For Oregon to be successful, LaMichael James must have a big day.
For college football fans, the Rose Bowl will be a great game. It features two of the best running backs of the past two years. Both Oregon's LaMichael James and Wisconsin's Montee Ball were Doak Walker Award finalists this year. Both have been Heisman trophy finalists. James is one of the most productive backs in Pac-12 history (in only 3 seasons), while Ball has scored an astounding 38 TDs this season. James and Ball ranked 1st and 3rd, respectively, in rushing yards per game.
Both players lead the rushing attacks for their teams that makes the rest of the offense go. Both offense will try to set a tone in the rushing game, and the offense will flow from there. But Oregon's rushing attack will have a higher amount of pressure.
For Oregon to win the game on Monday, they have to be successful on the ground. Not only does this mean that the Ducks must rack up a lot of yards, but they must do it consistently, something they haven't always done this year. How the Ducks run the ball is the key to this game.
We all know the stats in previous "big" non-conference games. Oregon rushing offense has been limited to some of its worst output of the year. The only game the Ducks were able to somewhat overcome this was against Auburn, when Darron Thomas threw the ball all over the field, but the limited rushing game kept the Ducks out of the end zone. But last year's offense was far different than this years.
Last year, this Ducks ranked similarly nationally in standard downs vs. passing downs. Keep in mind, advanced stats hated Oregon last year, but the Oregon offense ranked 21st nationally in standard downs, and 28th in passing down. This is not a significant difference.
This year, Oregon ranks 3rd in standard downs. However, in passing downs, they rank 50th in the country. The dropoff when Oregon gets into 2nd and 3rd and long situations is simply astounding. Oregon's inconsistency on the line, and inconsistency in the passing game has really hurt the Ducks, and made it even more reliant on producing yards on the ground consistently.
Luckily, Oregon matches up very well with the Wisconsin defense, which is frankly, not all that good. They ranked below defenses like Stanford in almost all advanced metrics, and do not have a single All Big 10 player on their defensive line.
They have good linebackers in Chris Borland and Mike Taylor, and good defensive backs in Antonio Genelus and Aaron Henry, but that means that Wisconsin is a good defense on passing downs, and not so much on standard downs. According to S&P+, they have the 70th ranked defense in the country on standard downs, and 19th in passing downs. It's like Oregon has found it's defensive counterpart.
And this makes me love this matchup. To be successful, Oregon must run the ball consistently, and I don't think that Wisconsin will be able to consistently stop the Ducks.
Unfortunately, the Ducks face a pretty incredible rushing game and offense on the opposite side of the ball. Wisconsin has arguably the best offense in the country. Montee Ball is an exceptional back behind a huge offensive line, and if he fails, Russell Wilson can get it done through the air. Wisconsin has the #1 ranked offense in both standard downs and passing downs, according to S&P+.
A lot has been written about Oregon's speed vs. Wisconsin's size. But the Ducks do have the front 7 to disrupt the Wisconsin attack. With the attacking scheme that Nick Aliotti runs, the Ducks will trade yards for the opportunity to make big plays. They did this very successfully against Stanford, and they'll do it again.
But be ready to be frustrated, because the Ducks are sure to give up multiple instances where they will give up 7 yards on first down, then another 6, then 8, as Wisconsin seems to push Oregon down the field. But I have no doubt that Oregon will get stops, and this game (as most do) will not come down to the amount of yards either team gives up, but the amount of stops that they get.
I feel like I know what we're going to get out of the Oregon front 7. A lot of yards, some big plays, and Wisconsin will probably score around 35 points.
But I don't know what we're going to get out of the Oregon offense. I think they have a decided matchup advantage, but there are a lot of questions in any bowl game. Can the offensive line get in sync early? Will Thomas, James, and Barner make the right reads and cuts? How long will it take the offenses to shake off the rust?
Oregon has an opportunity to do what they haven't done in a bowl game, run the ball. They must do this to have a chance to win the game. If they do, they'll be in great shape to get their first Rose Bowl victory in a long, long time.