Pac-12: 2012-rose-bowl-keys

Wisconsin keys for the Rose Bowl

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

1. Open it up: Wisconsin is Wisconsin, so of course the Badgers are going to do everything they can to run the ball. But even their offensive line is going to have trouble simply lining up and ramming the ball down Stanford's throat. The Cardinal are one of the most physical, fundamentally sound teams in the country and had the third-best run defense in the FBS. Wisconsin does not want to get into third-and-long situations in this game, because that's when Stanford -- which led the nation in sacks and tackles for loss -- can really wreak havoc. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada drew up a dynamic, diverse game plan for the Big Ten championship game and will need to do so again to keep the Cardinal guessing. Is there anything left in the playbook after that Nebraska game? "There's always more left," Canada said last week. "We can draw up plays for days and days." It's quite likely that quarterback Curt Phillips will have to make more plays and probably will have to throw more than the eight pass attempts he had against the Huskers. And Joel Stave, now healthy, could factor in as well. Wisconsin's bread and butter remains the running game, with Montee Ball, James White and X factor Melvin Gordon. But the Badgers will likely need more than that to solve the Stanford defense.

2. Stop Stepfan: Stanford's offense is more than just running back Stepfan Taylor. The emergence of Kevin Hogan at quarterback late in the season made the Cardinal more multidimensional, and you have to always watch out for their tight ends, especially Zach Ertz. But Taylor is still the engine that drives the offense, and Wisconsin would much rather see Hogan throw the ball around than deal with Stanford's powerful running game all day. The good news: The Badgers were very good against the run this year as well, ranking 22nd in the nation in stopping the rush. They are stout in the middle of the defensive line, though star linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will have their hands full with those tight ends. Wisconsin also does a good job of making opponents earn every yard down the field; in Big Ten play, opponents had only four total plays of 30 or more yards versus Chris Ash's defense. In Stanford's two losses, Taylor averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, more than a yard below his average. If the Badgers can make him work that hard for yards today, they will have a great chance.

3. Finish: Wisconsin knows all about coming up a play short in the Rose Bowl. A failed two-point conversion made the difference in a 21-19 loss to TCU two years ago, while last year's 45-38 setback against Oregon ended with Russell Wilson begging for another second on the Ducks' 25. But the Badgers don't even have to remember that far back to know close-game heartache. Of course, they lost four games by exactly three points, five by a total of 19 points and three in overtime. They probably would have lost every meaningful close game had Utah State made an easy field goal. It's highly unlikely that Wisconsin will blow out Stanford like it did against Nebraska, so any victory will probably have to include finishing off a close game for the first time since September. It doesn't help that the team's kicking game has been pretty bad; the Badgers were a Big Ten-worst 10-of-18 on field goals this year, and Kyle French missed key tries in the overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State to end the regular season. But here is why Wisconsin fans have hope that a close game might finally go their way in Pasadena: Barry Alvarez will be making the late-game decisions.

Rose Bowl: Three keys for Oregon

January, 1, 2012
Let's look at three keys for Oregon in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin on Monday.

1. Win the battle of styles: At first, this was going to be: "Run and stop the run." But the key for Oregon might be flexibility. What the Ducks want is to get their fast players -- LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff -- into space and put pressure on Wisconsin to make one-on-one tackles. The Badgers' defense is sound and physical, but it's not terribly fast. Think Stanford. It doesn't matter how the Ducks get their speed guys into space, either through passes or runs; it just matters to get them there and let them do their thing. On the other side of the ball, Oregon's defense must find a way to create negative plays that take Wisconsin out of its comfort zone. The Badgers might gain 6 yards on five consecutive runs, but if they 2 lose two on first down, the Ducks' defense has a much better chance to get a stop. Second- and third-and-long turns the advantage from Wisconsin's size to the Ducks' speed.

2. Be special: Based on the regular season, Oregon is better on special teams. Punt and kick returns are where speedy players can make slower teams look bad. Wisconsin is 81st in the nation defending kickoff returns, and Thomas has gone yard twice this season. A special-teams touchdown could be a game-changer. Also, in terms of field position, Oregon is No. 1 in the nation in net punting while Wisconsin is 71st. In a tight game, special teams often make a difference in spectacular and subtle ways. This is an area where the Ducks would seem to have an advantage.

3. Clean sheet: While the national story from Oregon's opening loss to LSU was all that SEC size and speed overwhelming the Ducks, the secondary story was turnovers and penalties. The Ducks lost the turnover battle 4-1 -- LSU returned one fumble for a touchdown -- and had 12 penalties for 95 yards, including a pair of phantom "leg whip" penalties that if anybody saw those called in any other game this year, please email me. LSU was the better team -- after watching the Tigers this season, it's impossible to say otherwise -- but the Ducks made things easy for them. Wisconsin isn't LSU, but it will win this game easily if the Ducks lose the turnover battle 4-1 and get 95 yards in penalties. You can be almost certain that the Badgers aren't going to be sloppy; their eight turnovers are fewest in the nation. So the Ducks also need a clean afternoon. If the turnover tally is 0-0 or 1-1, Oregon should be in good shape.