Big Ten: 2012 Rose Bowl

PASADENA, Calif. -- The Hollywood ending was all set up. Wisconsin, the underdog in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, would reverse its recent history here under the steady guidance of the old pro who'd come out of retirement for one last assignment.

The opening scene played out as you'd expect. Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez delivered a rousing pregame speech in the locker room, during which he told the players "Wisconsin invented physical."

"I have never seen a bunch of guys so excited," defensive lineman Brendan Kelly said. "I was so sure we were going to win this game."

But the Badgers' Rose Bowl appearances instead keep unreeling like an unimaginative sequel. For a third straight year, they came up short, this time 20-14 to Stanford. For a third straight year, they were unable to make a big play in the closing minutes. For a third straight year, they walked dejectedly off the field as confetti rained down on their opponents.

Oh, there were many different circumstances this year. Alvarez took over the team after Bret Bielema left and brought some swagger. Assistant coaches hugged each other at the end of the game, knowing they would be parting ways on Tuesday when Gary Andersen begins remaking the staff and the program. With an 8-6 final record, Wisconsin players had to listen to one obnoxious fan shout "O-H-I-O" and remind them that Ohio State had the better team this year as they trudged into the tunnel to their locker room.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith and Wisconsin Badgers
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergWisconsin has now lost its third straight Rose Bowl.
But those are just plot details. The ending remains unchanged.

"The immediate reaction is the same," linebacker Chris Borland said. "It's heartbreaking."

Wisconsin became the third team ever to lose three straight Rose Bowls, the first since Michigan did so from 1976-78. Each has brought its own set of painful memories. In 2010, a failed two-point conversion on a much-debated play call doomed the Badgers against TCU. Last year, some questionable clock management down the stretch left star quarterback Russell Wilson begging for an extra second at the Oregon 25 in a seven-point defeat.

This time, the Badgers had to play from behind the whole way after giving up two early touchdowns to Stanford, which broke out some new offensive wrinkles it hadn't shown on film. Wisconsin answered, though, with two second-quarter scores to slice the lead to 17-14. It seemingly had all the momentum after Curt Phillips' touchdown pass to Jordan Fredrick just 19 seconds before halftime.

But the Badgers would not score again in a second half where they managed only 82 total yards. There were opportunities, like a deep pass to the Cardinal red zone that Chase Hammond dropped before he got creamed by safety Jordan Richards. Wisconsin defensive backs missed a few chances to pick off Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan in his own territory.

Alvarez also chose to punt rather than go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Cardinal 46 near the end of the third quarter. It was an understandable decision, the way the Badgers defense was playing. But Wisconsin would never again have such good field position.

After Stanford earned some breathing room with a fourth-quarter field goal, the Badgers got one more possession, with a chance to drive for the winning touchdown.

"I felt like maybe we were a team of destiny," Alvarez said.

Phillips led the offense to the Stanford 49. Then, he looked for an out route to Jared Abbrederis, which was covered. He spotted Kenzel Doe on a crossing pattern; it wasn't open. On his third read, he tried to squeeze one in to tight end Jacob Pedersen but was intercepted by Usua Amanam with 2:03 to go.

Fin.

"The game was in our hands and we just didn't capitalize," said star running back Montee Ball, who ran for exactly 100 yards but only 13 in the second half. "It's extremely frustrating because we had this game."

The Badgers have said that a lot, not just in Pasadena but all season long. They lost six games this year by a combined 25 points, including three in overtime. We thought this Rose Bowl would look a lot like a Big Ten game because of Stanford's physical nature and similar style. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it looked a lot like the Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State losses, right down to the similar score.

"Our whole offseason approach will be to take the mindset of finishing," Kelly said. "If we do that, we'll be an unbelievable team. But that's the last little attribute we need."

