Stanford Offense Preview: Similar Script

Playing a team that switched its starting quarterback with four games left in the season, balances its offense with multiple tight ends and a stud running back and has a young offensive line in the trenches, Stanford reminds Wisconsin a lot of itself in preparing for the 99th Rose Bowl.

MADISON - Utilizing different sets and personnel groups to execute a similar set of plays, Stanford's offense is a mentally-taxing unit that presents different looks and motions that have frustrated Pac 12 opponents.

Knowing that, junior linebacker Chris Borland couldn't think of a better matchup for him and his Wisconsin teammates than a team that simply wants to run the ball down field.

"And we're comfortable with that," said Borland. "That's the game we like to play."

Power football is what Stanford loves to play and what Wisconsin likes to defense, which creates an interesting dynamic for the 99th Rose Bowl between the eighth-ranked Cardinal and the Badgers in Pasadena Tuesday.

The similarities between the two school's offensive philosophies are striking. Both schools switched their starting quarterback with four games left in the season; both balance a passing game featured on the tight ends with a standout running back and both schools have seen a young offensive line build confidence over time.

"Playing a team like Stanford works in our favor because a lot of their shifts and motions are the same as ours," said defensive tackle Ethan Hemer. "That being said, this is a very good team with their set of plays. This is going to be a different animal game planning for this than going against our offense, but our coaches will put us in a good position."

While the Stanford's tight end tandem of Zach Ertz (66 catches, 837 yards, 6 TDs) and Levine Toilolo (24-393-4) have combined to catch 90 passes for 1,230 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, senior tailback Stepfan Taylor has been the offense's workhorse.

With 1,442 rushing yards this season, Taylor recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and is averaging a career-best 110.9 yards per game despite his offensive line entering the season with only 37 combined starts (ranked 103rd in the FBS).

Stanford uses him in third-down, short-yardage, goal line, empty formation or wildcat situations. Not surprisingly, Taylor carries the ball on 77 percent of first-down rushes and 77 percent of third-down rushes among Stanford's tailbacks.

"When you talk about our keys to victory, the first thing we've got to do is to stop the run on first and second down and get them into third-and-long situations," said defensive coordinator Chris Ash. "If we can do that, we can try to put pressure on the quarterback. If we're looking into a lot of short yardage situations, it's going to be a lot harder."

After seeing freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan lead Stanford to six straight scores in a 48-0 win over Colorado, Stanford coach David Shaw swapped senior Josh Nunes (who went 7-2 as the starter in the first nine games) for Hogan. The results were wins over No.13 Oregon State, No.1 Oregon and back-to-back wins over UCLA (No.15 and No.17).

A running quarterback who can run power plays under center or zone-read plays from the shotgun, Hogan was the Pac 12 championship game's MVP after completing 72.7 percent of his passes for 155 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 47 yards and another score.

"He's extremely accurate and he's nimble enough to make things happen, so there is a quarterback-run game," said defensive line coach Charlie Partridge. "He can move around in the pocket and extend pass plays. He's a good player and there's definitely been a difference since he's taken over.

"He's not as fast as Braxton Miller or Taylor Martinez, but he definitely moves well and has great pocket presence. We need to be mindful of that."

The fact that he's not Miller or Martinez should bode well for Wisconsin's defense. In the Badgers overtime loss against the Buckeyes, Wisconsin held Miller to 145 total yards, including just 48 on the ground. Take away Martinez's 76-yard touchdown run in the Big Ten title game, Nebraska quarterback was held to only 64 yards on 18 carries (3.56 yards per rush).

One of just nine teams that rank in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense for each of the last two seasons, Wisconsin ranks 13th nationally in total defense (320.9 yards per game) and in a tie for 19th nationally in scoring defense (19.1 points per game). Wisconsin has held four of its last eight opponents under 15 points.

"We've played like we thought we could at the beginning of the season," said Ash. "The thing I've been happy with is the guys have improved every single week. The guys have showed up to work every single week. Each individual has gotten better. They've bought into what we're doing, believe what we are doing and execute what we put in throughout the course of the week. I've been really happy with that.

"We're in the right spots, and haven't given up a lot of big plays because of that. Our guys are a really tight group on our side of the ball. We've been really consistent in our execution of our responsibilities."

The last two Rose Bowls have been a mixed bag for Wisconsin's defense. The Badgers held a potent TCU offense to only 21 points two years ago, but a slow start cost them 14 first-quarter points in a two-point loss.

Last season, Wisconsin can bowled under by Oregon's speed, giving up 621 total yards, 325 rushing yards and a pair of 150 rushing yards.

Instead of the negative, Wisconsin points to the positive - losing to two teams with top five offenses in competitive games that came down to the final minute – and how those learning lessons have built the foundation of this year's defensive mindset.

"The difference between this group and those groups is third time is a charm hopefully," said Ash. "They've been out there, they know the surroundings and they know what to expect leading up to it. They aren't going to be wide eyed in the Rose Bowl.

"For whatever the reason, we didn't get it done in all three phrases. Our job and our task is to go out and get it done this year. Probably nobody expects a lot out of us given the situation. The guys are hungry. They are going to go out and surprise a lot of people."

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