Breakdown: Oregon Offense vs UW Defense

In preparation for the 98th Rose Bowl Monday, Badger Nation breaks down the match up of No.9 Wisconsin's improving defense against the speed and athleticism of No.6 Oregon's offense.

LOS ANGELES – Minutes after winning the Big Ten Championship game, sophomore linebacker Chris Borland was asked for an early scouting report on Oregon, Wisconsin's opponent in the 98th Rose Bowl on January 2.

The only word that came out was fast and rightfully so.

No.6 Oregon (11-2) scored 82 touchdowns this season, becoming one of 12 teams since the start of 1996 to find the end zone at least 80 times. To put up a number like that, the Ducks needed a lot of possessions and a lot of quick scores. Their up-tempo offense and talent at every skill position provides both.

Sixth in the country in total offense, averaging 515.2 yards per game, the Ducks scored 35 touchdowns on drives of 70 or more yards that consumed less than three minutes.

"Speed of their tempo and speed of their skill both present tremendous challenges," co-defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge said. "There as talented of offense as we will have seen all year."

Much like No.9 Wisconsin, the Ducks rely on a vaunted run game with a solid passing game to compliment it. Oregon is ranked fifth nationally in rushing yards per game, 295.7, and leads the country in yards per rush, at 6.53.

The Ducks' focal point is junior running back LaMichael James — a Doak Walker Award finalist, along with Badgers running back Montee Ball, for top running back in the nation — who has rushed for 1,646 yards – fourth in the country – and 17 touchdowns despite missing two games with a dislocated elbow.

Even when James and his 7.4 yards per carry average is out, his backup, Kenjon Barner, provides the offense, having rushed for 909 yards and 11 touchdowns on 6.3 yards per carry.

"They have so much talent and skill," said senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "When you see an offensive lineman disengage, you'll see a running back sprint hop around you and go for 50 yards. Their receivers are the best blockers I have seen. You need to separate from blockers that when the opportunity comes to make a play, you have to make it."

Complimenting James, quarterback Darron Thomas threw for 2,493 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions while receiver De'Anthony Thomas is the team's leading receiver with 42 catches for 571 yards and nine scores. He's a kickoff threat, too, averaging 27.7 yards while scoring twice on kickoff returns to finish the season with 1,011 combined yards.

"He's very accurate, very quick in his decision making," UW coach Bret Bielema said of Darron Thomas. "Their system and what he goes to, he runs it very, very well and has a lot of confidence in it."

The keys to Oregon' success, according to sophomore defensive tackle Beau Allen, are the mid-line rush plays executed almost flawlessly by Oregon's offensive line. On one such play, the line will leave a defensive tackle practically unblocked and allow the quarterback to read the play, making the decision either to keep the ball or hand it off to the running back.

"It's an exciting challenge and is going to be a fun challenge for us," Allen said. "James is really shifty. He finds a way to get up field and get through gaps. You'll see film of defensive linemen extended and in their gaps, but he still manages to slip through. He's a really talented player."

Allen said the speed of Oregon's no-huddle offense is different and ‘something we don't deal with a lot," hinting that Partridge is going to do some different things with the line's rotations. The big key leading up to this week for the coaching staff is simulating the speed, meaning multiple scout teams doing rapid fire plays to push the tempo and test the conditioning of UW's defense.

"They don't truly understand how fast it needs to be until you've walked through it, tell them how you are going to do it and then practice through it," said Partridge.

It's a challenge test, and a reason why the UW coaching staff is going outside its practice routine. Instead of the usual 22- or 24-period practice, all practices leading up to the Rose Bowl have been 18 periods or less with six of the 14 practices having post-practice conditioning work.

It's done to keep players fresh, conditioned and, frankly, up to speed with what promises to be a unique test with Oregon.

"Defensively we are getting a lot of good running in," Allen said. "The biggest thing is to get in your stance because there are a lot of linemen on film that aren't in their stance when Oregon snaps the ball. It's something different and something that we are up for the challenge to face."

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