Rotating a lot of players at multiple positions and seeing the talent of their backups be just as good, if not better in some cases, than the starting personnel, the defense of No.6 Oregon proves to be just another challenge for the Badgers' high-potent offense in the 98th Rose Bowl on January 2.
"I think they are athletic, have good size inside and they are an aggressive defense," said offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. "It's different than some of the defenses we've seen throughout the year, so it's a little bit of a different preparation. Their defense compliments their offense probably as much of anything."
Like their offense, Oregon's defense operated with a touch of deception. Mixing up their defensive looks from the 3-4 (three defensive linemen, four linebackers) to the 4-3 (four defensive linemen, three linebackers), the Ducks can disrupt blocking schemes, use its speed to use run blitzes and load areas of the field with extra defenders to plug gaps and redirect running plays.
It's a reason why the Ducks allow a mere 3.56 yards per carry.
"I think their skill overall on defense is pretty good," said senior wide receiver Nick Toon. "Their corners are young, but they're very, very athletic. Their safeties are aggressive in the way they fill. I think their two edge players on defense are exceptional players. They play a lot of guys on defense."
Oregon defenders have said leading up to the game that Wisconsin reminds them of Stanford, a Pac-12 opponent with an offensive line that averages 303 pounds (roughly 20 pounds lighter than UW's line). The Ducks defeated Stanford 53-30 on the road and did so by holding the Cardinal to 142 yards on 30 carries and sacking quarterback and Heisman finalist Andrew Luck three times.
But just like Wisconsin has a unique preparation in preparing for Oregon's speed, the Ducks and their nationally-ranked 59th defense (giving up an average of 381.0 yards per game) will have a challenging time replicated the speed and size that the Badgers have on an offensive group that has been more than effective this season.
Ranked fourth in the country in scoring offense, averaging a school-record 44.6 points per game, Wisconsin is averaging 7.02 yards per play, rank third in the country in third-down percentage, converting 85 of their 157 third-down attempts (54.1 percent) and has converted 61 of its 70 red zone attempts into touchdowns, leading the country with a .871 TD percentage in the red zone.
Credit all those numbers to Wilson, who is a perfect 7-of-7 for 28 yards with seven TDs (463.6 pass efficiency) on third-and-goal and is 56-of-75 (.747) for 668 yards with 16 TDs and an interception (217.2 pass efficiency) on third down overall.
"I think there's nobody in college football with an offense like ours," said Toon, as Wisconsin's offense has averaged 36.5 points in its four games against teams ranked in the top 10 in total defense. "The numbers speak for themselves. We've had a lot of success this year and hopefully the best is yet to come. I doubt it's going to be a 21-19 game. It's going to be a fun game to play in."
It'll be fun, especially, if Wisconsin can figure out how to start quicker than it did in Pasadena a season ago. In its 21-19 loss to No.3 Texas Christian, Wisconsin reached TCU territory on each of its first five possessions but had only 13 points to show for it.
The Badgers outrushed TCU 226-82, but committed a season high in penalties and yards and players said afterwards that they did things that were uncharacteristic of what had got them to that point. For the second straight season, the Badgers' offense knows that the only team that can stop them is themselves.
"We can't go out there and come out slow," Toon said. "You know Oregon is going to put up points and our defense is going to do what they can. As an offense, it's our job to put up more points than the other team. To not come out fast and play the way we can play won't be of any benefit to us."