The 98th Rose Bowl has been dissected in just about every angle imaginable.
From the upcoming $156 million stadium renovation to the band Everlast singing “Jump Around” with the Wisconsin marching band in the background.
But none of that stuff will determine the winner.
Two words will though: edge speed. Unfortunately I don’t think the Badgers have enough edge speed to prevent the speedy Ducks from gashing a defense that has given up chunks of yards to even UNLV’s mediocre offense.
Wisconsin’s best defensive unit is its linebacking corps. I don’t think anyone will contest that. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor have anchored a unit that has backed up a defensive line that has struggled to find its identity after J.J. Watt went pro while trying to hide the flaws of a secondary that have been burned for big plays on too many occasions.
Whether it’s miscommunication or just a case of the secondary getting beat, it has happened too often in big game situations. In the October Michigan State Meltdown, the secondary gave up seven passing plays of 15-yards or more. The following week at Ohio State, the Buckeyes had six runs of 10-yards or more.
It’s those big play bursts that Oregon feasts on. This is a team that doesn’t care what the score is or how much time is left, they want to score and they want to score five minutes ago.
It’s bad enough that the Ducks have LaMichael James. The 5-foot-9 junior tailback with sprinter speed owns seven 200-yard games and 25 100-yard games in a college career that will likely end in Pasadena with the NFL beckoning. He has 41 plays of 10 yards or more this year, including 18 in the second half.
And the Ducks also have Darron Thomas under center. While the nation was busy playing James’ highlights, Thomas quietly put up Russell Wilsonesque numbers. He’s got a TD-interception ratio of 30-6. He has eclipsed 100 for a passer rating in every game except the season opener against arguably the best defense in the nation in LSU.
The Wisconsin offense will be able to put numbers in this game. Wilson will find many open receivers as usual, Montee Ball will find running lanes and catch the ball out of the backfield.
But when it mattered most, the defense fell flat on its face. The offense has been getting all the attention this season while the defense remained the elephant in the room waiting to be bailed out by Wilson’s late-game heroics or a boneheaded running into the punter penalty.
The Badgers have played with fire too often this season and against a team that is in its third straight BCS bowl, they will end up getting burned.
My prediction: Oregon 42, Wisconsin 31