The 2011 Rose Bowl will be an exercise in change, and consider TCU to be the benefactor.
Since 1947, the Big Ten and Pac-10 Conferences have partnered with the Tournament of Roses, making the partnership the longest-running bowl agreement. However, recently the parties, in conjunction with the BCS, agreed that if a representative from either conference were to be lost to the BCS National Championship, as Oregon is this season, and a non-AQ school earns a BCS bid, the Rose Bowl must take that team.
This will be Wisconsin’s seventh trip to Pasadena and first since 2000.
This is the first Rose Bowl appearance for both TCU and the Mountain West Conference, but don’t think of this as a match-up between David and Goliath.
Here are five match-ups to look for come New Year’s Day:
Paul Chryst v. Dick Bumpas
Whadda say we match two of the more effective coordinators in the college game?
A former three-time football letterman at Wisconsin, Chryst has orchestrated the Badgers’ offense for the last five seasons, during which time his mantra has been ball control while maintaining balance. Wisconsin ranks seventh in time of possession this season, keeping the ball for an average of nearly 33 minutes, and has converted more than half of its third downs.
The balance has been non-existent—the Badgers have run the ball 283 more times than they’ve passed it—but Chryst hasn’t necessarily needed to play fast and loose with the playbook, given the personnel he has at his disposal in the run game. Wisconsin can carry the rock as well as anybody, and Chryst doesn’t figure to deviate too terribly from what works, even against a counterpart as shrewd as Bumpas.
Mixing in some play-action and a variety of screens, Chryst will likely lean on his monstrous offensive line and trio of reliable backs to negate the Horned Frogs’ speed and the complexities of Bumpas’ 4-2-5 alignment.
Under Bumpas—a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach—TCU ranks first nationally in total defense, scoring defense, and pass defense this season. The only blemish (sort of) is ranking No. 3 overall against the run, surrendering a measly 89 yards per game. That said, the Frogs have faced only three opponents ranked in the top 50 in rushing offense (BYU, Air Force, and Baylor), and of those three only the Falcons are among the nation’s 20-best rushing teams.
Does Bumpas adjust his scheme if the Badgers begin to push his front seven around? Or will he keep the faith that the interior of his defense can keep tackling robots Tank Carder and Tanner Brock clean frequently enough that an exorbitant amount of potentially vulnerable run blitzes won’t be necessary?
TCU QB Andy Dalton v. Wisconsin DEs J.J. Watt and Louis Nzegwu
Whether or not you’re aware of the inverted veer option, odds are you’ve seen it before. And odds are you’ll see it unfold as part of TCU’s offensive game plan against Wisconsin.
In the absence of a truly technical description, the inverted veer option is nothing more than the zone read that has become a staple in spread offense, in that its success is predicated upon the quarterback accurately reading the intentions of an unblocked defensive end.
But the veer has a simple variant that has proven valuable to the TCU offense in the past. Unlike the zone read, in which the quarterback will take a path opposite that of the running back, the veer is designed to let the two move in the same direction. More specifically, with TCU in its shotgun, single-back formation, Dalton will make his read, at which time he will either hand the ball off to a back on a designed sweep or keep it and follow a pulling guard through the hole vacated by the defensive end.
It’s a play that worked to near perfection for TCU last season, when the No. 15 Frogs “upset” unranked Clemson on the road. For full illustrations and video on TCU’s veer option, consult Smart Football, which does an excellent job of breaking down the schematics.
As the veer relates to TCU’s Rose Bowl match-up with Wisconsin, co-offensive coordinators Jarrett Anderson and Justin Fuente may break it out if they feel the Frogs can take advantage of Wisconsin defensive ends J.J. Watt and Louis Nzegwu in space. Neither Watt nor Nzegwu is exceptionally quick, but both are long defenders who cause significant disruption in the backfield, having combined for 28.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
And the margin of error for Wisconsin could be slim. A few false steps on the part of either end, and Dalton could have room to run through to the second level, or take the easy choice of giving the ball to backs Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker, who have rushed for 18 scores and more than 1,750 yards.
Watt, who could have easily won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors in place of Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, has been Wisconsin’s best defensive player this season, but he and Nzegwu will both have to prove to TCU that they can stay disciplined in their assignments, which will consist of relying on a linebacker to scrape over the top and take on TCU’s guards in the vacated hole or a corner coming up to support the edge.
Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks v. TCU LB Tank Carder
A finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in college football, Lance Kendricks is the receiver that makes the Badgers’ passing attack go. He led the team in both receptions (39) and yards (627), but he is just as crucial to Wisconsin’s rushing exploits as a supreme blocker.
