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Rose Bowl 2012: Wisconsin's passing attack vs. Oregon's secondary

Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson's average game this season: 16-21, 221 yards, 2.4 touchdowns. He's thrown 31 touchdowns this year against only three picks. 11% of all his passes this season have ended up in the endzone. He's also run for five scores. If the thought of Montee Ball and his 38 total touchdowns lining up against Oregon's defense next Monday didn't scare you, Wilson's stats certainly will.

Wisconsin was a more-than-capable offense in 2010 with Scott Tolzien under center, but the addition of Wilson has taken the Badger offense to new heights, giving them an elite passing threat to complement the best power rushing attack in college football. Wisconsin's offensive gameplan in a nutshell, will go as such: run run run, get Oregon to drop more guys into the box, and take advantage of one-on-one matchups outside by going deep. The Badgers haven't averaged nearly 10 yards per pass attempt this season by throwing deep into double coverage and getting lucky; it's the success of the run game that opens up the deep pass, much like how Oregon was able to get so many wide open deep touchdowns in 2010. So how will Nick Alliotti's unit go about stopping the Badgers?

  • The front seven has to help - In the three games this season in which Wisconsin has had trouble (both games against MSU, and against tOSU), Badger running game issues were the story in two of them. Against Ohio State, Wisconsin averaged 3.1 yards per carry as a team, and Russell Wilson's yards per pass average dropped to 7.9, his lowest of the season. It was the blown coverage at the end of the game that lost it, but it was the lack of a consistent running game, and only one score by Montee Ball, that allowed a mediocre Buckeyes team to have that chance to win in the first place. And in the Big Ten championship game, Michigan State held Wisconsin to only 126 yards rushing on 37 attempts. It was a strong second half by the Badger defense, three scores by Montee Ball, no turnovers, and a great game by Wilson that got Wisconsin the victory.
  • Terrance Mitchell Island must remain uninhabitable, and someone else has to step up - Wisconsin's wideouts present a challenge to the Duck secondary reminiscent of the USC game; against the Trojans, T-Mitch shut down Robert Woods, but Marqise Lee went nutso on the other side of the field. I would expect Mitchell to ask for, and receive, the task of neutralizing Wisconsin's Nick Toon and his 822 receiving yards and nine scores. But that still leaves sophomore Jared Abbredaris, who has 815 yards on the season and averages 16 yards per catch. Somebody, whether it's Troy Hill, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, or a combination of guys, will have to rise to the occasion and play well in isolation, especially if Eddie Pleasant and John Boyett are asked to play closer to the line of scrimmage to guard against the run.
  • Don't lose sight of the Badgers' other targets - Sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen and wideouts Bradie Ewing and Jeff Duckworth have combined for 810 yards and nine touchdowns, eight of those scores coming via Pedersen. And running backs Montee Ball and James White are also receiving threats. Oregon's linebackers and safeties must remain aware of playaction, delayed routes, and Wilson's secondary options on passing plays, despite gearing up to stop the run.
  • Force predictable passing situations - This should be handcuffed to "stop the run", but with as diverse an offense as Wisconsin runs, stopping a second and short is virtually impossible. Getting stops on first-and-ten will be vital to the Oregon defense's success.
Like Oregon, Wisconsin is a running team. And like Oregon, Wisconsin has an accurate quarterback that can make plays on the run and rise to the occasion when his team needs him. I like to think our secondary, with John Boyett as the unit's sheriff and Eddie Pleasant improving every day as a defensive back, is ready for the challenge. The Badgers will put up yards; it's the scoreboard that matters. Getting key stops, forcing Wisconsin to settle for field goals, and refusing to allow yards after contact will be the difference between winning and losing.