The program is about to go through a lot of changes with Andersen, who watched the game from the sidelines but mostly kept his distance the past few weeks. The Badgers will have to contend with surging and now bowl-eligible Ohio State in the Leaders Division. Even if they manage to make a fourth straight Rose Bowl appearance, they might not find as favorable an athletic matchup as this one was. Stanford might not have invented physical, but the Cardinal perfected it. And Wisconsin won't have a Hall of Famer on the sidelines.

"It was awesome to play for Coach Alvarez," Phillips said. "I just hate the fact that we couldn't get him another [Rose Bowl win]."

The Hollywood ending would have seen the Badgers carry Alvarez off on their shoulders in triumph. But this story is one that keeps repeating itself.

Stanford keys for Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Three keys for Stanford in today’s Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio:

1. Be yourself: The Cardinal got to this point by doing what they do best -- dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and playing hard-nosed, power football. Offensively, it’s power left, power right, rinse, repeat. Once that’s been established on offense, the middle is usually nice and open for tight end Zach Ertz on the play-action passes. Sure, there may be a wrinkle or two, and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton might window dress a couple of things. But in the end, the Cardinal should feed Stepfan Taylor 20-25 times and let him do what he’s done exceptionally well for the past three seasons. Defensively, it’s stop the run first and foremost. That presents a challenge, considering Wisconsin is led by Montee Ball, the Doak Walker award winner, who rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

2. The Hogan factor: What Kevin Hogan has brought to the Stanford offense is the ability to make plays with his legs and move the pocket. While Taylor will get plenty of touches, Hogan’s feet enable the Cardinal to run more bootlegs and a read-option package that keeps defenses guessing. He won’t be the centerpiece of the running game -- nor should he be with Taylor and a capable stable backing him up. But don’t be surprised to see a handful of designed runs for Hogan. Plus, if something isn’t there downfield, you’ll probably see a few runs by Hogan that aren’t by design. He’s proven to be an apt scrambler and has a knack for picking up first downs.

3. Penetrate: One of the things that makes Stanford’s front seven so talented is that it can usually get pressure with just four defenders, which frees up the linebackers to either create tackles for a loss, sacks or wreak general havoc in the backfield. Plus, if the Cardinal are able to get penetration early without sending extra blitzers, it opens up the defensive playbook later in the game for stunts and blitzes that the Badgers haven’t seen yet. Stanford leads the nation with 56 sacks, which is the most of any team since the NCAA started keeping it as a team record in 2005. The less they can do without getting too exotic early, the better off they are. But if that four-man rush is established, the occasional blitz should keep the Badgers off balance.

Pregame: Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Stanford (11-2) vs. Wisconsin (8-5)

Who to watch: The running backs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball -- the Doak Walker award winner -- and Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor -- a three-time 1,000-yard rusher -- are two of the best in the game. Both are the engines that make their respective machines go. Each team will work furiously to establish a running game. So while you are watching two of the elite running backs in the country, keep an eye on the lines as well -- because how each team’s big boys do will go a long way toward determining how the running backs do.

What to watch: For sure, the fourth quarter. These two teams have combined to play six overtime games, Stanford has had to overcome ties or deficits six times in the fourth quarter, and Wisconsin has lost all five of its games by a combined 19 points (four field goals and a touchdown). If this game is a microcosm of these teams’ seasons, then there should be high drama up until the final play.

Why to watch: Aside from the fact that it’s the Granddaddy, this game is oozing with subplots. You have Barry Alvarez making his return to coaching -- although for just one game. You have Stanford playing in its third consecutive BCS bowl game (Wisconsin as well, for that matter) even after the departure of Andrew Luck and a midseason quarterback change from Josh Nunes to Kevin Hogan. You have a Wisconsin team that some say backed into the Rose Bowl, and you have mirror teams with nearly identical philosophies.

Predictions: In case you missed it Tuesday morning, you can see the predictions from Pac-12 bloggers Kevin Gemmell and Ted Miller here. This is what the Big Ten bloggers are thinking.
LOS ANGELES -- When he first got into coaching, Jim Harbaugh used to talk about conversations he had with his former Michigan coach, Bo Schembechler, regarding how he wanted to run an offense. How would he use the tight end, Schembechler would ask. Would he use double tights? Would the fullback and tight end work in conjunction? The answers were: A lot, yes and yes. It was vintage Big Ten thinking through and through.

