Oregon is making its first trip to the Rose Bowl since the end of the 2014 season, and they will be seeing a tough Wisconsin team, in a rematch of the Rose Bowl to end the 2011 season. That game was a shootout and ended in a 45-38 Oregon win. That game famously ended with Russell Wilson attempting to spike the ball, but still having it in his hand when the clock hit zero seconds.
These are again two evenly matched teams. However, don’t expect it to be the shootout the last meeting was. Both teams like to run the ball. Wisconsin plays similarly to the way they played in the last matchup. However, they don’t have as strong of a running game. Of course, Oregon also loves to run the ball. The reason you shouldn’t expect a shootout though is because both teams are in the top ten nationally in rush yards allowed per game.
Oregon vs Wisconsin: Keys For an Oregon Win
It Starts With Jonathan Taylor
Jonathan Taylor has been the best running back in college football since he took over the starting job. His first year in 2017 he ran for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns, last season he ran for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns.
This season though has been perhaps his best. He isn’t quite at 2,000 yards, coming in with “only” 1,909 yards. However, he has found the endzone 21 times. Perhaps most impressive though, is he’s become a much bigger threat in the passing game. He’s caught 24 passes this season for 209 yards and five touchdowns. That’s a huge uptick after only catching 16 total passes the past two seasons.
It’s not hard to see why it starts with Taylor. On top of being one of the best players in college football, he is also running behind a huge offensive line. That’s a tough combination to defend.
Oregon is unlikely to “shut down” Jonathan Taylor. However, if they can do a respectable job, it will go a long way in winning this game.
Not All Can the Focus Can Be on Taylor, However
Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan is a good, efficient quarterback and he fits this offense perfectly. But if Oregon can slow down Taylor on early downs and put Wisconsin in more obvious passing situations, it will take Coan and the Badgers out of their comfort zone.
That will also somewhat take away the play-action passing game, which is the main way the Badgers like to pass.
While the gameplan needs to start with Taylor, Oregon can’t forget about other Wisconsin players. Quintez Cephus is a dangerous player on the outside, and if Oregon falls asleep on him, he could make a big impact.
Protect Justin Herbert
It’s no secret that Oregon has one of the top offensive lines in the country. However, this is one of the better defensive fronts they will have played against this season.
Even if Herbert is given time, passing the ball against this defense will be tough. But that was the case against Utah and Johnny Johnson III and Juwan Johnson each made huge plays in the first half that loosened up the defense.
Justin Herbert didn’t finish with huge numbers in that game, and asking him to throw for 350-400 yards in this one would be foolish, but if the passing game can hit a couple of plays early, it will help loosen up the defense.
Remember, Utah was the number one rush defense in the nation going into the Pac-12 Championship.
Another key factor in protecting Herbert will be to use the screen game. Expect Jaylon Redd to be used on some screens early. But also don’t be surprised to see CJ Verdell get used in the screen game. He has not been nearly as active catching the ball this season, but he was dealing with injuries all season that made it tough for him to make it through games.
He has now had a few weeks to rest, so don’t be surprised if Oregon uses him in the passing game to throw a wrinkle at Wisconsin.
Oregon vs Wisconsin: Overall Thoughts
This really couldn’t be more evenly matched. Not only are they similar when it comes to the numbers, but just the way these teams play.
These are two of the more physical teams in all of college football. It really could just be boiled down to the more physical team wins.
Wisconsin has the better running back, but Oregon has the better quarterback. That’s about as different as these teams get.
Expect this game to come down to the wire, and it could be whichever defense can force a big turnover will win this game. Overall, this is a huge opportunity for Mario Cristobal and his staff the end year two with a bang and build even more momentum going into the offseason.
Top Photo: Tony Avelar/Associated Press