Pac-12: Rose Bowl keys 2012

Stanford keys for Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:30
AM ET
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.

Wisconsin keys for the Rose Bowl

January, 1, 2013
1/01/13
10:14
AM ET
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.

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