LOS ANGELES – A win in the 98th Rose Bowl would serve as missing validation Wisconsin and Oregon have been searching for in recent years. Each program has league championships and myriad victories to show off over the last 10-12 years. But BCS bowl victories?
Oregon hasn’t notched one since Joey Harrington led the Ducks to the Fiesta Bowl title after the 2001 season. Wisconsin is even worse, not winning a BCS bowl since claiming back-to-back Rose Bowls after the 1998 and 1999 seasons. What has been the issue?
“We have a formula for how we prepare and what we do and get our guys ready for the game,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly.” I think a lot of that is overblown. If we block that field goal in the end of the Auburn game it’s a different outcome and everybody says you did it the right way.
“I think too much is put into that. It’s not like when I looked at the film in both games that our team was running to the ground and we were not fresh. Our kids played really hard but we actually played against, ironically, the No. 1 team in the country. So to be within three points of them, I think a lot of times you have to give the other team credit.”
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has altered how he has prepared his team in hopes of eliciting a different result.
“Yeah, we did a couple different things. First it was a little bit different because of the Big Ten Championship game,” said Bielema. “We played a week later in our regular season after Thanksgiving, and on top of that we played in the championship game which extended us almost two more weeks beyond the regular season. So that challenge was there already, and then what we’ve tried to do at practice, we’ve kind of scaled back the amount of time we’re on the field and tried to increase the speed or the reps that we’re getting while we’re out there. So that little subtle change as well as the shortened window I think are both going to be beneficial for us.”
But Kelly hasn’t done anything to change how he has prepped his squad for the school’s second Rose Bowl in three seasons.
“I think sometimes people over analyze way too much. We lost to an Auburn team that had a quarterback that right now is ripping it up in the NFL, so maybe Cam Newton is not that shabby if you had come to see it and we lost to a field goal with no time left on the clock,” said Kelly. “If it goes the other way, then everybody is going to say, you have to stick to the same preparation that you had and it can literally come down to one play.
“So we practiced the same way since I’ve been there and it’s been our formula for success. Now we have lost some games, and we can have a conversation about, we have only lost six games in three years and we can point to specific plays in six games and I think overall you’re doing things right.”
Quite the running back battle in the Rose Bowl
The Rose Bowl has featured some great running backs over the years, including the likes of USC’s Charles White, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne. But few Rose Bowls have featured a better battle of backs than the Montee Ball vs. LaMichael James matchup in this year’s game.
James leads the nation in rushing with a 149.6-yard average, notching 7.4 yards per carry. Ball ranks third with a 135.3-yard average and leads the country with 1,759 yards and 32 rushing scores.
“(Ball) is a complete running back and that’s the one thing, when you look at guys and you’re trying to defend them, are there holes in their game but he’s got 20 catches and six touchdowns coming out of the backfield and he’s thrown two pass, obviously rushed for 1700 plus yards,” said Oregon coach Chip Kelly. “You’re not going to shut Montee Ball down and we understand that. But we need to contain him and we need to tackle him when he’s in space and we really need to negate his big plays if we can.”
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is equally as impressed with the lightning-fast James, who like Ball is a junior and may test the NFL draft waters after this season.
“Incredible player and as you saw on film, as the year went along, obviously he missed a little bit with the injuries, but a very gifted player,” said Bielema. “The thing I always say about kids is if you have a player that can make something out of nothing, you’ve got a special player, and obviously they have very well designed plays to get him in a position to have success, but sometimes those things are cut off and he still makes a great play. That’s the part that I think is the unique challenge to defending him.”
Extra preparation time helps against Oregon
In the last few seasons, Oregon has proven vulnerable when opponents have had extra time to prepare for the Ducks.
In the 2009 season opener, Oregon fell to Boise State. The Ducks have lost their last two bowl games, to Ohio State (Rose) and Auburn (BCS title game). Oregon got beat by LSU in the season opener this year.
“I really do think the fact that we have an extended prep is a very beneficial thing for us,” said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema.” It allows them or allows us to slow the game down a little bit as far as, A, how we practice, and B, how we play. So I think this extended prep – Oregon would be a very difficult challenge in a seven day window. If you were playing them in a normal game day schedule with just seven days of preparation, it would be a very difficult task.”
No doubt, Bielema’s staff has spent extra time analyzing the Ducks’ multiple schemes that feature a variety of formations.
“Well, I think, A, there’s two things that really jump out,” he said. “First, their offense is such a unique preparation, not just from the standpoint of schematically what they do but also the timing of it, the no huddle, the speed huddle and all that goes into it, and then on the flipside of it, their defense and special teams is very unique. As gifted as they are athletically, the speed and all that goes into it, it would be a very difficult challenge within a game week to get ready for what they’re doing.
“They do this 365 days a year every day, and it’s really unique to the world of college football. On the flipside of that, I think we are as well. What we do offensively, although it may not be as pretty or flashy or speedy, it’s a unique prep, so I think the extended prep does help, as well.”
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com and in Pasadena to cover the Rose Bowl. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on Twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.