Wilcox, Badgers' defense prepare to face LSU, Aranda
MADISON, Wis. -- Cornerback Sojourn Shelton likens the latest change at Wisconsin to having a new chef in a pizza parlor.
Same sauce, different toppings.
New defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox makes his debut on Saturday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay against No. 5 LSU. He replaced Dave Aranda, who left Wisconsin in the offseason to take the same job with the Tigers.
Quite the spicy story line in a marquee season opener.
"Everything as far as putting the marinara sauce, all of that, is the same. It's just depending on what toppings you like," Shelton said. "Coach Wilcox is going to add whatever toppings he likes."
The Badgers plan to play out of the same base 3-4 defensive scheme that Aranda used to great success in his three years in Madison. Aranda's linebacker-led defenses were consistently one of the best in the country.
Once again, the Badgers are loaded at linebacker, so a 3-4 scheme plays into the team's strengths. Wilcox will throw in some new wrinkles, though.
Or in Shelton's terms, new toppings.
"I'm simple, pepperoni and sausage," Shelton said. "Coach Wilcox, he's going to have fun with it, it's really not a difference between last year and this year. Just depending on what pressures he wants to bring and how he wants to operate on certain downs."
"Other than that, even when (the linebackers) are getting after the quarterback, we're covered," Shelton added.
The real intrigue might lie with Aranda's knowledge of Wisconsin's personnel. He knows the tendencies of Shelton, a senior who is the Badgers' most experience defensive back.
Aranda called blitzes to set up pass-rushing linebackers Vince Biegel and Jack Cichy. Aranda also has a grasp of Wisconsin's offense after having his defense practice against that unit every day.
LSU coach Les Miles said Aranda has helped with scouting Wisconsin personnel.
"He basically gave the thumbnail sketch of a guy that just came from there that really didn't feel like, you know, was all that professional to give too much," Miles said. "So he kind of gave me the overview and that's all I asked for."
Conversely, the Wisconsin offense might have a little more insight into LSU than against most other nonconference opponents. Offensive players have an idea of how Aranda trains guys on his side of the ball, a bit of knowledge that center Michael Deiter called "a little comforting."
While Deiter didn't expect an advantage, he said: "We've blocked that front so many times. You've seen so many of his pressures."
Aranda came to Wisconsin in 2013 as coordinator with then-new coach Gary Andersen. Aranda stayed in Madison after Andersen left to take the Oregon State job in December 2014, and became the high-profile holdover on the staff of Andersen's replacement, Paul Chryst.
In Aranda, the offensive-minded Chryst left the defense in the hands of a respected coordinator. Now that job belongs to Wilcox, who has enjoyed successful seasons in previous stints as defensive coordinator at Boise State, Washington and USC.
Wilcox knows Aranda from when they were coordinators in the old Western Athletic Conference.
But the matchup isn't something that really comes up at Camp Randall, Wilcox said. Aranda and Wilcox are not really coaching against each other anyway since they're both defensive assistants.
The game is about "Wisconsin and LSU," Wilcox said after practice Wednesday. "It's really not something we think about or talk about. I have a ton of respect for him and their team."
To Chryst, the changeover on defense isn't about developing a new identity under Wilcox.
"One of the things that I've really liked and appreciated from Justin, is that this isn't about him. I think (the defense) will take on the identity of the players," Chryst said. "The players will determine the personality ... that's what we're looking for."