2011 Rose Bowl Preview
Oregon Ducks vs Wisconsin Badgers
Don't tell the Wisconsin Badgers and the Oregon Ducks that the non-national championship BCS bowls don't matter. This one counts. A lot.
The plain truth of the matter in this tilt is that both Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Oregon coach Chip Kelly have never won a BCS bowl game. Bielema finally made his first Rose Bowl last season, only to see his team lose to TCU because of a balky and inconsistent offense. Kelly lost to Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl and then saw his Ducks, disjointed on the offensive side of the ball, lose a close 22-19 decision to Auburn in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. Both of these coaches know what they’re doing, and they’ve both made BCS bowls in each of the past two seasons (with Kelly making a BCS game for the third straight year, the only man who can boast such a distinction at this point in time). The stakes involved in this classic Big Ten-versus-Pac-12 matchup are as high as one can possibly imagine for a non-national championship showdown. These programs and their coaches need the validation of a Rose Bowl victory to quiet their critics on college football’s grandest stage, the shadows of the San Gabriel Mountains on an early January afternoon.
The path to victory for Oregon is the first point of examination in this contest. If you want to make an argument for UO on January 2, you would frame this game by saying that it pits power versus speed in Pasadena. This setup puts the Ducks in the driver’s seat and spells bad news for the Badgers.
So many times in the past, a strong and physical Big Ten team has come into the Rose Bowl expecting to overpower a faster opponent from the Pac-10. Usually, the Pac-10 – now the Pac-12 – gets the last laugh. In the 1984 Rose Bowl, a six-win UCLA club humiliated a 10-win Illinois squad by a 45-9 score. In the 1986 game, UCLA did something very similar to a highly-credentialed Iowa club. USC has typically gotten the better of Michigan in Rose Bowl matchups over multiple decades. The Big Ten’s champion hasn’t always played in the Rose Bowl during the Bowl Championship Series’ 14-year existence, but it’s very much worth noting that since Wisconsin’s 2000 Rose Bowl win over Stanford, the Big Ten has won just once in Pasadena in early January. Yes, Ohio State’s win over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl marks the only time in the past 11 seasons that the Big Ten has won the oldest bowl game of them all.
Oregon might be forced to play this game after a one-month layoff, but the Ducks will be motivated to break through on the BCS stage. They know how much their reputation will suffer if they lose, so they will play with a profound purpose against their foe from America’s Dairyland. Running backs LaMichael James and DeAnthony Thomas give UO speed to burn, speed that Wisconsin will find it very hard to contain. Wisconsin’s defense was gashed by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 3; if that can happen, Oregon coach Chip Kelly can surely exploit the Badgers’ defense on the second day of January.Now let’s switch to the other side of the coin and appreciate how the Big Ten can uphold its honor. Wisconsin has to like its chances for two simple reasons: balance and preparation time. Balance refers to the combination of quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball. Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, has given the Badgers a strong-armed, big-play quarterback who can stretch opposing defenses by throwing the ball vertically and scrambling for yardage when plays break down.
The knowledge that Wilson can strike at any time has made Ball, owner of 38 touchdowns this season (32 rushing, 6 receiving), a devastatingly effective ballcarrier. Ball is the player defenses primarily try to stop, but the brilliant Badger has been able to run, run, and run some more on a consistent basis in 2011. A total of 1,759 rushing yards has lifted Ball to the top of the list in the Football Bowl Subdivision, punching a ticket to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York for this year’s Heisman Trophy award ceremony. The balance found in Wisconsin’s offense will make the Badgers hard to stop. Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti will definitely have his hands full in this matchup.
The other key is preparation. Over the past three seasons, Oregon has lost five times. Of those five losses, three came in games that either began or ended UO’s season. The Ducks lost two bowl games and this year’s season-opening contest against LSU. (The team’s other losses came against USC this season and against Stanford in the middle of the 2009 campaign.) Wisconsin has what other bowl opponents used to great effect against Oregon: time. It’s very hard to prepare for Oregon’s offensive tempo in the middle of a season, but with a month off, the Badgers can formulate a good defensive plan. Moreover, the month-long layoff takes away rhythm and precision from Oregon’s offense, which thrives on repetitions and is not primed to play well following an extended break. If ever there was a good time to play Oregon, it’s after a long layoff. Wisconsin hopes with all its heart that it is catching the Ducks in the right situation.
At any rate, no matter which viewpoint or line of analysis you might choose to take, you have to admit that Wisconsin-Oregon means more than just the Rose Bowl, if that’s humanly possible. These programs need to show the college football community that they can win a January game and move to the head of the class in the sport. Another loss on a big stage will make the upcoming offseason that much more difficult to bear.
63rd in passing offense – 229.5 yards per game
10th in rushing offense – 237.4 yards per game
4th in points scored – 44.6 points per game
6th in points allowed – 17 points per game
68th in passing offense – 219.5 yards per game
5th in rushing offense – 295.7 yards per game
3rd in points scored – 46.2 points per game
48th in points allowed – 23.6 points per game
By: Matt Zemek
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