True, the 2012 edition of Stanford that will take the field Tuesday against Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio might have a healthy dusting of a classic Big Ten team; run the football, stop the run. In the offense-happy Pac-12, that breaks the mold a bit. But just because you want to run the ball and stop the run first and foremost doesn’t mean you fall into into any stereotypical classification.

“That’s just football,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. “I don’t know if that’s a traditional Big Ten team or not. To me, that’s just how you play football.”

Spoken like a veteran Big Ten coach.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireStanford coach David Shaw said the Cougars were one of the most physical team the Cardinal faced last year and he expects more of the same when they meet on Saturday.
The Cardinal play a brand of ball that does seem better suited for the Schembechler days than the modern spread, chuck-it-around game. But it works for them -- as evidenced by their third straight appearance in a BCS bowl game and 2012 Pac-12 championship. And that’s all that matters.

“Growing up and watching a lot of Big Ten football, it’s run the football, defend the run and do everything else after that,” Stanford defensive end and Wisconsin native Ben Gardner said. “That’s basically what we do. It’s what we’ve done for the last few years. It’s a little different now without Andrew Luck playing quarterback. But we still feel like we’ve got the playmakers on offense to have a passing game and add that dimension. The basis of what we do is run the football and stop the run and that’s always what we do here.

“That’s what makes this a great matchup because that’s what Wisconsin does, too. And that’s been the style of football in the Big Ten. Coming from the Midwest I love it. It’s the kind of game I want to play and it’s the kind of game our defense wants to play. We couldn’t be more excited about it.”

When Harbaugh and current Stanford head coach David Shaw left the University of San Diego for The Farm, they started mapping out what they wanted the team to look like. Not just in 2007, but in 2012, ’13 and beyond.

“He asked me about [former coach] Denny Green,” Shaw recalled. “I said, well my dad was defensive coordinator. We played great defense. We had great athletes on offense that we moved to defense and we had Tommy Vardell on the offensive side and Ed McCaffrey. So at the time we had the biggest offensive line in college football in the early ‘90s and that was Jim’s mentality. I told him it has worked at Stanford before.

“We talked about how it came with recruiting and it seemed like a perfect fit. When everybody else was running sideways in the conference, we started running north and south with really big guys and physical guys like Toby Gerhart, Jimmy Dray blocking on the right side. There were just so many things that fit perfectly and we’ve been able to continue to recruit to what we want to do.”

But there are limitations to just how “Big Ten” Stanford can really be. Because it doesn’t play in the Big Ten. It plays in the Pac-12, where stud wide receivers are plentiful, quarterbacks are slingers and half the teams have a 1,000-yard rusher. So simply stopping the run isn’t good enough.

“I think it's a fair comparison [to the Big Ten] when you talk about the style of ball,” Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. “Defensively we're predicated on stopping the run. Most of the Big Ten is predicated on stopping the run. But I think the comparison probably stops there. We still generally have to defend the pass because everybody in our conference, when you talk about SC or UCLA or talk about Arizona, when you talk about Washington State and what [Mike] Leach is doing up there in Washington, there is not a team in the Pac-12 that doesn't have a receiver that can go get them in the distance.

“…It is blue collar, and that's what we want to be," Mason continued. "We try to recruit to who we are. We can't be like the rest of the other teams in the Pac-12. Don't want to be. Coach Shaw made that clear when he took over. We're going to be us and continue to do what we do and I think that served us well. So we're going to stay in our mold, and hopefully that continues to be a great brand of football.”

Stanford ready for another elite RB

December, 28, 2012
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LOS ANGELES -- Stanford’s defense has to face yet another Doak Walker finalist. Heck, that’s just another day at the office.

