Rose Bowl Breakdown
The Rose Bowl has been coined the “granddaddy of them all” and this game should be an epic clash. The Pac 12 sends the mighty Oregon Ducks and the Big Ten sends the dynamic Wisconsin Badgers. Both teams are fresh off victories in their respective conferences inaugural championship game. This game looks to be fast paced and a great watch, as both teams have high powered offenses. Which team has the edge this year in Pasadena? Let’s break it down.
Quarterback Play- Looking at the Numbers:
What do you get when you mix two of premier athletic company names in the United States? Russell Wilson. Is there any surprise, with a name like that, Wilson is one of the top quarterbacks in the country? Wilson has it all, a strong arm, pinpoint accuracy, dangerous legs, and great intangibles. Wilson routinely makes smart decisions, whether it be to tuck and run, or pull up for a difficult throw. This transfer senior has had one of the elite statistical seasons of any quarterback. He tossed 31 touchdowns and was only picked off three times. He completed an outstanding 72.5 percent of his 284 passing attempts, accumulating 2,879 yards. Additionally, he tacked on 456 yards and five scores on the ground. He even reeled in a touchdown pass from running back Montee Ball! Opposing Wilson is the man that the Ducks rally around, junior quarterback Darron Thomas, who has hurled 30 scores on the year. He has only been intercepted a half dozen times. Thomas has been very efficient as well this season, completing 61.4 percent of his 316 passing attempts. His number has been called to carry the ball 50 times and he responded by totaling 294 yards and three touchdowns.
Both teams have very efficient passers who can make it happen with their legs and their arms. However, the Badgers have a very slight edge here as Wilson is more accurate and makes fewer mistakes. In a game as tightly contested as this one, an incompletion here or there, or an interception at any point in the game could be the difference. I like the Badgers chances of not making that crucial mistake with Wilson at the helm.
Skill Positions-Look at the Numbers:
Both of these teams have elite offenses and you cannot have an elite offense without talented skill players for the quarterback to deliver the ball too. Both teams boast one of the nation’s most feared running backs. The Badgers wield Montee Ball and the Ducks bring LaMicheal James to the battle field. In James, the Ducks have one of the nation’s most explosive players. He led the nation in rushing yards per game, but only totaled 1,709 yards due to missing two games to injury, which he suffered in a blowout win over California. James averages 7.4 yards per carry and has dashed into the end zone 17 times. He has done damage with his hands as well, reeling in 17 passes for an impressive 210 yards and one score. Montee Ball is not quite averaging what James is, at 135.31 yards per game, but his numbers are eye popping. Ball has rushed for 1,785 yards and averages 6.4 yards per carry. His 32 rushing touchdowns is tops in the nation. Add that to his six receiving touchdowns and that brings his total to a nation leading 38 touchdowns. That number is one shy of tying the great Barry Sanders for the most touchdowns in a collegiate football season. Ball, at the very least, should tie the record in this game. However don’t forget that back when Sanders scampered to the record, bowl games did not count towards your stats. That year, Sanders went wild and scored five touchdowns in his bowl game. Look out for Ball as a passer, as he has thrown two passes this year and has completed them both to quarterback Russell Wilson, one going for six. Do not be shocked if the Badgers have another trick play in store for this game.
Ball is paired with the talented sophomore James White, who quietly had a great season. He tallied 711 yards and six touchdowns. Mixed in with White, Ball, and Wilson are the talented receivers that make up the nucleus of this offense. Senior Nick Toon is Wilson’s go to man, bringing down 55 passes for 822 yards. Toon will look to score double digit touchdowns this year, as he is currently sitting at nine. Speedy sophomore Jared Abbrederis has exploded on the scene as well this year, reeling in 51 balls and totaling 814 yards. He caught seven touchdowns on the year. Abbrederis is also a dangerous return man, so watch for him when the Ducks kickoff or punt. When the Badgers get down in the red zone keep an eye out for sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen, who despite only having 29 catches on the year, has found the end zone eight times. The Badgers wield a wide variety of players, all with unique skill sets that mesh together behind one of the best offensive lines in the country to make up one of the highest scoring offenses in the nation.
When Oregon’s high flying offense chooses to throw the ball they lean on youth and experience with the combination of freshman running back, De’Anthony Thomas and senior wide out Lavasier Tuinei. Thomas is a nibble 5’9, 160 pounds and provides matchup problems for the defense. He has corralled a team high 42 receptions and has totaled 571 yards. He also has caught nine scores on the year. Sprinkle in his 53 carries for 440 yards and five scores and you have one of the Ducks most explosive players. This shifty and small back is countered by Tuinei, who has monster size, standing 6’5. Thanks to his size he is extremely difficult to defend. He has used his size to help him gather in 40 balls for 441 yards and eight scores. The Ducks other big threat is junior tailback Kenjon Barner. He has 145 carries on the year, going for 909 yards and 11 scores. That makes a three headed beast in the Duck’s backfield, and combined with Tuinei, makes this offense one of the most explosive and talented teams in the nation.
