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Can Montee Ball get on track against Stanford's defense?
The Grand Daddy of Them All will feature two of the most powerful rushing attacks in the nation when Wisconsin and Stanford meet in the 99th annual Rose Bowl.
Wisconsin earned its third consecutive trip to the Pasadena after upsetting Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers will be making their ninth (3-5) Rose Bowl appearance with a familiar face on the sidelines. After Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, athletic director Barry Alvarez announced he would coach the team in the bowl game. It will be his fourth Rose Bowl as head coach at Wisconsin.
Stanford, which is also in its third straight BCS bowl, is playing in its 14th Rose Bowl appearance — good for third all-time tying Washington and Ohio State. However, its last victory in the game came in back-to-back years in 1971 and 1972 over Ohio State and Michigan. The Cardinal are looking for just their second bowl win since 1996 and coach David Shaw is looking for his first as a head coach.
These two historic programs have played five times previously with the Badgers owning a commanding 4-0-1 record against the Cardinal. The last time these two met was the 17-9 Wisconsin win in the 2000 Rose Bowl game, in which Ron Dayne rushed for 200 yards on 34 carries.
Rose Bowl: Wisconsin (8-5) vs. Stanford (11-2)
Date and Time: Tues., Jan. 1, 5:10 p.m. ET
Location: Rose Bowl (Pasadena, Calif.)
When Wisconsin has the ball
With or without Bielema or offensive coordinator Matt Canada on the sidelines, the Wisconsin offense will be predicated around the running game. Record-setting tailback Montee Ball has scored more touchdowns than anyone in the history of the sport and will have to be at his best against the mighty Cardinal front seven. He isn’t the only weapon in the backfield for the Badgers, as UW brings one of the deepest and most talented tailback corps in the nation. James White (802 yards, 12 TD) and Melvin Gordon (570 yards, 3 TD) give Ball plenty of time to catch his breath — which he will need.
Stanford led the Pac-12 in rushing defense, sacks, tackles for loss, total defense and scoring defense. In a three game stretch, it allowed three (Cal), minus-18 (Washington State and minus-21 (Colorado) total rushing yards. The veteran Wisconsin offensive line will try to pound the equally talented and experienced Cardinal defensive front. The Badgers O-line is likely the best Stanford has faced all season, and the lawfirm of Skov, Murphy, Thomas, Stephens and Gardner is the best UW will have faced all year. One thing is certain, both sides will need hours in the ice tubs after the game is long over.
The difference for UW will be the play of its quarterback. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave had stabilized the shaky position midway through the season but was lost for the year with a broken collarbone. He is reportedly ahead of schedule and there is an outside chance he could play against Stanford. He gives this offense a second dimension that backup Curt Phillips cannot. Although, Phillips did lead a last second overtime-forcing touchdown drives against both the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions to end the season.
When Stanford has the ball
Stanford’s game plan isn’t all that different from Wisconsin’s. David Shaw also switched quarterbacks this fall, moving his own redshirt freshman into the starting lineup just past the season’s halfway mark. Kevin Hogan flourished under center and proved to be much more effective than Josh Nunes, leading the Cardinal to wins over four consecutive ranked opponents to end the year.
Much like Stave or Phillips for Wisconsin, Hogan will lean heavily on his running game. Stepfan Taylor is one of the most complete backs in the nation, touching the ball 340 times for 1,712 yards from scrimmage this year. He scored in all but three games this fall and has carried the ball at least 17 times in 15 of his last 18 games. He has 10 100-yard efforts in his last 15 games.
Hogan will utilize All-America tight end Zach Ertz as his primary target in an effort to loosen-up an underrated Wisconsin defense. Led by Mike Taylor and Chris Borland at linebacker, this unit finished 13th nationally in total defense (320.9 ypg) and 19th in scoring defense at under just under 20 points per game. The Badgers defense is non-descript but plays fundamentally sound football every time out.
These two teams are near mirror images of each other. The Badgers simply lack the overall star power and talent of year’s past while Stanford has half-a-dozen quality NFL defenders. This will be a no-frills, physical slobber-knocker of a game that will be a test of wills. Whoever flinches first, which will be Wisconsin if it cannot find a second dimension in the passing game, will be the loser.
Prediction: Stanford 23, Wisconsin 14
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