High-powered Ducks await Badgers in Rose Bowl

first_imgHeisman finalist Montee Ball has powered Wisconsin’s offense, rushing for 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns. Ball is one total touchdown shy of tying the NCAA single-season record of 39.[/media-credit]They’ve been there before. Last time it was a whole new world. Bright lights, walking among the stars – literally – and a whole new experience.This time around, when it comes to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, the Wisconsin Badgers mean business.“We’re going to take this trip and approach it more like a business trip and make sure we go in with our minds set and really go in remembering why we’re in L.A.,” junior running back Montee Ball said.In the 98th Rose Bowl, Wisconsin will face the Pac-12’s Oregon Ducks.Both the Badgers and Ducks played on big stages in last year’s bowl games, as Wisconsin played in the school’s first Rose Bowl in more than 10 years and Oregon took a shot in the BCS National Championship Game.Both teams lost – Wisconsin to Texas Christian and Oregon to Auburn – and were forced to fight through another season just for a second chance at a coveted BCS title.Wisconsin’s road to the Rose Bowl this year was not easy, nor exactly clear.UW opened the season with a scalding offense led by transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, and through six games it looked like a possible national championship contender.In the ensuing two weeks, back-to-back heartbreaking losses at Michigan State and Ohio State left Wisconsin in a tough position in the Big Ten and muddied the picture of any post-season hopes. Many things had to line up just right for the Badgers to even reach the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, let alone the Rose Bowl.UW ultimately avenged itself with a 42-39 win over MSU in Indianapolis, gaining another berth to The Granddaddy of Them All for the second consecutive year.“Going out there to the Rose Bowl for the second year in a row and having the chance to go out there and cap this thing off right, it’s going to be stellar, it’s going to be special,” senior safety Aaron Henry said. “I wouldn’t want to go out any other way.”Battling the Ducks this season will prove entirely different than last year’s Rose Bowl against the Horned Frogs, particularly thanks to Oregon head coach Chip Kelly and his famously fast-paced offense.“I think they’re the best at the high-tempo offense; they kind of started it,” sophomore linebacker Chris Borland said. “They do a great job of it, not only the tempo, but the scheme. They’re able to do a lot of different things, and they get their athletes some space. Once they get their guys the ball in space, that’s what they’re made to do. … It’s going to be difficult for us, but we’re up to the challenge.”But with plenty of time to prepare, the Badger defense feels it will be able to handle Oregon’s no-huddle offense. Head coach Bret Bielema also noted the importance of defense’s ability to sub players any time the offense does so, as long as the referees allow time for it to happen.“I think it’s important to realize you have three different teams with kind of different tempos,” Bielema said, referencing offense, defense and special teams play. “I think it will be good because now it’s a multi-week preparation. Our scouts will get better at it, which hopefully when we go down there to Pasadena, we will have had eight days of bowl prep of Oregon and really snap our guys into that tempo.”While Wisconsin claims arguably the nation’s best running back in Ball, Oregon boasts its own nationally recognized running back in junior LaMichael James.Ball finished the regular season leading the nation with 1,759 yards and 32 touchdowns. Ball had 275 rushing attempts and averaged 6.4 yards per carry, and also caught six touchdown passes, putting his season total of 38 one shy of Barry Sanders’ NCAA single-season record of 39.James finished fourth in the country with 1,646 rushing yards and scored 17 touchdowns. James had 222 carries and only outpaces Ball in averaging 7.4 yards per carry.Though the Ducks’ offense is renowned for how quickly it moves the ball, the Oregon defense is also no different.“They’re fast, extremely athletic; they really do a great job of running to the football and making plays,” Ball said. “We just have to make sure that we play Wisconsin football and beat them down a little bit.“I think we’ll be fine. We’ll go in with the same game plan that we had against the other teams and make sure that we execute every play.”Wisconsin’s offense will be greatly aided by the return of All-American junior center Peter Konz. Konz dislocated his left ankle Nov. 12 at Minnesota and hasn’t seen the field since.Wednesday, Bielema said he expects the center to return to practice next week and play on Jan. 2.When it comes right down to it, the Badgers know what they are in for against Oregon. They know the Ducks were the national runner-up last year, and they know Oregon is as fast as they come.But Wisconsin certainly isn’t backing away from its second shot at a chance to smell the roses.“They’re more dangerous than TCU,” Ball said. “Obviously a lot faster, but I believe this time we’re going to go in more focused and more prepared.”last_img