SportsPac12: 2020 Rose Bowl Preview
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2020 Rose Bowl Preview

Ducks' Strength to be Tested in Trenches by Badgers

—Rose Bowl Preview—

Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas had a big game vs. Wisconsin in the 2012 Rose Bowl. | Jeff Gross/Getty Images 

By Nicholas Bartlett, SportsPac12


invisible words
#6 Oregon (11-2, 8-1) vs. #8 Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2)
Wednesday, January 1, 2020
2:00 p.m. PT, ESPN
Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA

Straight-Up Pick: Wisconsin in a Close Win
Against the Spread: Oregon (+2.5)


hile the Ducks came within a win at Tempe of playing in the Playoff, you won't hear them complaining about returning to the "The Grandaddy of Them All." Oregon is making its fourth Rose Bowl appearance since 2010, the most of any Pac-12 football program. Wisconsin is making its fourth appearance as well, the most of any Big Ten program. But the Ducks have primarily been on the winning end of those matchups, prevailing against the Badgers and Florida State, after losing to Ohio State. Wisconsin is 0-3, having lost to TCU, Oregon, and Stanford.

In their 2012 Pasadena meeting, the Ducks beat Wisconsin with a quarterback who wouldn't play a snap in the NFL, one of the most underrated signal callers in Oregon football history in Darron Thomas. By contrast, losing Badger quarterback Russell Wilson would go on to win a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks and earn seven Pro Bowls appearances (and counting). This time, those roles may be reversed, with Justin Herbert projected as a high First-Round draft pick, and Wisconsin signal caller Jack Coan flying largely under the radar. 

What the Ducks Must Do to Win

To claim their third Rose Bowl victory in nine years, the Ducks must open up the game plan for Herbert. The senior must also be accurate with his throws. Oregon has an elite offensive line, featuring Outland Trophy winner Penei Sewell, and should be able to run the ball against Wisconsin—though probably not as successfully as against Utah. To move the ball on the ground, the Ducks will need to keep the Badger linebackers and secondary guessing with a combination of quick screens, short out routes, and deep balls that help create holes for CJ Verdell, Travis Dye, and Cyrus Habibi-Likio. The versatile trio, which has combined for 2,163 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns, needs to find ways to gash the Wisconsin front line, and break into the secondary. 

CJ Verdell carries the ball vs. Utah. |

On defense, the Ducks must do whatever it takes to limit the damage of junior Badger running back Jonathan Taylor, one of the most physical and dynamic players in the country. The Doak Walker Award-winning rusher, who has racked up 1,909 yards and 21 touchdowns, has the ability to take over the game with a handful of plays. Oregon might want to sell out at the line of scrimmage to force Coan to win the contest with his arm. The Badgers love to control the time of possession, and if they're able to string together several long drives, they can severely limit UO's offensive opportunities.  

What the Badgers Must Do to Win

Simply put, Wisconsin needs to feed Taylor. He's arguably the best skill player on the field, and Oregon’s defense hasn't seen anything like him this season. Once Taylor gets his wheels turning, it opens up the passing lanes for Coan, who figures to target wideout Quintez Cephus early and often. While the Badgers like to burn clock on the ground, the passing game has been just as essential to their success: Since 2015, Wisconsin is 23-1 when throwing two or more touchdown passes. Couple that with the fact that Oregon has allowed two passing touchdowns or more six times this season, and you have a recipe for a balanced attack.

Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor carries the ball in 2019. | Wisconsin Athletics

On defense, the Badgers must find a way to contain Oregon’s explosive rushing game. The Ducks have the better quarterback in this contest, and stand to benefit most from complementary success on the ground. A one-two punch of big plays from Herbert and Verdell could prove too much for the Badgers to overcome. Fortunately, Wisconsin has a tackling machine in Chris Orr, Zack Baun, and Jack Sanborn. The trio have combined for 215 total tackles, including 45 for loss and 29.5 sacks. Still, the Badgers can’t afford to get greedy and stack the box, allowing Herbert to exploit one-on-one matchups.

What Happens on the Field

On the surface, this appears to be a classic case of power versus flash, but the Ducks have a stout and talented offensive line capable of dominating. Nonetheless, Oregon won't be able to win the game solely on the ground; that would play right into the hands of Wisconsin's hard-nosed defense. Herbert will throw for 250+ yards and multiple touchdowns, and Verdell will get his 100+ yards. But it won't be enough. Taylor will eventually wear down Oregon’s opportunistic defensive, ripping off devastating long runs. The Badger defense will keep the Duck offense below its scoring average, though not by much. This should be an entertaining matchup with Wisconsin winning by a touchdown or less.

NotesWisconsin leads the all-time series 3-2, but Oregon won the last matchup 45-28 in the 2012 Rose Bowl. The Badgers have won five straight bowl games, and are 4-0 in post-season play under current coach Paul Chryst. The Ducks are 14-18 all-time in bowl games. Wisconsin is playing in a bowl for the 18th-consecutive season, the longest active streak in the Big Ten, and tied for the fifth-longest in the FBS. Herbert holds the Oregon career record for completions with 813, while his 10,403 passing yards and 95 touchdown passes are second on the school’s list behind Marcus Mariota. The Badgers have recorded double-digit win totals in eight of the last 11 seasons, dating back to 2009.

oregonKEY STATS AND INFOwisconsin
Pac-12 NorthConferenceBig Ten West
No. 6CFP Committee RankingNo. 8
35.9Points per Game34.6
15.7Points Allowed16.1
450.7Yards per Game441.8
267.5Passing Yards per Game201.2
183.2Rushing Yards per Game240.5
106.8Rushing Yards Allowed per Game102.4
222.8Passing Yards Allowed per Game191.2
329.6Yards Allowed per Game293.5
Justin Herbert
3,333yards (32 TDS, 5 INTS)
Passing Yardage and TD LeadersJack Coan
2,541 yards (17 TDs, 54INTs)
CJ Verdell
1,171 yards, 8 TDs
Rushing LeadersJonathan Taylor
1,909 yards, 21 TDs
Johnny Johnson III
818 yards, 7 TDs
Receiving LeadersQuintez Cephus
842 yards, 6 TDs
Troy Dye
77 total tackles
Defensive LeadersChris Orr
72 total tackles

Nicholas Bartlett (@WordsByBartlett) covers Pac-12 football and basketball as a Senior Writer for Bartlett also co-hosts and co-produces "The Dane & Nick Show," a SportsPac12 Radio Podcast.

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