Pac-12: Aaron Henry

PASADENA, Calif. -- If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three here at Rose Bowl Stadium, we could be headed for a finish for the ages.

Wisconsin and Oregon traded punches and turnovers in the third quarter, and it remains anyone's game.

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas opened the half by burning Wisconsin for another big play, going 64 yards for a touchdown just three plays and 33 seconds after halftime. When Thomas turns the corner, it's lights out for the defense.

That looked like it might be dispiriting for the Badgers, but Russell Wilson led the team on two scoring drives, throwing a touchdown pass to Nick Toon after picking up two key third downs on the drive. An earlier Wisconsin field goal felt like a win for the Ducks' defense with the way this game has gone.

The Badgers' defense forced a rare three-and-out and came up with their second turnover of the game when Aaron Henry intercepted Darron Thomas on an overthrown third-and-long pass. But Wisconsin gave it right back on a Russell Wilson interception, just his fourth of the season. Oregon's Kiko Alonso came up with the pick.

Wilson was having a tremendous game in his first opportunity to play in a big bowl. That interception could cost him his quest to finish ahead of Baylor's Robert Griffin III for the NCAA single-season passing-efficiency record, though I'm sure all he wants is the win.

Surprisingly, it hasn't really been Oregon's pace that has bothered Wisconsin. It has been Oregon's speed and skill. And Wisconsin's passing game has been better than most people probably expected, though, that interception really hurt.

All the stars have shown up -- Wilson, Montee Ball, Thomas, LaMichael James. If the fourth quarter is anything like the first three, this could go down as one of the best Rose Bowls ever. And that's saying something.

Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio

December, 4, 2011
12/04/11
11:34
PM ET
Wisconsin Badgers (11-2) vs. Oregon Ducks (11-2)

Jan. 2, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Wisconsin take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: The memory of last year's 21-19 loss to TCU in the Rose Bowl helped motivate Wisconsin this offseason.

The Badgers made it their mission to get back to the BCS and change the outcome this year, a plan that was nearly derailed by two straight dispiriting October losses. But they battled back to clinch consecutive trips to Pasadena for the first time since the 1998-99 seasons. And the players say they're not satisfied just to get there.

"We didn't finish it right last year," safety Aaron Henry said. "To have a chance to go out there and finish off something is a truly amazing, special feeling."

It won't be easy. Oregon is one of only three teams in the country that scored more points than Wisconsin this season, and the Ducks' speed could cause major problems for a defense that struggled against swiftness in space at times this year.

The Badgers' best defense, though, could be its offense. Their imposing offensive line could wear on the smaller Ducks, and the ground game led by Montee Ball -- who needs just two more touchdowns to set the single-season FBS record -- will help keep Oregon's offense off the field. Quarterback Russell Wilson should thrive against a less physical defense than he faced in the Big Ten, and he embraces the big stage.

An NC State transfer, Wilson will be making his first BCS appearance. The rest of his teammates know the Rose Bowl well. They hope to find out what a Rose Bowl victory feels like.


Oregon take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: Oregon is headed to its third consecutive BCS bowl game and second Rose Bowl in three years. That's great, but the Ducks are 0-2 in those games, so the program is no longer just happy to be there. They need to win to climb another rung in the national pecking order.

The Ducks are not unlike previous varieties. They are again an offensive juggernaut, ranking third in the nation in scoring, fifth in rushing and sixth in total offense. Their relentless, up-tempo offense wears opposing defenses down and causes them to lose concentration and gap integrity. The perceived Achilles’ heel that will be tested, however, is this: Coach Chip Kelly has lost six times. In five of those losses, high-quality teams had extra time to prepare their defenses. Your turn, Wisconsin.

That's one take of the Ducks' opener against LSU in Cowboys Stadium. They lost 40-27 in large part because their rebuilt offensive line struggled with the Tigers’ front seven. Of course, Oregon fans will point to losing the turnover battle 4-1. And it's worth noting no other team scored as many points against the Tigers this year. Only West Virginia had more total yards against LSU.

After the LSU loss, Oregon mostly cruised. The marquee showdown at Stanford was underwhelming, as the Ducks' defense controlled Cardinal QB Andrew Luck and the offense just looked too fast for Stanford.

The win at Stanford put the Ducks back into the national title discussion. A week later, however, they were out with a 38-35 loss to USC, missing a late field goal for the tie as time expired. They bounced back with easy wins over Oregon State and UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game.

The Ducks' chief star is running back LaMichael James, the 2010 Doak Walker Award winner and the first back in conference history to rush for more than 1,500 yards three consecutive seasons. But there are plenty of weapons on offense, including multipurpose true freshman De'Anthony Thomas, backup running back Kenjon Barner and tight end David Paulson. The defense produced three first-team All-Pac-12 players and a second-teamer, so it's not a nameless bunch in conference circles. It's solid in most areas and ranks third in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game.

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