A Daunting Task: Keeping up with Oregon's offense

It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that there is going to be a lot of offense in the Rose Bowl.

Oregon and Wisconsin ranks third and fourth, respectively, in scoring offense and Vegas has set an over/under of 72 points for the game.

Defensively, the Badgers rank sixth in scoring defense and eighth in total defense, while the Oregon defense ranks 48th in scoring defense and 59th in total defense. Those rankings are slightly misleading, however, as Wisconsin's numbers are inflated by its weak schedule (the defensive numbers against Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State -- twice -- are much higher than its averages) and the eye test shows the Ducks have more playmakers on their defensive unit.

The fair conclusion is that we're in for shootout in Pasadena.

The other general conclusion is that the Ducks will win the shootout. They are, after all, a six-point favorite.

So the question is, how does Bret Bielema get the Badgers to keep up with Ducks?



The easy answer to that question is the defense. The unit is simply going to have come up with plays to win the game.

But the offense can help by playing its best game, something it didn't do in last year's Rose Bowl against TCU.

Wisconsin was among the most efficient offenses in the country last year, but on four straight possessions in the middle of the game, the Badgers ran a total of 45 plays and came up with only six points.

Those possessions look like this:

8 plays, 55 yards, 4:21 - Field goal
13 plays, 55 yards, 6:58 - Missed field goal
14 plays, 47 yards, 7:04 - Field goal
10 plays, 50 yards, 5:16 - Punt

Now, TCU's stingy defense was certainly better than Oregon's current defense, but the Badgers cannot afford to have long drives stall like the four listed above.

And while the two offenses appear to be of equal strength, Wisconsin does have one significant advantage: red zone efficiency.

The Badgers have converted 96 percent of its red zone possessions this year, second to only Stanford. More importantly, it has turned 70 red zone possessions into 63 touchdowns. Only six possessions resulted in field goals. That has resulted in a total of 444 points in the red zone, the most in the country by a large margin.

The Badgers have to keep up this efficiency in the Rose Bowl if it wants to win.

Meanwhile, Oregon ranks only 34th in red zone efficiency, meaning they sometimes stall and come up with nothing. The Ducks have only converted 86 percent of their red zone possessions. A total of 63 red zone possessions have resulted in 48 touchdowns, a far cry from Wisconsin's 63 touchdowns in 70 red zone possessions.

Now, there is an obvious catch, however. Oregon's 356 red zone points are a lot less than Wisconsin's 444, but the Ducks have 600 total points this season, 20 more than the Badgers. That means they score a lot on big plays, a frightening thought for Badger fans who saw what Michigan State's speedy skill position players did in the Big Ten Championship Game.

You better believe the defense's main focus in bowl prep has been preventing big plays. You'll likely see a conservative approach -- especially because Wisconsin ranks 70th in sacks and 48th in tackles for loss (they don't get much pressure anyway) -- with very few blitzes. It's going to be a bend-but-not-break approach. Wisconsin has an edge in turnover margin (Badgers are No. 4, Oregon is No 18) so if they can win the turnover battle and force a couple of field goals, the offense will have a chance to keep up.

The bottomline is that Wisconsin has to do what it failed to do in last year's Rose Bowl: not make mistakes. The offense has to be as efficient as possible and the defense has to come up with a big play or two.

So it goes when you're the underdog.

Don’t forget to show support for your favorite coach by voting him as the 2011 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year at www.coachoftheyear.com.

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