With the 2012 Rose Bowl less than a week away, the "Granddaddy of Them All" promises to showcase one of the best college football games of the season.
Both teams will try to redeem their programs after recent Rose Bowl defeats. Both feature dazzling quarterbacks, out-of-this-world running backs and and offenses averaging more than 40 points per game.
The Pac-12 - Big Ten showdown promises to be an entertaining and high-scoring affair, under the setting sun and cool evening breeze of Southern California.
Here are 7 keys to a Wisconsin victory over Oregon.
The defensive matchup between the Badgers stout, but somewhat porous defensive line and Chip Kelly’s offensive point-making machine will be well worth the scalped ticket prices.
The Ducks rank fifth in FBS overall standings and will test Wisconsin’s defense that’s shown it’s vulnerability in the waning minutes of big games.
The Badger defense ranks sixth in the nation in total yards allowed and averages 17.0 points per game. Compare this to Oregon’s third-best 46.2 points per game and you have an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object playing itself in front of a national audience.
Oregon’s speedy running back LaMichael James will test the edges and therefore the defensive resolve of a Badger team gifted at stuffing the middle of the field. The Badgers must be prepared for the full 160 foot East-West containment, or they’ll be in for a long day.
Oregon will no doubt try to turn the game into a track meet, with speedy receivers stretching the field and quarterback Darron Thomas keeping the offensive play metronome ticking away at an exhausting tempo.
His thrash-metal style will be a true test for a Badger team steeped in Midwestern smashmouth ball that tends to be more methodical and deliberate. The inherent tension in Oregon’s approach, however, is that with all their points scored, the Ducks rank last in time of possession.
If this stat holds up in Pasadena, the more U.O. scores and scores fast, the more pressure they’ll be applying to their own defense to stop a gigantic, high-scoring offensive monster in red. Rich problems to have, but problems nonetheless.
If the corn-fed Badgers can glide more than galumph north, south, east and west, they’ll bring the Ducks tempo down to a waltz and most likely win the game.
UW has showed a horrific lack of special teams execution and have suffered because of it.
Throughout the year, big play after big play have transformed what should be a pedestrian phase of their game, into a white knuckle endeavor.
Bielema should throw every skill player he has at the holes he knows exist to ensure no punts, field goals or extra points are blocked. Additionally, with a healthy and scary-good Josh Huff returning kicks for Oregon against a lackluster-at-best Wisconsin coverage unit, the game could be won or lost on splash plays.
Wisconsin must right their special teams ship and make sure they suffocate a flaming-hot Ducks return game to have a chance at biting roses at the end of the game.
The Badger’s offensive line is almost unfair.
If they’re not the best, they’re certainly the biggest, averaging 320 pounds per man, which is larger than their in-state big brothers in the Green Bay Packers. They're not only gigantic, they're agile and fundamentally sound. They’ll be making holes for raging running back Montee Ball and top-tier pass-run quarterback Russell Wilson.
Common sense suggests that in a game as brutal and taxing as football, size and strength will win out. A big team with a strong running game can impose its will in the fourth quarter on lighter defense that’s been fighting against men the size of refrigerators.
Over a season, this theory might prove out, but in a single game, in the beautiful southern California warmth, size is less of a factor than speed, which the Ducks have in droves. The offensive line must stop a sack-happy Oregon Duck defense from getting to their quarterback, a job made easier by Wilson’s deft pocket skills.
For a Badger offense that averages 44.6 points per game facing off against an Oregon defense that ranks 59th in points allowed, at 23.6, the UW must live up to their season norms and they’ll prevail in Southern Cal.
Wisconsin has lost one of its crown jewels to the University of Pittsburgh.
Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be taking his talents and offensive line coach Bob Bostad to Western Pennsylvania soon after the Rose Bowl victory, and Coach Chryst's ability to multi-task will be of critical importance to the Badgers come game day.
This will be a metric understood only in retrospect, but the distraction factor will be something Wisconsin must overcome. Chryst, widely believed to be one of the best offensive minds in the game, will have to stay focused on the game at hand. He’s lost unknown quantities of preparation time and perhaps focus, in merely considering a deal with Pitt, let alone attending contract signings and press conferences in the Keystone state.
Time and the final score will tell if his eyes have been on the door on or in the playbook, but either way, the bifurcation of Chryst's energy will be a variable with which to contend. To add a layer to the plot, Bielema hasn’t named an offensive coordinator to succeed Chryst, even with a solid slate of internal candidates from which to choose.
This might very well lead to tangled motivations and internal disharmony. There's a chance though that if Chryst can turn his swan song into a maxim opus offense, it will not only help the Badgers prevail, but act as a strong recruiting tool for Chryst and his new program.
Speaking of Coach Chryst and being gone, quarterback Russell Wilson hasn’t been shy about his desire to come to Wisconsin because Chryst is playing his final game as a Badger.
He’ll be playing for his Badger brethren as well as his incipient suitors. The speed of the Oregon defense should be a new challenge for the smooth quickster but won't prove insurmountable, as Wilson is a coveted dual threat.
He can extend plays with his feet and throw a pretty long ball that has proven to be the difference in more than one Badger outing. Though his fast feet and strong arm breed envy around the conference, his head and heart are his real gifts.
Other than a few moments in East Lansing, he’s seemed unflappable and just downright good in the clutch. If he plays up to snuff, he’ll be a tougher customer to bring control for an Oregon team used to playing against the likes of Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley and Kevin Prince.
He has made Wisconsin the hands-down best play-action team in the land and must be that guy in the Rose Bowl for UW to have a chance. The challenges he’s faced this year have made him stronger and look for him to have his best game as a Badger under the Rose Bowl lights.
2011 Heisman finalist Montee Ball must have a game for the ages in what looks to be his final go round as a Badger.
By the looks of it, Ball will be playing for money next year with a stellar season behind him and his offensive guru packing his bags. Last year’s Rose Bowl loss and Ball’s own feeling of poor conditioning fueled him to train to get himself into better shape, coming into this season 20 pounds leaner.
This year, Ball is more willing, and more importantly, more able to overpower and outrun defenders. His 38 touchdowns are second only to the immortal Barry Sanders’ 1988 season where he boasted 44, including his Holiday Bowl high five scores. This outside shot at all-time greatness is something motivating not only Ball, but an O-line who will have a lifetime of bragging rights to share at parties.
Don’t expect this quest for history to be the primary reason the Badger offense will key off No. 28’s legs and not quarterback Russell Wilson’s arm. Look for offensive coordinator Chryst to build magnum opus around the principle of keeping the Ducks offense off the field with a methodical running game that devours up clock and yards, while pulverizing an Oregon front line into submission.
Either way, Montee Ball must play a prominent role for Wisconsin to write a new chapter in their Rose Bowl lore.
The little things will make a difference
Given Wisconsin’s proclivity for stocking their ranks with young men the size of cattle, it’s counter-intuitive to think that the game will come down to the little things, but it most likely will. A foot here, an overthrown ball there and the game comes or goes.
Bielema and the Badgers know this truth well. On one hand, the Badgers are potentially one running into the kicker penalty away from playing in the Outback Bowl. On the other hand, they’re a spirit-dampening, momentum-killing Spartan Hail Mary away from playing for a national championship, having been broken and dazed by the last-second Michigan State win. They lost their subsequent game to an outmatched Ohio State team.
Bielema must correct the mistakes of last year and shrink his focus from the gargantuan to the granular to best Chip Kelly’s squad. If Bielema’s able to do so in a game that looks to be decided by less than a touchdown, the Badgers will fly high heading back to the cold Madison winter.