Although the Badgers have a tremendous offense and extremely talented skill players, it is hard to tell how good they really are when they are running behind such a great offensive line. The Ducks, on the other hand, have explosive and talented skill players that are perfect fits for their up tempo style of offense. Because of this I have to give the Ducks a very slight edge, as their skill players are slightly more explosive, in large part thanks to LaMicheal James, who is a threat to score any time he touches the ball.
Offensive Line Play:
The Badgers offensive line is massive, talented, and mauling. They are widely known for being one of the best units in the nation. They are led by probably the most talented center in the nation, redshirt junior Peter Konz, who is 6’5 and 315 pounds. Konz is extremely athletic and can make any block on any play. The Badgers are one of the few teams who can pull their center on a play and still make it work, which is major credit to Konz’ athletic ability. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Konz is listed as questionable for the Rose Bowl with a leg injury. The interior of the line is anchored by guards, redshirt sophomore Travis Frederick (6’4, 330) and senior Kevin Zeitler (6’4, 315) These two beasts give the Badgers a great push from the middle, and despite their enormous size, both are athletic enough to pull when asked to do so. The edge anchors on this line are senior right tackle Josh Oglesby (6’7, 330) and redshirt junior left tackle Ricky Wagner (6’6, 320). This gargantuan unit can overpower any defensive line and loves to run block. They are also very good in pass protection as well. This unit has been the glue to the Badgers success for decades, and this group of men is continuing the Wisconsin tradition, as they are the key that propelled the Badgers to 44.6 points per game.
The Ducks have some very big linemen as well. Oregon sends out senior left tackle Darrion Weems, who is 6’5, 302 pounds. Lining up opposite of Weems is right tackle Nick Cody. This junior stands at 6’5 and tips the scales at 301 pounds. The interior of their line is led by senior right guard Mark Asper who is extremely strong and physical. He uses every inch of 6’7 frame and every ounce of his 325 pound body to crush opponents. His bone crushing blocks are a big reason that the Ducks have such great success running the football. Next to Asper is redshirt freshman, center Hroniss Grasu (6’3, 291). Left guard Carson York (6’5, 292), another junior, completes the offensive line. This unit deservers a lot of credit for Oregon’s ability to rush for 295.7 yards per game and put up 46.2 points.
Both teams have great size and talent along the offensive line, but the Badgers have a slight edge here, especially if Peter Konz is able to go. This unit is one of the best in the nation and will certainly implement their will on the Oregon defense.
Defense-Looking at the Numbers:
The Ducks finished the regular season ranking 48th in points allowed, giving up 23.6 on average. However they have dominated some teams, like holding Missouri State to just seven points and basically shutting out Colorado, who recorded a safety for their only points. The group is led by junior defensive back John Boyett and senior linebacker Dewitt Stuckey. Boyett has tailed 56 solo tackles on the year, has six pass breakups, one interception and has blocked two kicks. Stuckey also has a nose for the ball, notching 39 solo tackles, three sacks, and even picking off a pass. Whenever the Badgers attempt to pass, watch out for fellow senior linebacker Josh Kaddu, who has a team high 6.5 sacks. The Badgers will have to make sure he is blocked at all times. Junior defensive lineman Dion Jordan has recorded the most tackles for a loss for the Ducks with 11 solo and four assisted. He is a guy the Badgers will certainly make sure is blocked at the point of attack and may possibly even double. When Oregon needs a big play, look for senior defensive back Eddie Pleasant to rise to the occasion with an interception. He has a team high three interceptions this year and has broken up eight passes. This unit will have all it can handle with the Badgers offense.
Attempting to slow down the Ducks offense will be a Badger defense that allows just 17 points per game, good for sixth best in the nation. This unit is led by a pair of talented and instinctive linebackers in junior Mike Taylor and sophomore Chris Borland. These two players finished 1-2 in the Big Ten in tackles and will be all over the field against the Ducks. Their job is to try to contain the explosive LaMicheal James and the rest of the talented rushing attack that Oregon employs. Borland collected 56 solo tackles and accumulated another 75 assisted tackles. He also has 12 solo and 12 assisted tackles for a loss, including one sack. Borland is also a big time playmaker for the Badgers, recording two interceptions, breaking up five passes, and forcing four fumbles. His partner in destruction is Mike Taylor who notched 53 solo tackles, and an additional 84 assisted tackles. Like Borland, he also has one sack and two interceptions on the year. These two linebackers will be on a crash course with the ball carrier in this epic Rose Bowl showdown. When the Badgers can force the Ducks to throw, they will turn to senior defensive lineman Louis Nzegwu to apply pressure on Darron Thomas. Nzegwu has four solo sacks on the year and one assisted. He has broken up two passes and forced a fumble as well. In the secondary the Badgers turn to junior defensive back Shelton Johnson to make big plays for them. Johnson has intercepted four passes and has broken up four passes as well. He has even forced a fumble. This unit is talented, but has been abused a few times this year.
