Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Opposite offenses could attract Rose record
By Brian Bennett
When they paint the end zones at Rose Bowl Stadium, they might want to consider a second coat. Because there's a pretty good chance Oregon and Wisconsin could end up trampling lots of colored grass under their cleats.
On paper, at least, this matchup has the potential to surpass the record 80 combined points that Iowa and Washington put up in the 1991 Rose Bowl game. The Ducks average a little more than 46 points per game, while Wisconsin is just a hair under 45 points a contest. Each team has scored at least 50 points four times this season and has broken the 45-point barrier seven times.
Bowl games between a pair of high-scoring teams are nothing new, of course. What sets this one apart, though, is how radically different both styles are and how difficult each may be for the other to slow down.
Wisconsin's big and athletic front line opened holes for Montee Ball all season.
"The great thing about this matchup is it's kind of like the direct opposites of offensive philosophy," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Obviously, Chip [Kelly] and Oregon like to score at a very rapid rate, and we like to hold the ball and score as often as possible for the most amount of time. It's a very unique situation, and something that we're excited about."
Boil the contrast down to the essence, and you have Oregon's warp-speed spread attack versus the Badgers' Midwestern brute force. It's not nearly that simplistic, but for the purposes of the next couple of paragraphs, let's follow that narrative.
The Ducks would like to snap the ball before the officials remove the pigskins from the equipment case, if that were possible. They try to hit you with as many plays in a short amount of time as the laws of physics allow. Oregon has 41 touchdown drives this season that have lasted two minutes or less and 13 that have taken less than a minute. Their last-place FBS ranking in time of possession is a source of pride.
Even though the Big Ten is more familiar with 21st-century offenses than casual fans believe, nothing in its league can quite prepare Wisconsin for what's coming.
"We've seen some spread offenses like Michigan that used to be like that," Badgers defensive end Patrick Butrym said. "But they didn't move nearly as fast. It's unbelievable. I've never seen anything like it."
Wisconsin doesn't have Phil Knight or flashy uniforms, and the team's main offensive strength -- its offensive line -- isn't exactly sexy. But the Badgers can be equally effective, as Kelly knows from watching some Big Ten games during pregame breakfast on the West Coast.
"It just seems like it's a pinball number sometimes when you're watching Wisconsin games," Kelly said.
And the offensive line provides the paddle. The front five is massive at an average of more than 320 pounds per man, and that doesn't include the fullback and tight ends that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst often employs to bludgeon people with the ground game. Wisconsin averages nearly seven minutes of possession per game more than Oregon and has had 11 scoring drives of five minutes or more this season.
But it's not just size that overwhelms opponents. The Badgers' big uglies are shockingly athletic, and defenses often aren't ready for that until a guard pulls and plows open a gaping hole for star running back Montee Ball. Just as teams can't adequately simulate Oregon's speed, they can't exactly find scout-teamers who can duplicate Wisconsin. Kelly said that while the Ducks have faced beefy, pro-style attacks from Stanford and USC, those Pac-12 teams don't also have a high-caliber back such as Ball.
"People know what we're going to do, but a lot of teams don't see our style of offense very often," left tackle Josh Oglesby said. "That's an advantage that allows us to really go after guys early and confuse them with some sets. We've got power and we really move. The way we do it, you don't see too often."
The offensive philosophies aren't complete opposites. If Oregon were merely a finesse team, it wouldn't be averaging a nation's best 6.5 yards per carry. LaMichael James may be a smaller back at 5-foot-9, but he's no fun to bring down. Wisconsin doesn't just plod away; with the dynamic Russell Wilson at quarterback, it has a dangerous play-action passing game that can occasionally quack like a Duck.
"When you look at our offense, it's unconventional in its own way," Wisconsin defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. "We've got some quick-strike ability with our quarterback and Montee Ball. We can score from anywhere on the field, also; it's just in a different way."
Projected high-scoring games often disappoint. Just look at last season's BCS games involving these two teams. According to statistics, the Oregon-Auburn BCS title game and the Wisconsin-TCU Rose Bowl matchup should each have been played in the 40-point range. The combined point total for both games: 81.
Something about this feels different, though, probably because the contrasting styles could give each side fits. Better apply that second coat of paint in the end zones just in case.