Wisconsin's QB-RB combo poses major threat
Oregon defense will have its hands full with pro-style offense
Wisconsin and its pro-style offense stand between the Oregon Ducks and their first Rose Bowl victory since 1917 -and their first BCS win under coach Chip Kelly.
The Badgers, led by quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball, are highly productive on offense, averaging 44.6 points and 466.9 yards per game.
The 5-11, 210-pound Wilson, a senior transfer from North Carolina State, has completed 72.5 percent of his passes (206 of 284) for 2,879 yards and 31 TDs, with only three interceptions. For good measure, he has three receptions, including one for a touchdown, and 322 yards rushing and five more scores.
Ball, a 5-11, 210 junior, has an astounding 38 touchdowns, including 32 on the ground, to go with 1,759 yards rushing (6.4 per carry). He has 20 receptions for 225 yards and six touchdowns, and he has a TD pass.
Receivers Nick Toon (55 catches, 822 yards, nine TDs) and Jared Abbrederis (51, 814, 7) add to the Badgers' arsenal.
Oregon has a lethal offense as well, with the speed and athleticism of QB Darron Thomas, running backs LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas and receiver Josh Huff, as well as the craftiness of tight end David Paulson and receiver Lavasier Tuinei.
But, as opposed to UO's spread option offense, a lot of times a pro-style offense in the Big Ten wouldn't produce such numbers as Wisconsin has put up this season.
'They've got a great scheme and understand how to attack you,' Kelly says. 'They make you pay for not being sound defensively.
'When you play a team, you hope they're one-dimensional. A team that's multidimensional presents the ultimate problems for your defense.'
Wisconsin and Oregon, both 11-2, will face off in the Rose Bowl at 2 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 2 at Pasadena. The Badgers lost there to TCU 21-19 last January, and the Ducks dropped the Rose Bowl to Ohio State 26-17 after the 2009 season.
Oregon finished fifth in the Bowl Championship Series standings this season, barely behind Stanford, which the Ducks thrashed 53-30 last month.
Wisconsin finished 10th, but its two losses came on TD passes in the closing moments against Michigan State and Ohio State. Wisconsin could easily be 13-0.
Then again, in losing to Wisconsin in last Saturday's Big Ten championship game, Michigan State committed a roughing-the-punter penalty in the waning moments on a play in which its punt returner ran to the Wisconsin 1. The penalty gave the ball back to Wisconsin, which won 42-39.
Wisconsin beat Oregon State 35-0 early in the season, the Ducks beat their rival 49-21.
Kelly, an offensive guru with the spread option, admires the Badgers' offense.
'It's actually really fun to watch,' he says, adding, jokingly, 'I think Russell Wilson is the best receiving quarterback in the country.' Kelly calls Ball's halfback pass in the Big Ten title game 'unbelievable.'
Adds Kelly, of Wilson and Ball: 'You're playing against arguably the best quarterback-running back combination in college football.'
Early talk focuses on whether Wisconsin can slow down the Ducks' offense. The Badgers give up 17 points and 293 yards per game, but have they played somebody with Oregon's speed?
'Oregon is such a unique system, offensively, it's going to present a very big challenge for us,' Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema says. The Badgers have begun preparing for Oregon's speed and offense, he adds.
Wilson tore up the Atlantic Coast Conference at North Carolina State before graduating. He tried the pro baseball route before shopping around for another college football team. He chose Wisconsin over Auburn (which beat Oregon in the BCS title game last season behind the play of QB Cam Newton). Bielema's other two quarterbacks had injuries, opening a spot for Wilson to start and star.
Like former Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor and Newton last year, Wilson has some athleticism that the Ducks will have to contend with in a BCS game.
Most important, Bielema says, 'he's an exceptional human being. He embodies what you want in a college football player, on and off the field.'