Sunday, January 1, 2012
Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Wisconsin
By Ted Miller
The Granddaddy looks like a heck of a matchup between high-powered teams that do things very differently but equally effectively.
WHO TO WATCH: LaMichael James. He's had a brilliant career and is likely off to the NFL after this last hurrah, but the one thing lacking on his résumé is a big-time performance in a big-time nonconference game. Against Ohio State in the 2010 Rose Bowl, Auburn in last year's national championship game and LSU in the 2011 season opener, he never rushed for more than 70 yards and averaged a combined 3.8 yards per carry. Most believe, however, that the Badgers' front seven and run defense as a whole are weaker than those of any of those aforementioned teams. James needs 122 yards rushing to pass former Oregon State running back Ken Simonton and move into second place on the conference's career rushing list. If he gets that, expect the Ducks' chances to go up considerably. Another thing: Despite not being much of a factor running the ball, James was a key receiver against Auburn and LSU, catching 10 passes for 100 yards with two touchdowns in those games. So watch for James getting short dumps in space to give him a chance to do his thing.
WHAT TO WATCH: Wisconsin's offense does everything well. For real. It is balanced and efficient and almost never turns the ball over. The Badgers' one issue: pass-blocking. They have given up 1.77 sacks per game this season, which ranks 73rd in the nation. Oregon ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game. The Badgers' passing game is based on effective play-action. So the first task is slowing down the Badgers' running game and getting them into third-and-long and obvious passing downs. If that happens, the Ducks likely will open up an exotic bag of Nick Aliotti blitzes and stunts, using their superior speed to keep the huge Badgers offensive line off-balance. But if the Badgers' running game is chewing up yards and leaving them with third-and-short, the value of an effective pass rush is muted significantly.
WHY WATCH: Because this feels like it's going to be a great game, for one. It's a true clash of styles: Wisconsin's power versus Oregon's speed. It's a traditional Rose Bowl between top-10 teams from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. And there will be plenty of star power on the field from James to Badgers running back Montee Ball to Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson. Finally, both teams are smarting because they've previously fallen short in BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost to TCU here last year. The Ducks have lost two BCS bowls in a row. Both are hungry to end talk that they "can't win the big one."
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Oregon 30. There are plenty of reasons to believe that Oregon will win. In the Big Ten championship game, a middling Michigan State team was able to make the Badgers' defense look slow on the perimeter. That's something that surely raised an eyebrow from Chip Kelly. This is not LSU's defense, or even Auburn's or Ohio State's. But Wisconsin's offense is the problem. It's power running, sure, but Wilson gives it an elite passing game. Expect a number of momentum shifts, but with the Badgers eventually grinding out a victory late in the fourth quarter. And, yes, a lot of this prediction is about the Ducks' needing to prove they can win one of these games. The Pac-12 blog is still smarting about picking the Ducks to win the national title game against Auburn -- and feeling an unusually high degree of certainty about it.