2008 Outback Bowl - Wisconsin vs. Tennessee
Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan
Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan
Posted Dec 26, 2007

2008 Outback Bowl Preview - Wisconsin vs. Tennessee


Tennessee (9-4) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Jan. 1st, 11:00 a.m. ET, ESPN

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2008 Outback Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More

National Rankings
Tennessee Wisconsin
Total Offense
55th  399.23 ypg 44th  413.92 ypg
Total Defense
74th  407.62 ypg 36th  350.42 ypg
Scoring Offense
30th  33.38 ppg 45th  30.50 ppg
Scoring Defense
66th  28.08 ppg 35th  23.33 ppg
Run Offense
70th  144.62 ypg 19th  201.50 ypg
Run Defense
68th  162.54 ypg 49th  139.75 ypg
Pass Offense
40th  254.62 ypg 68th  212.42 ypg
Pass Defense
84th  245.08 ypg 35th  210.67 ypg
Turnover Margin
29th  0.46 63rd  -0.08
at California L 45-31
So Miss W 39-19
at Florida L 59-20
Ark St W 48-27
W 35-14
at Miss St
W 33-21
at Alabama
L 41-17
S Car.
W 27-24 OT
UL Laf
W 59-7
W 34-13
W 25-24
at Kentucky W 52-50 4 OT
SEC Championship
Dec. 1 LSU L 21-14
Wash State W 42-21
at UNLV W 20-13
The Citadel W 45-31
Iowa W 17-13
Michigan St
W 37-34
at Illinois
L 31-26
at Penn State
L 38-7
No Illinois
W 44-3
W 33-3
at Ohio State L 38-17
Michigan W 37-21
at Minn.
W 41-34
Position Ratings
relative to each other
T 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 3.5
4 RBs 5
3.5 Receivers 3
4 O Line 4
3.5 D Line 4
4.5 Linebackers 4
3.5 Secondary 4
4 Spec Teams 4
4 Coaching 4

In the whole SEC-is-great-Big-Ten-stinks wave sweeping the nation, most forgot about what happened 365 days before this key matchup of the two highest-profile leagues when Tennessee lost the Outback Bowl to Penn State and Wisconsin won the Capital One Bowl over Arkansas. For the Big Ten, getting as much ammunition in the debate is a must, while for the SEC, and more importantly, for Tennessee, a win here, along with a Florida win over Michigan in the Capital One, might end the discussion for the time being.

While the Big Ten's shining star, Ohio State, has yet to beat an SEC team in a bowl game, Wisconsin has come up with two in the last two seasons after losing the previous five times, including a 28-21 loss to Tennessee in the 1981 Garden State Bowl. A third straight New Year's Day win for the Badgers might bring some begrudging respect from the SEC fans. Some.

Tennessee has been a strange team in a great season, getting blasted in three early high profile regular season games against Cal, Florida and Alabama, but it showed up ready to rock 'n' roll from the opening kickoff in a 35-14 win over Georgia and came through with every clutch play and big win needed over the last six weeks to get to the SEC Championship where one awful throw for an interception led to a 21-14 loss to LSU.

The overall athleticism is there, as always, and there are just enough key players in important spots to come through when needed, but this hasn't been a consistent team, and it tends to play up or down to the competition. Once one of the strongest bowl teams around under Phil Fulmer, the Vols have gone 2-5 since winning the 1998 Fiesta Bowl over Florida State for the national title. Getting to the SEC title game got Fulmer off of any sort of hot seat, but he could be right back on it if he doesn't buck the post-season trend.

Wisconsin hasn't had too many bowl problems winning six of its last eight and nine of its last 12, but two of the losses came in the Outback Bowl. Of course, this is a new team, and it'll seem like a new one after having a month off to heal up after being one of the Big Ten's most beaten up teams at the end of the year.

From injuries on the defensive line and secondary, to TE Travis Beckum's shoulder, to QB Tyler Donovan's hand, to RB P.J. Hill's thigh bruise, everyone had time to heal up, and this should be a vastly different team than it would've been had the game been played a week earlier. Not that the one over the final month was that bad.

