Badgers slow? 'Not at all'
Wisconsin defense says it's ready for Oregon's speed, style
LOS ANGELES - The Wisconsin Badgers believe they have a very good read on their Rose Bowl opponent's offense.
The Oregon Ducks are fast, ramp up the tempo and feature multiple playmakers. Monday's 2 p.m. game will boil down, the Badgers say, to slowing down the UO running game, which churned out 295.7 yards per game, much of it by LaMichael James. But the Badgers will also have to watch out for the bubble screens and passing shots downfield.
"Traditionally, they like to spread teams out to run the ball," Wisconsin safety Aaron Henry says. "They consider us to be a slow football team, so I'm sure they're going to test us downfield. In every game, they've thrown the ball downfield relatively decently.
"All in all, it's going to boil down to us going out there and playing great football."
It's uncertain whether any of the Ducks players or coaches have used the word "slow" to describe the Badgers. The Ducks talk about how sound and disciplined the Badgers play defense, and Oregon running back Kenjon Barner talks up UW's speed in the secondary.
Does Henry consider the Badgers slow?
"Not at all. Not at all. Not at all," he says.
The Badgers played Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl in 2009 (winning 21-14) and Arizona State last year during the regular season (winning 20-19). Those were opposing teams with plenty of speed and athleticism, they say.
The Ducks are "very reminiscent of Miami," Henry says. "All they talked about was the speed comparison. We have a ton of guys from Florida and southern states who run as well.
"At the end of the day, it boils down to playing football. Yes, speed does help in certain situations, but I don't think it's going to be that much of a factor. If you can tackle, run to the ball as a unit, you can negate a lot of that."
The Badgers have been preparing for the Ducks by going uptempo with their scout team in practice - ripping off plays in eight or nine seconds - while also trying to simulate UO's offensive speed and doing more conditioning. Defensive lineman Patrick Butrym says one month is enough time to prepare for Oregon, which has been playing uptempo for five years under Chip Kelly. It's also enough time to get into better shape, Butrym says. And other opponents have shown it's enough time to scheme against the UO offense.
"I don't know how much more you can (practice)" and be any more productive, Butrym says.
"Patrick's right," Badgers middle linebacker Chris Borland says. "A month's a long time. We've done the right things to prepare for that tempo, the way we practice and condition. We understand what it is, whereas sometimes teams can get confused out there. I think we'll be ready for it."
More so, the Badgers simply have to deal with matchups - James, Barner and De'Anthony Thomas running the ball, the likes of Josh Huff and De'Anthony Thomas catching and running, trusty tight end David Paulson sneaking in huge plays and QB Darron Thomas being at his best.
Charlie Partridge, UW's co-defensive coordinator, had a great read on Oregon's offense, saying first and foremost the Badgers must be disciplined against the spread-option.
"It's modern-day triple-option," he says. "You take Navy (and its offense) and their formation and spread the defense out and (start) moving guys around, it's really not that much different. Add in some bubble throws ...
"You have a guy on the dive (play), the QB and pitch - the only difference is the dive is a zone-read cutback. The QB read is what it is. The pitch is actually a bubble out there. You have to have guys in the right place, and hopefully you have a guy up front (breaking up plays). Then you start to get the advantage on your side; hopefully we can get some guys up front changing that."
Partridge says the Badgers have to worry about Oregon's tight ends and receivers, but just as much the screen game, citing De'Anthony Thomas' 41-yard score against Stanford.
Partridge compares Kelly to Paul Johnson, coach of Georgia Tech, which runs the triple-option.
"If you listen to Coach Kelly talk ... I think they call it 'supersonic' - when their tempo shows it's when you've declared defensively what you're going to do," Patridge says. "He's going to see your thoughts and he's going to go 'supersonic' on you and try to take advantage of you there. The throw game, he's going to take what you give him - it may be bubbles all day - or he's going to go downfield if you've overstacked the box. He's a good coach. He's an excellent coach."
Borland warns against the Badgers allowing a "sliver of an opening" to James, Barner or De'Anthony Thomas.
"If you miss tackles, 5-yard gains can become 25-yard gains," he says.
The teams that have beaten the Ducks with Kelly as head coach - Auburn, LSU and USC included - have mostly slowed down Oregon's running game by getting to James and others quickly and wrapping them up with sure tackling.
"That's been a big emphasis," Wisconsin defensive back Antonio Fenelus says. "Closing the air, rather than stopping your feet and trying to make the tackle, so they don't have as much space."
Adds Henry: "We can't just get one guy to the ball. It has to be two, three, four guys to the ball. ... I'm not comparing us to Auburn at all, but if we can take some of those similar instances and generate turnovers and run to the ball as a unit, we can go out and be successful as well."
The Wisconsin offense, with QB Russell Wilson and running back Montee Ball, can take some pressure off the Big Ten champion's defense by scoring early and controlling the clock throughout the game - another key in beating Oregon.
"Our offense can just eat up the clock," Butrym says.
But the UW defense, which has given up 17 points per game (sixth in NCAA) and 293 yards per outing (eighth), will have to make some stops at some point.
Butrym scoffs at suggestions that the Badgers are slow on the defensive side.
"I don't care what people's perceptions are," he says. "We've won 11 games, we're in the Rose Bowl for a reason, and we've been a part of that."