In fact, this is the fourth straight game that the Cardinal will be seeing one of the three finalists for the award given to the nation’s top running back. Only this time, they are facing the guy who brought home the hardware.

First, they held Oregon’s Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards on 21 carries. Then in they kept UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries. In the Pac-12 title game, also against UCLA, Franklin had a monster game, rushing for 194 yards on 19 carries. But hey, these guys are Doak Walker finalists for a reason, right?

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsStanford has already faced Doak Walker finalists Kenjon Barner and Johnathan Franklin. In the Rose Bowl it gets Doak Walker winner Montee Ball.
Now the Cardinal will complete the Tour de Doak when they take on winner Montee Ball and the Wisconsin Badgers on New Year’s Day in the Rose Bowl presented by Vizio. And Ball knows the Stanford front seven is as advertised.

“They're very physical,” he said. “They're big. They're big up front. The linebackers are very physical. They play extremely smart, which allows for them to make great plays … They're a lot faster than people think and they'll shock you at times because they're great athletes.”

To win the Doak Walker award, you have to be a pretty good athlete as well. And Ball is that. He’s rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 133.1 yards per game.

“First off, he's a great runner behind his pads,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.” It really goes unnoticed, but every time he gets hit, he falls forward 5 more yards, which makes a big difference, because you're looking at second-and-7 or second-and-5, for the dynamic of what you're doing from an offensive perspective. He's elusive, and I think he's faster this year than he has been in years past. So he's definitely going to be terrific competition for us.”

Of course, this isn’t anything the Cardinal haven’t seen in the past. Stanford boasts the nation’s No. 3 rush defense and is allowing just 87.69 yards per game. Considering the competition they’ve faced (let’s not forget to include consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey from Arizona in there as well) that’s an awfully impressive season-long statistic.

“They do a good job,” said Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “They're well-coached. They are. It's not clinic talk. They're gap sound. Each week, I think we can do this. Some weeks it works, some weeks it doesn't. There's always a chink. I'm sure they've watched us for a month; this is how they're going to attack us. I'm sure they're right. But they're well coached, smart football players. They do a lot and their kids don't make mistakes.”

Just because Stanford has seen three All-Americans during the course of its season, it doesn’t mean they can take Ball or the Wisconsin rushing attack lightly.

“When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country, Doak Walker Award winner,” said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. “He's got speed, size, and great vision. Finds seams and creases, and the one thing that he's been able to do is get better as games have gone on. So I think this group is formidable. They're probably one of the best that we'll see all year, and that presents a challenge.”

Wisconsin is also giving Stanford its due respect. But they aren't going to be intimidated by the numbers.

"I think it's going to be a much different test," said Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. "I can't say it's going to be tougher. Their defense has done tremendous things and they deserve to be ranked where they are ... It's going to be a little bit different, but I think it's going to be a comparable challenge, and potentially a greater challenge."

Ball, Taylor deserve Rose Bowl spotlight

December, 28, 2012
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The Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio features the FBS all-time touchdown king and the leading rusher in Stanford history. Running backs Montee Ball and Stepfan Taylor undoubtedly command the lion's share of the attention from each defense.

Yet neither star may be getting enough attention from the public at large.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Richard Mackson/USA Today SportsMontee Ball focused on his production after contact this season. Wise move. He enters the Rose Bowl with 21 TDs.
That's a strange thing to say about the 2012 Doak Walker Award winner (Wisconsin's Ball) and a three-year starter playing in his second straight BCS game (the Cardinal's Taylor). But are we sure we truly appreciate the accomplishments of both men?

Ball has received plenty of acclaim for his record 82 career touchdowns (76 of them rushing, also a record). Still, he'll end his career having never finished higher than fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting (2011), something future college football historians may have trouble believing. After a slow start this year that was due in part to a preseason assault and a struggling offensive line, Ball was labeled by some as a major disappointment. Such a claim looks ludicrous now for a player who rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns.

