On January 1, 2013, the Rose Bowl will be a sea of red as Big Ten Champion Wisconsin takes on Pac-12 Champion Stanford in the majestic stadium located in Pasadena's Arroyo Seco.
Stanford has the better record (11-2), but don't sell Wisconsin (8-5) short here—both teams played Oregon State and both teams struggled with the Beavers, albeit Stanford won 27-24 while Wisconsin lost 10-7.
So should Stanford change up anything for the Badgers? Well, Barry Alvarez will be coaching in this game since Bret Bielema has taken the Arkansas head coach vacancy. It's been seven years since Alvarez has coached a game—that's a long time for someone now expected to lead his team in one of the game's biggest bowls.
Stanford head coach David Shaw's game plan should revolve around five keys that have served the Cardinal well this season.
Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips has been sacked nine times in the last four games and is expected to start, although Joel Stave was recently cleared (collarbone) for the game. Wisconsin is ranked No. 9 in sacks allowed in the Big Ten and will be facing Stanford's pass rush—the Cardinal are ranked No. 1 nationally in sacks, averaging 4.31 sacks per game. Stanford should be pressuring Phillips in every passing situation and forcing Wisconsin into long down-and-yardage situations.
In the video below, fast forward to 6:45 mark to see Stanford's pass pressure.
Contain Montee Ball
Badgers running back Montee Ball leads the Big Ten in both rushing yards (1,730) and rushing touchdowns (21). Keep in mind that Stanford limited the lethal Oregon Duck rushing attack to just under 200 yards in its 17-14 upset, so it's not like the Cardinal don't have a great rush defense (the unit is averaging under 90 rushing yards per game). But Stanford will have to concentrate on stopping Ball and forcing the Badgers into passing situations.
Montee Ball's athleticism, power and balance are highlighted in the video below.
Give Hogan decent pass protection
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan has been a nice surprise this season with both his passing accuracy and his great rushing ability. He has excellent escapability and will need to be able to get outside if Wisconsin blitzes (the Badgers rank second in the Big Ten in sacks).
In the video below, check out how Wisconsin gives Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez an open field to run through at the 2:20 mark.
Focus on the tight end
Stanford has one of the best tight ends in the country in Zach Ertz. His size (6'6" 247 pounds) makes him an easy target, but he also can block when called upon. Sending Ertz across the middle is an easy call, but so is sending him on a seam route or a skinny post if the defense is in a Cover 2.
The video below shows how much a factor Ertz can be in the Cardinal game plan.
Don't let Jared Abbrederis get open
Montee Ball can cause a lot of defenses to focus too much attention on him and that can lead to Abbrederis having a field day against secondaries. Stanford's front seven will be busy trying to stop Ball, but the Pac-12's No. 7 pass defense will have to make sure its zone coverages don't become too soft. The defense also has to make sure that Abbrederis doesn't get the opportunity to pass the ball.
Check out this trick play at the 1:30 mark.
Despite facing a new coach in Barry Alvarez—a coach who has a lot more experience than David Shaw—the Cardinal will be tested by Wisconsin.
Remember, this is the same Wisconsin team which laid 70 points on Nebraska. It's also the same team that lost 10-7 to Oregon State, so who knows which team will show up at the Rose Bowl?
In any case, if Stanford sticks to what got it in the Rose Bowl in the first place, it should have an excellent start to the year 2013.