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January 2, 2012

Five things: Rose Bowl edition

PASADENA - Since defeating Michigan State inside Lucas Oil Stadium more than four weeks ago, all Wisconsin has heard circulates directly around Oregon's speed and uniform flair.

Aaron Henry, UW's senior leader, went so far as to say as much earlier in the week.

Now, with game time just a mere number of hours away, BadgerBlitz.com takes a look at five things to watch during the 2012 Rose Bowl.

1.) Speed versus brawn:

Oregon is famous for it's speed, it's playmakers and it's flashy demeanor. From Lamichael James, and his nation's best 149.7 rushing yards per game tally, to Darron Thomas, and his 30 passing touchdowns.

Wisconsin is famous for its offensive line, quarterback and running back. For as much hype and admiration as James and Thomas get for Oregon, it can be argued that Russell Wilson and Montee Ball are just as lauded.

But the styles are totally different.

Oregon likes to try and run as many plays as possible, even breaking the 100 plays from scrimmage mark on numerous occasions this season. The Ducks prided themselves on the way they break opponents down by essentially wearing them down. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around teams are able to necessarily keep up with that breakneck pace.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, is going to try to control tempo. It's going to run the ball between the tackles, it's going to get Wilson comfortable running the show and it's going to provide and opportunity for the Badgers to do what it does best and use it's offense as it's best defense.

Slow and methodical against fast and frantic. Which one do you think has the upper hand?

2.) Konz effect:

Since suffering a dislocated ankle during an early November game against Minnesota, Wisconsin junior All-American Peter Konz has sought out a second opinion and just started to fully practice within the past week. His outgoing positional coach Bob Bostad said Konz looked a little bit rusty during the early goings of practice last week, but he also reiterated the fact that he was happy to have him back.

It will be interesting to see how Oregon attacks Konz. Will they send blitzers up the middle with hopes of overwhelming a player that hasn't played in nearly two months? Will they try to disrupt Konz by going low on him, whether he's in pass protection or pulling on a Ball sweep?

All stuff to keep an eye on throughout Monday's game.

3.) The coaching effect:

Both Paul Chryst and Bob Bostad have done an admirable job detracting any potential distractions since taking their respective positions at Pittsburgh. But though they haven't bought into the limelight that comes with taking a new position, particularly in Chryst's case, it's going to be interesting to watch how the game unfolds.

A season ago Dave Doeren was in a similar position as Chryst. He had taken the head-coaching gig at Northern Illinois, but wanted to make sure he finished out his final season in Madison by coaching in the Rose Bowl. UW's defense started off somewhat shaky in the early going of that game, but eventually held TCU to just 21 points.

Should the UW offense pull a similar move and start slowly against Oregon, it might be too difficult to overcome.

There is a major difference between the Chryst and Doeren cases. Doeren accepted the head-coaching gig at Northern Illinois early in December, which gave him an opportunity to fully grab his recruiting by the horns.

Since Chryst was hired in mid-December, and conveniently in a dead period for recruiting, he was able stay focused on his immediate task at hand; coaching the Rose Bowl.

Will it work out better for Wisconsin this time around?

4.) Motivation factor:

Think about all the motivation that goes into this game for the Wisconsin players, and in some regards the Oregon players.

Montee Ball has already said he lost the 20 pounds during the past offseason as a direct result of his performance in the Rose Bowl a year ago. Playing at 230 pounds, Ball thought he left too many yards on the field because of his lack of breakaway speed and mobility.

He's a totally different player this season, and he's going to be ultra motivated to potentially put a cap on one of the most historic seasons any player, let alone Badger, has ever had in a single season. Look for Oregon to do everything in its power to shut Ball down.

And if that happens expect a big performance from Russell Wilson.

Wilson, the senior quarterback with a well documented story, transferred into Wisconsin with the hopes of playing on this stage. He wanted to play in big games and he knew he'd get that opportunity by playing for Bret Bielema and his Badgers. If Oregon's defensive game plan is to shut down Montee Ball, then it provides an outlet for Wilson to strive.

You can also think about Nick Toon, a senior wide receiver who had a number of costly drops a season ago in this game, and the way he wants to end his career. Or think about the countless other players who took part in that devastating loss last year. For as much talk as Barry Alvarez gets for winning back-to-back Rose Bowls in the latter stages of the 1990's, this team will have the unfortunate disdain of being the squad that lost back-to-back Rose Bowls.

That should be motivation enough.

Oregon is also motivated, particularly coming off a brutal loss to Auburn in the National Championship game a season ago. The Ducks are making their third straight BCS appearance. And like Wisconsin, they haven't come out on the winning end in such games. One team will finally earn a BCS win to its trophy case. Both teams will be plenty motivated.

A pass rush?

To be frank, since David Gilbert suffered an injury early in the conference season, Wisconsin hasn't had any sort of consistent pass rush, particularly from it's defensive ends.

Louis Nzegwu has been nicked up repeatedly throughout the course of the season and hasn't seemed to have found a groove. Brendan Kelly, Pat Muldoon and Tyler Dippel have all had flashes at end, but none of them have proven to be capable of taking over a game.

Against Oregon it will be instrumental for UW to dominate the line of scrimmage. It will be paramount to get a pass rush on Thomas and force him into difficult decisions. If Wisconsin lets Thomas settle in it could be a long day. But one could definitely make an argument (and a strong one at that) that the best way to shut down Oregon is to limit James.

If Wisconsin can force Oregon into second and third and longs, it will have an opportunity to win the ball game.

Quick hits:

-Oregon isn't afraid to pull out a trick play here or there. Wisconsin will need to be disciplined in all facets of the game or it will get burned at some point.

-The Badgers need to get off the field on third downs. Though Oregon doesn't have a 55 percent conversion rate on third down throughout the season like Wisconsin does, its 48 percent clip isn't too shabby.

-Special teams. Watch out.

-BadgerBlitz.com will have a live game blog starting one hour prior to kickoff. Feel free to join in with Tom Lea, live from Pasadena. Share your thoughts and opinions.


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