There are critics who will always be leery of a Wisconsin running back's numbers, believing they are merely a product of the Badgers' powerful offensive line opening massive holes that any decent athlete could run through. In some ways, then, Ball had a better season this year than in 2011, when he led the nation in rushing and tied an FBS record with 39 touchdowns. His running lanes were smaller, and he concentrated more on creating yards after contact.

"The thing that makes Montee so special is that he attacks the line of scrimmage," Wisconsin offensive line coach Bart Miller said. "He gets the ball and runs with fire. He runs the way we play offensive line, and guys love that. We don't want a guy who tiptoes along the line of scrimmage. We want a guy who attacks it, runs a guy over, makes him miss. All those kinds of things are what Montee does."

If Ball is underappreciated, then Taylor is criminally undervalued. He was overshadowed in his own backfield the past couple of years by Andrew Luck. This season, he carried the offense at times as it went through the post-Luck transition and reworked its offensive line, finishing with 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he had a hard time gaining notice even in his own conference, as the Pac-12 had other outstanding running backs such as UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, Oregon's Kenjon Barner and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireWith a new quarterback and an offensive line in transition, RB Stepfan Taylor fueled Stanford's offense this season.
Franklin and Barner joined Ball as Doak Walker finalists, while Taylor got shut out. As fate would have it, Taylor will finish his career going head-to-head against those three finalists in his final four games (Stanford played UCLA twice). He outgained Barner 161-66 in the win over Oregon. He had 142 yards to Franklin's 65 in the first UCLA game, though Franklin ran for 194 to Taylor's 78 in the Pac-12 title game. More important, the Cardinal won both meetings.

"Stepfan is the kind of guy who would say he doesn't even know who's up for those awards," Stanford running backs coach Mike Sanford said. "But I remind him."

The Cardinal bill Taylor as "the most complete back in America," one who never comes off the field and who excels in pass protection and blocking as well as carrying the ball. Sanford points out that Taylor has fumbled only twice in 340 touches this season. The Cardinal pride themselves on being a physical team, and Taylor helps give them that identity on offense.

"He's the steady rock for us," Sanford said. "Even if things weren't flowing early in the season, we knew he'd be able to almost will himself to keep the chains moving. Very few backs in college football are as well-rounded as him."

Ball and Taylor share much in common. They're each listed at 5-foot-11 and 215 pounds. They're both workhorses -- Ball leads all active FBS players with 900 career carries, while Taylor ranks third with 823.

"When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "He's got speed, size and great vision. Very much like Stepfan Taylor."

Both will be the undisputed stars of this Rose Bowl. And both deserve every bit of the spotlight.

Video: Beau Allen on Rose Bowl prep

December, 27, 2012
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Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen talks about Stanford's offense and the team's preparations for the Rose Bowl.
Bret BielemaHarry How/Getty ImagesBret Bielema's Badgers ran out of timeouts and could not stop the clock for one last play.
PASADENA, Calif. -- After a 45-38 loss to Oregon, Wisconsin was left to wonder what might have been; not just in the Rose Bowl but in its season as a whole.

The Badgers could have played for the national title if not for a loss on a Hail Mary pass at Michigan State and another long passing touchdown in the final seconds at Ohio State. The team rebounded to make it to Pasadena, only to lose in another heartbreaking manner.

The weirdness of the finishes had at least one player wondering if there was some sort of voodoo going on.

"Something must have happened with this team before the season," running back Montee Ball said. "It's just terrible luck. If you take a minute off our season, we'd probably be undefeated."

This time, Wisconsin got the ball back with 16 seconds left at its own 13, needing a touchdown. Russell Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis and a 33-yarder to Nick Toon to put the ball at the Oregon 25 with two seconds left. One problem: the Badgers were out of timeouts. The offense hustled to the line, and Wilson snapped and spiked the ball as soon as the officials whistled it ready for play. But the game clock ran down to zero, and after an official review, the game was ruled over.

