Throughout the first quarter of the Stanford-Oregon matchup earlier this year, the Ducks’ super-stud RB LaMichael James had been bottled up and held in check. The Stanford defense had been extremely gap conscious. It had tackled well in space. It was doing everything correct and, then, in a split second, boom, that was gone. James took a handoff on a little counter gap play inside, got a block on a linebacker at the second level, saw the safety take a horrible angle and WHOOSH to the house. Six points.
That’s the issue in stopping the Ducks when you don’t have 11 bad dudes that run to the ball like LSU – if you give James, or Kenjon Barner, a step, a seam, a hole, a sliver of an opening, they can get to the 2nd and 3rd levels as fast as anyone in recent college football memory. The major problem for the Cardinal defense against James on that run was that the Cardinal safeties had no opportunity to take the proper angle in run support because he got into the secondary so quickly.
James got into the open so fast, they were chasing the whole way. Wisconsin can’t totally mimic LSU’s defensive front, but one thing they can do is take away any direct, downfield running lanes for the Oregon ball carriers. The more it keeps James running horizontally, the more Badgers can get to the ball and the better chance it has of holding James to two yard runs. Now, it’s easier said than done, but if Wisconsin maintains gap integrity, it’ll have a chance. If not, look the heck out.
As the legacy son of one of the great Wisconsin receivers of all-time, the pressure to perform has always been there for Wisconsin WR Nick Toon. At times, he’s stepped up to the plate and answered the call but there have also been other times when Toon’s injuries haven’t allowed him to excel as expected. In his last game as a Badger, he’ll be a focal point for the Wisconsin offense against a less than stellar Oregon secondary.
The Ducks kicked off the best cover corner they had, Cliff Harris for being a dope, among other things, and he’s the one guy who could spend all day in lockdown man coverage against Toon. But, with Oregon’s defensive focus on stopping Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and with the potential of starting two freshmen at corner, Toon could have a big day in his last game as a Badger.
Neither Terrance Mitchell or Troy Hill (or Anthony Gildon) will get any help from safeties Eddie Pleasant or John Boyett in pass coverage, especially on first and second down, as those two will HAVE to play the run on those run downs. That’s when Wilson must look Toon’s way in the play-action passing game to keep him involved throughout the game.
Wisconsin center Peter Konz is one of the best centers in college football, but he dislocated his ankle against Minnesota on November 12th and has been out since. He’s been full go at practice this last week, expects to play and that could be a huge factor for the Wisconsin offensive line. The Badgers haven’t missed a beat without him, but with him, the offensive line is a much more versatile unit. Now, he says his ankle is 100%, but the Wisconsin coaches may not use him to do things, like pull out on the perimeter, as he did prior to the injury.
That could be a major factor for the Badgers; regardless, if Konz does start, he’s going to be a load for the Ducks defensive tackles to handle throughout the game. With Konz back in the fold, the Badgers are more apt to run the ball through the A and B gaps and truly exploit the Ducks interior defense, which is highly suspect.
The Ducks have lost two straight BCS bowl games. The Badgers lost last year’s Rose Bowl. So, something has to give right? As much pressure as the Ducks offense can put on the Wisconsin defense, I don’t think Oregon can handle the punishment the Badgers offense and offensive line can dish out. If it becomes a track meet, that’s the type of game the Badgers couldn’t win in the past, but with Wilson at quarterback against a slightly above average defense, the Badgers can run and throw on the Ducks when they want. Now, the Ducks will put maximum pressure on the edges of the Wisconsin defensive perimeter, as noted above.
However, if Wisconsin can slow James down, if only slightly, and force other Ducks to hurt them, it’ll be in good shape. The Badgers get BCS bowl redemption in the 2nd best bowl game of the day.
Wisconsin – 38 vs. Oregon – 35