Whether Kendricks is part of the blocking scheme or quarterback Scott Tolzien’s primary read, you can bet that Carder, the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year, will be in the vicinity. Carder, at 6’3” and 237lbs, is agile in the open field, strong enough to play in traffic, and he is the field general in TCU’s 4-2-5 defense.
Expect Carder to fare well with intermediate coverage downfield against Kendricks, who has good speed. Where TCU’s second-leading tackler has to be careful is in the screen game, where the Badgers like to utilize Kendricks’ mobility in the middle of the field.
The same goes for Wisconsin’s bread-and-butter: The running game.
If Carder is able to avoid getting tangled with the Badgers’ offensive line, he still has to be mindful of Kendricks coming from his end spot to help seal the edge on plays designed to go off-tackle or outside the hashmarks.
TCU WR Jeremy Kerley v. Wisconsin CBs Antonio Fenelus and Niles Brinkley
To jam or not to jam? That is the question facing Fenelus and Brinkley, who will get a heavy dose of Kerley, TCU’s best receiver. Fenelus (5’9”, 190lbs) and Brinkley (5’10”, 190lbs) have prototypical size, so they may flip-flop between TCU’s leading receiver, Josh Boyce, and Kerley, who is similar in stature but far more seasoned than the redshirt freshman.
The nation’s 53rd ranked passing offense, TCU throws the ball only 25 times a game, but when they do, you can bet the Frogs are looking for Kerley, a dynamic and versatile athlete who is capable of beating one-on-one coverage and turning short routes into long touchdowns.
Not that the Big Ten will ever be known as a conference that is defined by its run-and-shoot offense, but the Badgers performed well when opposing teams put the ball in the air, allowing a third-best 191.8 yards a game. That number has been helped out by the conference’s second-highest sack total, but the Badgers do have the overall athleticism in the defensive backfield to at least weaken Kerley’s play-making ability.
Kerley, who also returns kicks and punts for the Frogs, has scored at least once in seven of 12 games, so the Badgers must be mindful of where he is in the formation. Fenelus and Brinkley have combined for 99 tackles, but when Kerley does get the ball, they must use sound technique, particularly in the open field and especially on second down.
For the season, Kerley has registered 517 yards on 50 receptions, 20 of which have come on second down and accounted for than half (240) of his season yardage total. This allows the Frogs to stay out of predictable third-and-long situations. If Fenelus, Brinkley, and the Badgers can limit Kerley’s touches on second down, they have a much better chance of putting the TCU offense in a corner.
Wisconsin offensive line v. TCU front seven
Of all the match-ups in this game, this particular one may go the farthest in determining who walks out of the Rose Bowl with a victory. Wisconsin would like to prove it can stuff it down the throat of a stout defense outside of the Big Ten, while TCU would like to cash in on the opportunity to show the country that its defense really is as dominating and legit as the numbers indicate and that a non-AQ is capable of slaying a Big Ten giant in the trenches.
Undoubtedly, Wisconsin will try to win this game through its rushing attack, which averages 247 yards per game. This puts the onus on TCU’s third-ranked run defense. Personnel-wise, TCU has a skilled front four, and tackles Cory Grant and Kelly Griffin account for more than 600 pounds worth of man in the middle, which allows for opportunities on the outside for ends Wayne Daniels and Stansly Maponga.
The Frogs’ defensive front does a nice job of holding the point of attack, but the lack of penetration into the backfield could be a concern. Overall, TCU have just 68 tackles-for-loss, good for 65th in the nation. That number has to improve if TCU’s defense hopes to get off the field against Wisconsin.
But doing so could prove to be a major chore. Not only is the Wisconsin offensive line tremendously athletic, but they’re maulers, averaging six feet, five inches and more than 320lbs. And they’re led by Outland Trophy candidate Gabe Carimi, who is destined to play on Sundays. Paving alleys for backs John Clay, Montee Ball, and James White, the leading rusher, this line is adept at multiple blocking schemes, whether it’s combo-blocking on a defensive lineman and linebacker or pulling out in space to demolish a corner on the edge.
Recognition and filling gaps accordingly will be imperative for the TCU front four, because they will be at distinct disadvantage in both height and weight. Wisconsin will have a field day if their linemen continue to get their hands on TCU defenders and sustain blocks down the field, which is why the Frogs may turn to stunts and twists in an attempt to confuse the Badgers’ line and free up seams for defenders to fill.
Unto this end, the Horned Frogs must occupy Wisconsin blockers long enough up front to allow support to come from other levels of the defense, most notably the unit’s leading tackler, linebacker Tanner Brock, and safety Colin Jones, whose 70 tackles are second-most on the team.
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