Wilson threw up his hands in confusion and outrage when there was not a second put back on the clock.

"I didn't think there was any way that two full seconds ran off the clock there," he said. "They made the call and it is what it is. We could have won the game in a lot of areas, too, but it would have been nice to have a chance there. Obviously with one second left, I think we could have capitalized."

Head coach Bret Bielema said there was no thought to try and run a play instead of going for the spike. Wisconsin put itself in a tough position by calling two timeouts early in the third quarter, something Bielema could get criticized for.

The first timeout was called on first down from the Oregon 14 in the first few minutes of the second half. Bielema ran down the sidelines and onto the field screaming for the timeout there. Bielema said that was a busted formation where a wide receiver lined up on the wrong side. The Badgers ended up settling for a field goal on that drive.

The second timeout came with 10:45 left after Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas hesitated on whether to bring a kickoff return out of the end zone before kneeling down very close to the line. Replays showed that Thomas' foot was on the goal line, though the ball never completely crossed the plane. A replay reversal could have pinned the Ducks inside their own 1 or even ruled the play a safety.

"I was trying to get a read from my sideline official if we could review forward momentum," Bielema said. "He didn't understand the question where I was at, and that's why they charged me a timeout.

"They knew that what I was trying to get answered was answered the proper way, so they came back and gave me another timeout instead of using the challenge."

Ironically, Bielema was questioned for calling timeouts at the end of the Michigan State loss, which ended up giving the Spartans enough time to pull off the Hail Mary. Who knows if having another timeout would have changed things against Oregon, but the Badgers had their guts ripped out again.

"My stomach kind of fell," linebacker Chris Borland said. "We've been through that before. You hate to see a game determined by a review."

A review of Wisconsin's 2011 season will find several weird finishes. Could it have ended any other way in the Rose Bowl?
De'Anthony ThomasKelvin Kuo/US PresswireDe'Anthony Thomas ripped off two huge runs against a Wisconsin defense that gave up 621 yards.
PASADENA, Calif. -- The simple storyline coming out of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO will likely be that Wisconsin simply wasn't fast enough to beat Oregon.

Plenty of evidence would support that conclusion. Never in the 98 years of the Rose Bowl has a team averaged as much as 9.7 yards per play, as the Ducks did in their 45-38 win. Oregon racked up 621 total yards and had scoring plays of 91, 64, 54 and 41 yards as Badgers defenders often hopelessly chased from behind.

Wisconsin players bristled at the notion that they couldn't run with Oregon, and not surprisingly. They've heard the too-slow critique for years and have won enough games to disprove much of it. They preferred to blame Monday's defensive performance on things like "gap accountability," missed assignments and just plain brain cramps.

"I think we lost our mind on some plays," defensive end Louis Nzegwu said.

Fans and media are often guilty of not thinking clearly when trying to explain a team's losses. Wisconsin has now dropped two straight Rose Bowls by the thinnest of margins, and there will be those who try to diagnose why the program "can't win the big one." It's the same stuff Oregon heard until late Monday evening. Never mind that the Ducks lost close games in their last two BCS losses, or that the Badgers might be celebrating a second straight Rose win if just a couple of plays had gone differently.

Yet if there's anything the past two Rose Bowls have taught us -- and especially this one -- it's that Wisconsin needs more difference-makers on defense.

That doesn't necessarily mean more speed, though that wouldn't hurt. Even though De'Anthony Thomas and LaMichael James spent a lot of time gliding down the field alone or with a friendly escort, the Badgers didn't come away thinking they couldn't keep up with the Ducks.

"I thought they were fast, but I thought we matched them pretty well," safety Aaron Henry said. "Whenever we did what we were supposed to do, we got off the field. When we allowed them to run through holes without being touched, they took advantage of it."

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema used the month of preparation to simulate Oregon's accelerated pace as much as possible. The defense faced two scout team offenses at once during practice and went through extra conditioning work to get ready for the up tempo.

