whole career, last year he didn’t even go through spring. He wasn’t named the starting quarterback until two weeks before our first game. He led us to the National Championship and really answered the bell every time he was asked and learned the offense on the run. This year we really tried to be more balanced, and really worked on his passing. Obviously, our last game, with what he did against that defense, was very impressive. I’m very proud of him. He’s been a very good leader for us. I think he’s one of the difference makers in our league I feel like. I think offensively he’s done a great job.”"

Wisconsin’s biggest defensive task in the 2015 Outback Bowl will be slowing down Marshall and his dual threat attack.

Marshall has been great for Auburn this season. He’s 163-for-271 (60.1 percent) this season and has thrown for 2,315 yards and 18 touchdowns, with 7 interceptions. He’s only been sacked 13 times on the season, proving his elusiveness in the pocket.

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On the ground, the QB has 146 carries for 780 yards and 11 touchdowns. His rushing numbers are down from a year ago, but that’s not because he’s been a less effective rusher.

It simply shows that he’s grown as a passer and hasn’t had “happy feet” as often and bailed on the play, using his feet  to escape the pocket. That’s the growth Malzahn alluded to in his press conference.

Marshall’s best game of the year came in his last outing, the Iron Bowl against Alabama. He went 27-for 43 (68 percent) for 456 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. He added 13 carries for 49 yards, including a 28-yard scamper.

Auburn also employs a hurry-up attack, which Alvarez said Monday was tough to simulate in practice, and therefore tough to truly prepare for.

"“As a coach what you always look for is an edge. Coach (Malzahn) has been running this offense for a long time and he uses that as an edge. As a former defensive coach, somehow you have to stop them. You have to figure out how to implement your defense and how to adjust it, how to make the calls on the run and prepare for it. We’ve faced some other offenses like this, but it creates problems for you and it’s hard to practice it. We try to simulate it as best we can, but it’s very difficult to prepare for.”"

Wisconsin’s defense, simply put, has its work cut out.

The Badgers will need to stay sound in their assignments, sticking to their lanes and employing a controlled pass rush. If the Badgers rush too far up the field, Marshall will step up in the pocket and kill the Badgers with his feet.

Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin Badgers /

Wisconsin Badgers

Marshall will be without his top receiving threat from the season, Duke Williams, but Auburn has plenty of receiving options to look to. Auburn saw what Cardale Jones and Ohio State did to the Wisconsin secondary in the Big Ten Championship, and likely hope to replicate the performance.

Don’t be surprised if the Badgers use one of their linebackers, or even safety Michael Caputo, in a spy role against Auburn.

Wisconsin will be looking to avoid giving up the big play to Marshall, so we could also expect to see a lot of zone defense, as running quarterbacks love scrambling against man-to-man coverage when the corners and safeties have their backs turned from the line of scrimmage.

Simply put, the Badgers will have to slow Marshall down and force a turnover or two to come away with a victory in the 2015 Outback Bowl.

Stats courtesy ESPN.com.

Next: Wisconsin Football: Five Badgers Key to an Outback Bowl Victory