Things appeared to be going into the tank in a hurry as injuries and inconsistencies led the way to a two-game midseason losing streak against Illinois and Penn State, with the trip to Happy Valley a big-time clunker that appeared to be the end of any New Year's Day bowl hopes. And then the defense turned things up a few notches allowing just six points in blowout wins over Northern Illinois and Indiana before playing Ohio State tough for three quarters, only to get steamrolled over in the fourth in a 38-17 loss. With wins over Michigan and Minnesota, the latter being a tougher battle than it should've been, Wisconsin is in a position to come up with its third double-digit win season in a row and 32 win in three years.

It's the first game of the new year, and it should be a great one. Get the two TVs fired up with the Missouri vs. Arkansas Cotton Bowl starting soon after, but make sure to keep an eye on this one. Whatever happens, you're probably going to hear about it in one way or another for the next year.

Players to watch: Just how healthy is P.J. Hill? The bruising Badger star tried to give it a go late in the year with a variety of leg problems, but was limited to just five carries for 14 yards against Michigan and sat out the Ohio State and Minnesota games. Probable with a deep thigh bruise, he'll likely give it a go and be good for 10-15 carries, but he's not going to carry the entire workload by himself. He won't have to.

5-11, 185-pound Zach Brown isn't nearly the battering ram that Hill is, but he proved down the stretch that he can provide a little bit of pop to go along with his breakaway speed. He ran for 108 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Michigan, and then, as the only real rushing option, he carried it 29 times for 250 yards and two scores in the win over Minnesota. At the time, he was the only back for the Gopher game because Lance Smith was being disciplined for an off-the-field incident by not being allowed to travel to road games. He'll get to play against Tennessee, providing ultra-fresh legs and an extra burst of speed in the Badger backfield.  

With the way the Badgers are going to want to run the ball, Tennessee's tackling machine Jerod Mayo should come up with a huge game. Talent was never an issue, but staying healthy was, and now he's been able to show what he could do getting through the season relatively injury free making 127 tackles including 49 in his last three games. While he has the speed to make plays in pass coverage, and can get into the backfield on occasion, his job will be to consistently hold up against the run for a full four quarters. If he's making tackles, things should be fine for Tennessee, but if it's star safety Jonathan Hefney
making the stops, there will be problems since that'll mean the UW backs are running well past the first level. Hefney will have his hands full keeping an eye on TE Travis Beckum, a Mackey Award finalist who led the Badgers with 73 catches for 960 yards and six scores. The second-leading UW receiver caught just 25 passes.

Tennessee will win if... it stuffs the run. Wisconsin isn't the pure ground attack team is has a reputation for being, but everything revolves around pounding the ball. The Badgers ran for fewer than 150 yards in three games this season, and it happened to be three games they lost being held to 127 yards by Illinois, 87 by Penn State, and 12 against Ohio State. While the Illini, Nittany Lions and Buckeyes did a fantastic job of stopping the Badger backs, the net numbers also came from generating sacks. Tennessee's defensive line has been a bit of a disappointment, especially when it comes to getting into the backfield, but the Wisconsin line will give up sacks and has trouble against the more athletic speed rushers. If the Tennessee defensive line has a great game, Wisconsin will be in big trouble.

Wisconsin will win if... it wins the wars in the trenches. Controlling the game with the running game, especially into the second half, is a must, but just as important will be to get to QB Erik Ainge and make him hustle his throws. That'll be easier said than done against a Tennessee offensive line that was the best in the nation in sacks allowed giving up a mere four, but as LSU showed in the SEC Championship, just getting close to Ainge might be good enough. Ainge is terrific at getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry and avoiding the sack, and while he'll be happy to throw the ball away when needed, he'll also occasionally try to make a pass or two that isn't there. Usually he gets away with it, but the Badger corners are too talented to let too many mistakes get by them.

What will happen: This will be the Badger team everyone was thinking it would be at the beginning of the year. Wisconsin has problems with spread offense and running quarterbacks. Facing Florida would've been a real problem, but Tennessee's attack is a near-perfect matchup for the Badger D. Tennessee's defense will force more than its share of three and outs, but Wisconsin will come up with one of its crispest games of the year and give the Big Ten a major feather in its cap.

Line: Tennessee -3.5 ... CFN Prediction:
Wisconsin 24 ... Tennessee 20

2008 Outback Bowl History, Each Team's Best Bowl Moments, & More