It turned out that didn't play much of a factor. The Ducks often didn't go at warp speed with their snaps. They just scored really quickly. Two examples were particularly galling for Wisconsin.

The Badgers had pinned the ball with a punt on the Oregon 9-yard-line late in the first quarter, only to have Thomas rip off a Rose-record 91-yard touchdown. On the first series after halftime when adjustments should have been fine tuned, the Ducks scored in just 33 seconds on a 64-yard Thomas run.

"With a month to prepare, we shouldn't have had problems like that," linebacker Mike Taylor said. "Their mixing up of formations and things they do get you off of your keys. But there's really no excuse for it."

Oregon averaged 8.6 yards per rush -- another Rose record -- and quarterback Darron Thomas threw for 268 yards, his third-highest total of the season. Wisconsin only sacked him twice and did not stop much of anything outside of the Ducks' screen game.

"What hurt us was the play-action pass," Nzegwu said. "We respected their run, and when some of our D-ends hit the edge we couldn't tell whether it was a run or pass. We kept on following the running back, and that kind of hurt our pass rush."

What also hurts is a lack of defenders who can blow up plays on their own. Nzegwu returned a fumble Taylor caused by a hit on Thomas, and Henry came up with an interception. But there were too few other impact plays. Oregon has lost under coach Chip Kelly when it has faced teams with standout defensive line and other disruptive presences, like Nick Fairley of Auburn or Tyrann Mathieu of LSU. The Badgers have many good defensive players -- Taylor and fellow linebacker Chris Borland were All-Big Ten selections -- but not enough stars or blue-chip NFL prospects.

The program has shown it can produce those types of players. Defensive end J.J. Watt won the Lott Trophy last year and just wrapped up a strong rookie regular season for the Houston Texans. Even with Watt last year, though, Wisconsin struggled to contain TCU's skill players in a 21-19 Rose Bowl loss.

Wisconsin is known for offensive studs like quarterback Russell Wilson and Montee Ball and those NFL offensive linemen; Bielema's next challenge is to attract and develop similarly elite talent on the other side of the ball. Wisconsin may have to rely more on its defense next year without Wilson, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and most likely Ball.

It's true that Oregon will make a lot of teams look slow when its offense is clicking. But it's also true that teams don't win many BCS games by giving up 621 yards and 45 points.

"We didn't even challenge them on two or three of their scores, and nobody can win doing that," Bielema said.

The Badgers were just a couple plays short of winning every game they played this season, so a major overhaul is not in order. A few more defensive difference-makers, however, could have changed those outcomes.

Video: Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry

January, 2, 2012
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ESPN.com's Brian Bennett talks with Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry following the Badgers' loss in the Rose Bowl.

Video: Breaking down Oregon's win

January, 2, 2012
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ESPN.com's Brian Bennett, Ted Miller and Gene Wojciechowski break down Oregon's win over Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl.

Video: Wisconsin center Peter Konz

January, 2, 2012
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Wisconsin center Peter Konz talks about his team's maturity, second-half adjustments and the Badgers' Rose experience.

Video: Wisconsin Rose Bowl wrap

January, 2, 2012
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Brian Bennett wraps up Wisconsin's loss in the Rose Bowl.
PASADENA, Calif. -- Montee Ball's incredible year ended with another huge performance in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. Now the Wisconsin star looks ready to take on his next challenge.

Ball, a junior, said he made his decision on whether or not to enter the draft on Dec. 31, and the outcome of the game did not affect it. He declined to share what he'll do but said he will announce his intentions in the next 48 to 72 hours. He has already told a few teammates.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIRERemember the big-game feel of this past Rose Bowl between Wisconsin and Oregon? That anticipation could diminish with a new playoff system set.
"Basically, I looked myself in the mirror and told myself what I needed to do for me, what I needed to do for my family and for my teammates," Ball said. "And that's what it came down to."

Ball sounded like a guy who's leaving when he talked about the 45-38 loss, saying that the film from the game would help make the Badgers stronger, then adding "the players that are coming back."

