— Sam Finley and Don Smalley, EDN Sports
What The Ducks Must Do…
There was a time when simply getting to Pasadena would be satisfactory enough for Oregon fans. But after winning the Pac-12 conference three years in a row, as well as appearing in three consecutive BCS Bowl games, the expectations have been raised a bit. The fact that the Ducks have been painfully close to winning these games only increases the yearning for more.
Two years ago in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, Oregon trailed the Buckeyes 19-17 late in the third quarter but were in position to take the lead. Unfortunately, a fumble by LeGarrette Blount squandered the opportunity and Ohio State hung on for a 26-17 victory.
Then there was last year in the BCS Championship game against Auburn. After a late touchdown drive tied it up at 19-19, it looked like the Ducks had the momentum for a potential overtime situation. But, as proof you’ve got to play until the whistle blows, Eddie Pleasant couldn’t quite hang onto Tigers’ running back Michael Dyer. As a result, Dyer rolled off Pleasant and busted loose for another 30 yards down field, setting up an eventual game-winning field goal. A 22-19 edge for Auburn left many wondering what might’ve been.
So what does Oregon need to do to win this Rose Bowl? First of all, their offense needs to get off to a good start. If you look at the six losses during head coach Chip Kelly’s tenure, you’ll find a sputtering offense as the common thread. Because Wisconsin is going to try and limit the amount of possessions, the Ducks must take advantage of every opportunity they get.
The Badgers won’t be able to keep Oregon out of the end zone all day, but if they have a two-score lead late in the game, then the trophy is probably going back to Madison.
Conversely, if the Ducks can execute their offensive tempo and force ball-control happy Wisconsin to play chase, then you’ve got to like their chances.
Of course, a great performance by the Oregon offense most likely means that LaMichael James will have a good day running the football. James has done almost everything you could ask for in the past three seasons. Everything except have a superb showing in a BCS game.
The Buckeyes held him to 70 yards two years ago, and Auburn stifled him to 49 in the title game. However, if James can run for 100 yards or more, it’ll open up the passing game and make life very difficult for Badgers’ head coach Bret Bielema.
Having taken what the offense must do into consideration, let’s briefly talk about the side that has shown up in the past two bowl games. You really can’t fault the Oregon defense for the outcomes.
Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has drawn up some fairly masterful schemes in these events, particularly last year against Auburn. He’ll need to do the same against Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who scored 32 touchdowns this year. Ditto for their quarterback Russell Wilson, who can beat you with his arm or his feet.
By the same token, it’s not like this is an offense that Oregon hasn’t faced before. Stanford runs a fairly similar ground-and-pound style, and we know what happened with them. So if the Ducks can handle the Badgers the same way they handled the Cardinal, then this Rose Bowl really could end on a happy note for them.
What The Badgers Must Do…
Wisconsin comes into the 2012 Rose Bowl in similar fashion as the Ducks, looking to redeem itself after a loss in last year’s game in Pasadena. The goal all along for the Badgers was to win the Big 10 ever since they found out former North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson was coming to Madison.
Wilson gives the Badgers a duel-threat in the backfield that they really haven’t had before. Although he isn’t formidable physically at just 5-11 like Cam Newton or Terrelle Pryor, Wilson is as accurate with his arm as he is deadly with his legs. If Wisconsin is going to come out victorious, Wilson having a good game will be one of the keys.
The Badgers’ offensive line is bigger than most lines you would see on the NFL level. Averaging at 6-5 and 325 pounds, Wisconsin is used to opening holes for All-American running back Montee Ball. If Ball has a big game, that means the Badgers are keeping the clock moving and keeping Oregon’s offense on the sideline.
But Wisconsin has allowed 23 sacks on the season. Oregon led the nation in sacks with 47. Protecting Wilson in order to let him extend plays and throw the ball to his favorite target Nick Toon, is an absolute must for Wisconsin. If Michael Clay and Terrell Turner are in the backfield, it will be a long day for Bucky Badger.
Defensively, Wisconsin hasn’t been spectacular, but good enough. Oregon, however, will be the best offense it has seen so far. The Badgers didn’t face a Top 50 offense all season. They will need to find someway to counteract the Ducks’ speed on offense. But when teams have been given more than two weeks to prepare, Oregon has had trouble getting into an offensive rhythm. Wisconsin has to hope this holds true one more time.
If the Badgers put seven or eight in the box in order to stop LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner and finds a way to keep those speedsters from hitting the corners, Wisconsin gives itself a chance to slow down the Ducks. That will also put Oregon in third-and-long situations, forcing Darron Thomas to throw the ball to a group of wide receivers that have been a bit underwhelming this season.
This is true for any team that faces Oregon, but when given the chance, the Badgers must punch the ball in the end zone. Field goals do not defeat the Ducks. Touchdowns do.