Badgers defense on better footing vs. Stanford

MADISON, Wis. — Stanford’s offense is not built to wow anybody with a high-flying, spread-attacking assault on the college football record books. The Cardinal will gladly let those honors go to the Pac-12 school located in Eugene, Ore.

Wisconsin’s defense is not built to deal with a high-flying, spread-attacking offense assaulting the college football record books. The Badgers will gladly trade last year’s Rose Bowl opponent — that Pac-12 school located in Eugene, Ore. — for this year’s opponent.

In other words, when Wisconsin takes on Stanford in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, the Badgers should be much more adequately prepared to handle the Cardinal offense, which operates out of a pro-style system quite similar to Wisconsin’s own offense.

“That kind of offense is right up our alley,” Badgers defensive end David Gilbert said this week. “They’re going to hand the ball off to their running back. The quarterback is going to throw the ball. Obviously, they have great athletes. People are going to do things they need to do in certain situations, but they’re more of a traditional pro-style team. We feel that gives us the advantage. But they probably feel like they have the advantage, too.”

Last year in the Rose Bowl, Oregon blazed across the field to edge Wisconsin, 45-38, in an offensive display that surely won’t be duplicated this season. The Ducks amassed 621 yards of total offense — the second-most in Rose Bowl history — forcing the Badgers to score almost every time they touched the ball simply to have a chance.

That Oregon team finished third in the country in scoring offense (46.1 points per game) and fourth in total offense (522.8 yards per game). But the Stanford team Wisconsin faces this season is an entirely different type of animal.

Stanford ranks No. 69 in scoring offense (28.5 points per game), No. 83 in total offense and 92nd in passing offense out of 120 FBS teams.

As a means of comparison, Wisconsin ranks No. 50 in scoring offense (30.8 points per game), No. 62 in total offense and No. 111 in passing offense.

Both offenses rely heavily on running the ball to set up the occasional play-action pass.

“I guess I could say that it works into our favor that we see that every day,” Badgers defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. “That being said, Stanford does throw in a couple wrinkles we haven’t seen. It’s still going to be a challenging game to create a game plan for but one we feel confident in.”

Hemer described the biggest challenge as handling Stanford’s trades and shifts in motion. The Cardinal often attempt to get defensive players out of position against tight ends or running backs.

“Just being able to set the front then re-set it when we have to will be huge,” Hemer said.

Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor has rushed for 1,442 yards with 12 touchdowns. Every other Cardinal player that has carried the ball has combined to total 811 yards and nine touchdowns.

Kevin Hogan has taken over as Stanford’s quarterback in place of Josh Nunes, but he has not thrown often. During Stanford’s 27-24 victory against UCLA in the Pac-12 championship, Hogan completed 16 of 22 passes for 155 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Hogan threw for 160 yards one week earlier in a regular-season victory against UCLA.

Gilbert said Wisconsin forcing Stanford into third-and-long situations is vital because it would set up a scenario in which Hogan’s arm would have to beat the Badgers. Last year, Oregon rarely faced third-and-long and punted just three times.

Wisconsin’s defense has certainly shown this season that it can handle any offense that comes its way. The Badgers rank No. 19 in scoring defense (19.1 points per game), No. 21 in rushing defense and No. 13 in total defense.

In addition, Wisconsin is third in the country in three-and-out success rate (41.7 percent).

Badgers linebacker Mike Taylor noted the team has spent so much time preparing for various spread offenses during the Big Ten season that the month between the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl is needed. Taylor is certain Wisconsin will be ready by Jan. 1 for a game far different from the one played in the same venue one year earlier.

“Stanford will run the ball, run the ball and then hit play action,” Taylor said. “They have good tight ends, a good line and a good running back. You’ve got to be prepared for it all.”

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