It’s the Granddaddy of them all, the Rose Bowl Presented by Vizio! Wisconsin AD and former coach Barry Alvarez returns to coach the Badgers as Bret Bielema left earlier this month to take the Arkansas job.
5 p.m. EST, Jan. 1
From: Pasadena, CA
When The Cardinal Have The Ball: Quarterback Kevin Hogan has an impressive 72.9% completion rate through the four games he’s started. Even more impressive is the fact that he racked up those numbers facing Oregon, Oregon State, and UCLA (twice). Hogan’s main targets are his two tight ends, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo; Ertz leads the team in both catches (66) and receiving yards (837).The Cardinal have the luxury of being selective about when they pass the ball, thanks to the presence of running back Stepfan Taylor. Taylor averages nearly 111 yards per game and is useful in the short passing game as well. Stanford’s main strength is their power running game, and Taylor is the main man on the ground.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s run defense ranked second in the Big Ten and 12th in the country through the regular season, though, and some teams have been able to bottle up Taylor. The Badgers have three very talented linebackers, most notably Chris Borland. Stanford doesn’t have a true threat in the run game beyond Taylor; the team’s second-leading rusher is Hogan, who’s a mobile quarterback and can throw with decent accuracy either in the pocket or rolling out. It will be an intriguing matchup of strength vs strength with Stanford’s running game, and Wisconsin’s rush defense.
The bigger test for the Badgers may actually be Stanford’s passing game, particularly covering the tight ends Ertz and Toilolo. At 6’6”, 252 lbs. and 6’8”, 265 lbs. respectively, they have a huge advantage (literally) over most defensive backs. In addition, Wisconsin nickel back Darius Hillary was injured in the Big Ten title game, and his status is unknown. For this reason the Cardinal may be wise to throw more than they normally do and take advantage of this matchup.
When The Badgers Have The (Montee) Ball: Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun. Wisconsin has one of the best ground games in the country, with three players rushing for over 500 yards on the season. Montee Ball is the main threat, with a ridiculous 1,730 yards and 21 TDs. The Cardinal run defense was the best in the country for much of the season, but if they stop Ball, the Badgers can turn to James White or Melvin Gordon. Wisconsin’s passing game is harder to predict at the moment, as the QB picture isn’t entirely clear. Freshman Joel Stave was injured against Michigan State and was expected to be out for the season, but yahoosports.com is now reporting that he could be back for the Rose Bowl. Otherwise, fifth-year senior Curt Phillips would continue to start under center. Jared Abbrederis is the main receiving threat regardless of who throws him the ball. Second-leading receiver Jacob Pedersen has fewer than half of Abbrederis’ receptions and yards.Like the Badgers, Stanford has an excellent linebacking corps, and the best aspect of Stanford’s defense is probably their pass rush, as they lead the nation in sacks with 56. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, their offense has allowed 27. If Stanford can stop the run and force the Badgers into passing situations, they should have no trouble pressuring either QB.
Prediction: The last scenario I outlined is what I expect to happen. Stanford’s run defense will hold up, forcing the Badgers to throw, and then the pass rush will be unleashed. Presumably Phillips, as a fifth-year senior, would hold up better than the freshman Stave, but I don’t think it will ultimately make much difference. Stanford 31, Wisconsin 20.