Wisconsin is 0-6 all-time against USC but haven’t seen the Trojans since 1966. Thrown in that winless drought is the 1962 Rose Bowl, considered one of the greatest Rose Bowls in the game’s 101-year history. This edition of Wisconsin-USC will have a lot to live up to equal the 1962 New Year’s Day matchup but will provide a good final challenge for Wisconsin, as the Trojans have plenty of athletes on offense and defense.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a victory in the Holiday Bowl for Wisconsin (9-3) over USC (8-5), as the Badgers strive to win a second straight bowl game and the first under head coach Paul Chryst.
1, Protecting Joel Stave
Which offensive line for Wisconsin is going to show up against USC - the one against Northwestern that gave up a season-high six sacks or the one that allowed no pressures against Minnesota? If it’s the former and not the latter, it will be tough sledding for Wisconsin’s offense against a team giving up 25.9 points a game. Wisconsin will need to be ready for outside linebacker Su’a Cravens, who leads the team in tackles for loss (14.5) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5). If Cravens, or any other player for USC finds their way into the Wisconsin backfield often, it will be hard for Stave to get into a rhythm as he has completed 60.3 percent of his passes this season.
2, Pressuring quarterback Cody Kessler
Wisconsin’s defense has been able to consistently find ways into opposing team’s backfields, finishing the regular season with 65 tackles for loss and 26 sacks. In order for that to continue Wisconsin’s defensive line will need to be able to open up the lanes against USC’s talented offensive line. If Vince Biegel or Joe Schobert can consistently supply the pressure, it should help prevent Kessler from being able to set his feet and examine his options down the field. When Jack Cichy returns in the second half from his targeting suspension it will give defensive coordinator Dave Aranda another option to send on the blitz. Kesser has only thrown six interceptions this season, but the Badgers might get lucky if they throw a variety of rushes or bliIzes into his face. Of course, UW will have to take advantage when those opportunities present itself, as there have been instances this year where linebackers have seen interceptions drop through their fingers.
3, Converting third down
If the Badger offensive line can create the necessary holes in the running game and allow Stave time to throw the football, the offense should find itself in situations where they are facing a third-and-short opposed to a third-and-long. This is important when you consider the USC defense allows its opponent to convert 35.8 percent on third down, which led the Pac-12 conference. Wisconsin consistently facing a third and long will play right into the hands of the USC defense. The Badgers have been able to convert on 40.8 percent of its third downs but had five games this year converting 50 percent or better. Sustaining drives increases the chances to put points on the board and give rest to Wisconsin’s defense.
4, Status of Corey Clement
It is still to be seen whether or not Clement will play tonight. His addition will certainly help Wisconsin’s passing game and could give the running game a boost. USC is allowing 147.2 rushing yards a game, and Wisconsin’s rushing attack hasn’t lived up to what Badgers fans have become accustomed to seeing. If Clement does play and Wisconsin’s offensive line has a repeat performance, Clement could find a way to have a couple of successful runs. Pounding the rock successfully could help wear down the Trojans defense to eventually allow himself or Dare Ogunbowale to break a long run.
5, Keeping the football out of the hands of USC’s weapons
USC possesses two players who can make a play at any time, as Juju Smith-Schuster and Adoree Jackson average 111.1 and 105.9 all-purpose yards per game, respectively. Smith-Schuster is the favorite target for Kessler in the passing game, meaning Wisconsin’s secondary can’t allow Smith-Schuster to get behind them and UW’s front can’t allow Kessler to get into a rhythm. Jackson is second on the team in receiving yards and has shown that he can be dangerous on special teams, averaging 22.9 yards per kick return and has registered two punt returns for touchdowns. Drew Meyer is going to have to consistently get good hang time on his punts to allow his coverage time to pin the USC offense deep in its territory.
Wisconsin is seeking its 10th win of the season, which would give them consecutive double-digit win seasons for the first time since 2010-11. Most importantly, UW is still looking for its first marquee win of the season and beating USC would certainly be qualify as such. Despite Wisconsin having the defense and enough time to prepare for a talented USC offense, the Trojans’ defense is more than capable of holding an inconsistent Wisconsin offense in check. USC wins 27-20.