He has very little left to prove. Ball ran for 164 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries against Oregon. His 3-yard plunge into the end zone in the second quarter gave him 39 for the season, tying Barry Sanders' record for the most in one season.

In a game with so many points, it's kind of hard to believe Ball only scored once. He said he was looking forward to breaking the record, but is happy to have tied the legendary Sanders, who tweeted his congratulations to Ball during the game.

"We'll share it together," said Ball, whose 39 touchdowns came in three more games than Sanders'. "My name will be mentioned along with Barry Sanders, and that's an honor."

Ball finished with 1,923 rushing yards this season, most in the nation. If his college career really is over, his 2011 season will long be remembered.

Ball had 122 of his yards in the first half and looked to be on the way to an even more remarkable performance. But Oregon was able to slow down the Wisconsin running game in the second half.

"They did a great job of having the safeties come down fast and meeting me in the hole," Ball said. "Within 3 yards, they'd be right in front of me. Props to them for adjusting their defense."

PASADENA, Calif. -- Instant analysis from Rose Bowl Stadium where No. 5 Oregon defeated No. 10 Wisconsin 45-38:

How the game was won: Both teams traded scores and major momentum swings. But Oregon had just a little too much speed at its skill positions for Wisconsin's defense to match. As the Badgers slowed down with just 10 points in the second half, the Ducks were able to eke out a close victory thanks to a couple of key turnovers. Everyone thought this could be a shootout, and we weren't disappointed by one of the most entertaining Rose Bowls ever. Oregon just had a little bit more explosiveness.

Turning point: Wisconsin had the ball with a chance to tie the score, and Russell Wilson completed a 29-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis inside the Oregon 30. But Terrance Mitchell knocked the ball free near the sideline, and the Ducks recovered with 4:04 left. Even though Oregon's quick-strike offense isn't built to bleed the clock, the Ducks picked up a couple of first downs to leave Wisconsin with less than a minute to drive the field. The Badgers had two big second-half turnovers, including Wilson's interception near the end of the third quarter, just his fourth of the season. That was enough in a game where stops were at a premium.

Stat of the game: The two teams combined for 1,130 total yards. Oregon averaged 9.7 yards per play.

Player of the game: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. He didn't get a lot of touches but made the most of them. He had a 91-yard and a 64-yard touchdown run to finish with 155 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Honorable mention to quarterback Darron Thomas (17-of-23 for 269 yards and three touchdowns, with an interception) and running back LaMichael James (25 carries for 159 yards and a score). James moved into second place on the Pac-12's career rushing list.

Unsung hero of the game: Oregon receiver Lavasier Tuinei did not have a great season but came up huge in the Rose Bowl. He finished with eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns, with several drive-extending grabs.

Second guessing: Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema burned two timeouts early in the third quarter, one to try and challenge a kick return that De'Anthony Thomas almost downed outside of his own end zone. That left the Badgers unable to stop the clock late when they had a chance to tie the score. Wilson spiked the ball at the 25-yard-line after a long completion with two seconds left, but the officials ruled that there was no time left for another play. Bielema was also questioned after taking timeouts before the Hail Mary that Michigan State completed in an earlier loss this season.

What it means: Oregon won its first Rose Bowl since 1917 and proved it could win a BCS game after losing close ones the previous two years. Head coach Chip Kelly will no longer be questioned about winning big games. Bielema could continue to hear that criticism after his team suffered its second straight heartbreaking Rose Bowl loss. Without Wilson and most likely Montee Ball next season, Wisconsin might have missed a window to do something special this season. Oregon should be a top 5 team to start next season even if James goes pro, as both Thomases and Kenjon Barner return to form a strong nucleus

Record performance: The 83 combined points were the most in Rose Bowl history, eclipsing the 80 points combined between Washington and Iowa in 1991. Oregon and Wisconsin also set records for the most points scored in the first quarter (28) and in any half (56) in Rose Bowl history.

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