When Oregon take on Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl, which players will the Ducks need to show up most in order to beat the Badgers?
This game is the classic power versus speed matchup. The Ducks are the fastest team in the nation and the Badgers like to pound the ball with Montee Ball behind their mammoth offensive line.
So in order for the Ducks to win, they need to play within their own style and not get caught up in a shoving match with the bigger and stronger opponent. In order to do that, they need to get their playmakers in space on the perimeter—a spot on the field where the Badgers defense has shown that it is susceptible.
On the defensive side of the ball, Oregon is going to need to work together as one cohesive unit in order to combat the much larger Wisconsin offense. The Ducks are too small on defense to take down Ball without gang tackling. Once the first defender wraps Ball up, he needs to hold on for dear life and wait for help to come.
So here's a list of the seven most important players the Ducks will need to play at a high level in order to execute this strategy.
It could potentially be a very big game for Kenjon Barner. Even though he doesn't get the hype that LaMichael James gets, he's just as fast and talented as him.
Wisconsin is most likely planning to neutralize James, the Ducks' best weapon on offense, in the running game. Putting Barner in the backfield along with James could be a curve ball that Wisconsin's defense can't handle.
During his Freshman season, Barner had the best game for the Ducks offensively against Ohio State in the 2009 Rose Bowl.
Just because LaMichael James isn't in the backfield won't mean the Badgers will be able to take a play off on defense.
Michael Clay is the Ducks' best linebacker and he'll have his hands full trying to contain Montee Ball and Russel Wilson in the Badgers backfield.
Clay had an impressive season in 2011 and was able to do a little bit of everything on the field. He accumulated 89 tackles—6.5 for a loss—three sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and one defensive touchdown. That's what you call filling up the stat sheet.
The Badgers offensive lineman should have no problem getting to the second level while run blocking, so Clay will need to find a way to remain unblocked and hit Ball as early as possible. If he can manage to do that on a consistent basis, the Ducks are fast enough on defense to swarm to the ball in no time.
Mark Asper is the Ducks' best offensive lineman and they'll need him to open some running lanes for his teammates James and Barner.
Most importantly Asper will be the biggest body on the field when the Ducks are on offense, so he needs to be as physical as possible and not let the Badgers defensive line be too disruptive.
Asper is the starting right guard on the offensive line, so it'll be up to him to neutralize the Badgers defensive tackles, and at times defensive end Louis Nzegwu: the best defensive lineman on Wisconsin.
Asper is already off to a good start in Pasadena after he saved a man from choking in a restaurant.
John Boyett could be considered the best tackler on the team, and that's quite a complement since he plays free safety. He accumulated 91 tackles from the secondary this season, which is a very impressive stat.
He's undersized for his position, but can hit hard with the best of them.
Not only will Boyett be responsible for patrolling the secondary, but he'll be expected to play up in the box in order to contain Ball. The Ducks front seven on defense won't be able to stop Ball on their own.
Don't be surprised to see Boyett fly all over the field this game.
Darron Thomas is the point guard on the Oregon offense and it'll be up to him to distribute the ball to his playmakers all over the field.
However, the interesting thing about Thomas is that he is actually a point guard who is also a scoring threat. He hasn't been asked to run much this year—Chip Kelly likely asked him to do so in order to minimize the number of hits he takes—but don't be surprised to see Kelly loosen the leash and allow Thomas to run free for a little bit.
Another thing to watch for is whether or not Thomas passes the ball early and often. The Ducks might want to utilize the passing game in the beginning to open up the Badgers defense, then hit them with a constant dose of James and Barner.
Since the Ducks are going to try to get their playmakers the ball on the perimeter, this is exactly where Josh Huff comes into the equation.
Huff is the fastest receiver—with the exception of De'Anthony Thomas—the Ducks have lined up on the edge. He hasn't been able to consistently play at a high level this year, but when he has shown glimpses of his potential, he's been an amazing asset for the Ducks on offense.
The Ducks need to get the ball in Huff's hands and let him run wild in the Badgers secondary.
This game means more than just another Bowl Game for LaMichael James.
It is well-known that he hasn't been a factor in a big-time non-conference game yet in his collegiate career. Against Ohio State, Auburn and LSU, James didn't rush for over 70 yards in any game and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry in all three games combined.
But out of those three previous games, the Badgers defense will be the most susceptible against the run. They are bigger and stronger than the Ducks offense, but they are no where near as fast.
Not only will James need to show up big in this upcoming Rose Bowl if the Ducks are to win the game, but he'll need to in order to cement his legacy as the best player in school history.