In the good old days, the Rose Bowl matchup of Big Ten champion versus the Pacific Coast champion matched a physical and intimidating team against a smaller, faster squad with a wide-open offense. Now, the Midwest teams recruit outside their locales, bringing in speedy receivers, running backs and defensive personnel. The result is this year’s Wisconsin Badgers.
Jonathan Taylor is the best running back in the country behind one of the biggest offensive lines — the Ducks want to hold him to less than 130 yards. More than that and the Badgers will win. Wisconsin’s quarterback, Jack Coan, is steady, productive and not especially spectacular, throwing for 17 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
The defense is hard-nosed and opportunistic, just like Oregon’s, although the Ducks are better described as skilled and fast. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos has put together an athletic batch of matchups that allow only two touchdowns per game and gets tougher closer to their end zone.
Both teams played well during the season, with the exception of one stinker. For the Badgers, it was an upset loss to a mediocre Illinois team that gratefully accepted a foolish pass interception in the last minute when Wisconsin should have been handing the ball off to Taylor.
Oregon coach Mario Cristobal’s Ducks were on the road to a berth in the football playoffs with a nine-game winning streak and, under prepared and outclassed, lost to an Arizona State team that was on a four-game losing skid.
The key to victory is the Oregon offense and quarterback Justin Herbert against the Wisconsin defense. The Badgers live and die by their defense and have an outstanding pass rush and front seven that makes life miserable for any offense.
The big question is will Cristobal go with a game plan that is more slow than go? The play caller will be UNLV head coach Marcus Arroyo, who has been in dual duty mode between his new job and offensive coordinator for the Ducks. Hope for a game plan with the balanced creativity Arroyo designed for the Utah win rather than an old-time Big Ten snoozer that spends too much time in the A gaps.
Herbert leads, and plays, best when the Ducks go up-tempo, run and pass, but Cristobal’s stubbornness relying on an inside running game with undersized backs often leads to periods of scoring famine.
Take the reins off Herbert and put the clamps on Taylor and the Ducks will break Wisconsin’s four-game bowl winning streak and put life in the West Coast’s dominance over the Midwest bullies.
Former Oregon player Ken Woody coached college football for 18 years. He will conduct his last coach's corner from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 8, at the 6th Street Grill.