Rose Bowl 2020: Individual Matchups to Watch in Oregon vs. Wisconsin

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 28, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - NOVEMBER 30: Zack Baun #56 and Chris Orr #54 of the Wisconsin Badgers grab the Paul Bunyan Football Trophy after defeating the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the game at TCF Bank Stadium on November 30, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Badgers defeated the Golden Gophers 38-17. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Wisconsin Badgers are known for their rushing attack, led by Jonathan Taylor, but it could be their ground defense that makes the difference in the Rose Bowl.

The Big Ten side is going up against an Oregon Ducks offense that has provided support for quarterback Justin Herbert on plenty of occasions, including the Pac-12 Championship Game.

If the Badgers can take away one dimension of the Pac-12 champion's offense, the Big Ten could come away with its second straight win in Pasadena, California.

Oregon can also pave a path to victory by taking away a secondary aspect of the Wisconsin offense that found success in the Big Ten Championship Game.


Rose Bowl Individual Matchups to Watch

Oregon RB CJ Verdell vs. Wisconsin LBs Chris Orr & Zack Baun 

Tony Avelar/Associated Press

Oregon running back CJ Verdell is coming off a 208-yard, three-score performance in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Not only did that showing produce momentum going into the Rose Bowl, but it also proved the Ducks could challenge Wisconsin's top 10 rushing defense.

The Utah Utes possess the best ground defense in the FBS, as they concede 70.3 yards per game. Oregon put up 239 ground yards December 6 at Levi's Stadium.

Wisconsin is one of three Big Ten programs that rank in the top eight in rushing defense, and it has an impressive collection of linebackers capable of silencing Verdell.

Chris Orr and Zack Baun are two of three Badgers linebackers with more than 70 tackles. Both players have a pair of forced fumbles and more than 10 sacks. If Orr and Baun crowd the backfield, it could lead to a handful of long third-down situations for the Ducks, or it may force them to turn away from the run and throw in early-drive scenarios.

Wisconsin's defense may prefer to force Justin Herbert to throw, as he has not completed more than 60 percent of his passes in the previous three contests.

In addition to halting Verdell, Wisconsin's backfield pressure could also control Herbert's movement in the pocket. This is the formula the Badgers followed in their 38-17 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. In that game, they held their top rival to 76 rushing yards and Baun and Orr combined for four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.


Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus vs. Oregon CB Verone McKinley III 

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 07: Quintez Cephus #87 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates after a play in the Big Ten Championship game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin
Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Wisconsin achieved some success through the air in the Big Ten Championship Game thanks to the connection between quarterback Jack Coan and wide receiver Quintez Cephus.

Cephus hauled in seven balls for 122 yards on the first Saturday of December, handing the junior back-to-back triple-digit outings.

Since the start of November, Cephus has at least five catches in four of five games, and he brought in three touchdown receptions. Expect Coan to pick out his top wide out in order to provide balance with the focus on Taylor.

Freshman defensive back Verone McKinley III is one of a few Oregon players who will be tasked with shutting down Cephus. McKinley is tied for the Ducks' lead with four interceptions, and he owns a pair of passes defended.

He does not have to record a pick or deflect a pass to make an impact, as smothering coverage could be enough to halt Wisconsin's progress.

If Cephus is shut down, Coan will be forced to rely on his depth, which is not terrific. The second-best Wisconsin wideout has 479 fewer receiving yards than Cephus, and only Taylor has more than three scoring catches out of the remaining group of targets.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90Statistics obtained from ESPN.com.