Opponents have been able to gash both teams on the ground this year, which is convenient as both teams are run orientated. The Badgers pass defense is better than the Ducks, ranking third in the nation, allowing just 155 yards per games. The Badgers rank 8th in total defense as well. The Badgers get a slight edge here, as they have better linebackers, more playmakers, and a more solid unit overall. The Badgers also can stop the pass, something the Ducks struggle with. However this is just a slight edge, because let’s be honest, this game looks to be a shootout.
X Factors to Watch:
- 1. Win the Turnover Battle: The turnover battle is one of the most important stats in football and one of the best indicators of who is going to win the game. The Badgers rank 5th in the nation in turnover margin and the Ducks rank 18th. In a game that could be a track meet, a big play by the defense could be the difference, so it is imperative that both defenses are opportunistic and both offenses do not make mistakes.
- 2. Winning the Big Plays: When two evenly matched teams square off, it is said that many times the game is decided in six to ten plays. Obviously the more of these plays you win, the better your chances are. Converting on third down and red zone possessions are where most big plays occur. These plays can provide a huge momentum swing to the team that makes the play when it matters most.
- 3. Special Teams: In both of the Badgers losses, their special teams units cost them dearly. In the Big Ten championship game, the punt coverage team allowed a punt to be returned inside the five with seconds remaining that likely would have cost them the game had it not been brought back due to a running into the kicker penalty. Can the Ducks take advantage of the Badgers special teams miscues? Or will the Badgers get everything cleaned up over the bowl break. And for those of you who watched the Rose Bowl last year, the Badgers executed a fake punt, so pay attention to special teams in this matchup. They will prove extremely exciting and pivotal to the outcome.
- 4. Experience in a Battle: Both teams play in an elite conference and have played some very tough teams. The Badgers have tangled with ranked teams in Nebraska, Michigan State (twice) and Penn State. The Ducks have tussled with LSU, Arizona State, and Stanford. Although both teams have been pitted against very difficult opponents, when you dive in deeper you find a slight edge in playing in the heat of battle. The Ducks have played in only one close game all year, a November 19th loss at home to USC, whereas the Badgers have been locked into battles with Michigan State (twice) and Ohio State. Even the November 19th win at Illinois was a battle, as the Badgers found themselves trailing after a half of play. This game looks to be very close throughout and the Badgers are more accustomed to being in tight games. Will the Ducks be able to handle the close game? Or will they make a critical mistake to help the Badgers down the stretch? Then again, will the Badgers be able to make the plays in the fourth quarters? They have struggled defensively late in both of their losses, giving up Hail Mary’s to lose. Which team rises to the occasion and makes the play could be the difference between being surrounded in roses and walking away disappointed.
Keys to the Game
- 1. Dominate the line of scrimmage: If Oregon wants to win this game they will need to strap up and bring it on the front line. Both the offensive and defensive lines have major tasks and both need to win their respective battles. If the Ducks can control the line of scrimmage on offense, they will be able to do what they do best and run the football. It will also keep them out of obvious passing situations, which will help keep the offense efficient and prevent the chances of turnovers. Defensively, if the Ducks can win the battle up front, they will disrupt the Badgers offense that wants to establish the run. For the Badgers, the same holds true. If they can control the line of scrimmage on defense, they will disrupt the Oregon rushing attack and force Darron Thomas to throw the ball. If the Badgers offensive line can impose their will on the Oregon defense, the Badgers can control the clock and score in bunches.
- 2. LaMicheal James versus the Badgers defense: Yes, the entire Badgers defense versus LaMicheal James. The reason the entire defense needs to be ready against this guy is that he is utilized in a multitude of different ways. He will run outside, inside, and catch passes out of the backfield. Every player on the Badgers defense needs to know where #21 is on the field at all times. They all need to make sure they all pursue to the football on every play and never give up, as James can slip out of anything and break out a big play. Containing him needs to be the Badgers biggest priority.
- 3. Darron Thomas versus Russell Wilson: These two quarterbacks are very similar. They are both athletic, yet very accurate and efficient passers. Neither quarterback makes a lot of mistakes, but Thomas has thrown three more interceptions and has completed a lesser percentage of his passes. Which quarterback is able to play better throughout the entire game, particularly in obvious passing situations is key. Both quarterbacks have feasted off play action, as these two teams have such potent rushing attacks, so when they are forced to pass or are under duress is where the difference in the game will be evident.
- 4. Montee Ball versus the Oregon Front 7: Will the Ducks be able to contain the nation’s top scorer? Ball has a chance to break the record for the most touchdowns in this game, and to do so he needs to be able to make a few guys miss. Oregon’s front 7 needs to gang tackle Ball to make sure he is brought to the ground. This will prevent the big play. It will be Ball’s job to make a linebacker miss and get to that third level.
Bottom Line: This game looks to be one of the best Rose Bowl games in recent memory. Both teams are loaded on each side of the ball. The game really looks to be a shootout. Although the Badgers defense is much better statically than the Ducks, the defenses are much closer in talent. When the Badgers have played talented offensive units, they have been abused. This Oregon offense is far and away the best unit the Badgers have faced all year. In this track meet, I think the game will be extremely close, but I am going to say Ducks emerge victorious.
Oregon 52, Badgers 48