Badgers aim to complement Taylor
LOS ANGELES — To make an opposing offense one-dimensional is a recipe for successful defense in college football, and Oregon has its sights set on containing Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
How can the Ducks not focus on Taylor, who has more than 6,000 yards in three seasons?
The job of Badgers coach Paul Chryst and his assistants is to develop a game plan to beat Oregon's defense, which held seven opponents to 10 points or less.
Can the Badgers expect to dominate the Ducks with Taylor going for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns behind a beefy offensive line? Probably not.
So, Chryst knows offensive balance and contribution from quarterback Jack Coan remains imperative for Wednesday's 2 p.m. Rose Bowl game.
"The goal is to move the ball," said Chryst, who twice served as Oregon State offensive coordinator. "We're going up against a heck of a defense, and nothing will be given to you.
"You're going to have to do it both ways. You're going to have to be able to run, and be able to pass. That's the game. It's going to take everyone doing their part and really everyone doing their part on all the plays. ... Certainly I love having 'JT,' and we think he's really good. And, our opponents know that, too, so they're going to do things to take that away. So, you have to be balanced."
Taylor rushed for 80 yards and two TDs on 26 carries as the Badgers beat Michigan State 38-0. He carried 20 times for 52 yards in a 38-7 regular-season loss to Ohio State. He rushed for 76 yards and a score on 18 carries in a 38-17 win against Minnesota. He had 148 yards and a score on 20 carries in the Big Ten championship game loss to Ohio State 34-21.
In the two previous seasons, only Utah State (first career game), Northwestern, Illinois and Ohio State in 2017 and Northwestern in 2018 held Taylor under 100 yards. Taylor has one game with 300 yards (2018 versus Purdue), 11 games with more than 200 yards and another 20 games with more than 100 yards.
A two-time Doak Walker Award recipient, he ranks fifth all-time in rushing average (152 yard per game) behind Cornell's Ed Marinaro (174.6), USC's O.J. Simpson (164.4), Georgia's Herschel Walker (159.4) and Northern Illinois' Garrett Wolfe (156.5).
The Badgers convert third downs at a 50% rate, which usually points to success moving the ball. It's good for seventh in the country; Oregon is at 43%. The Badgers also have converted 14 of 18 fourth downs; Oregon is 13 of 24.
The Badgers have converted 44 of 51 red-zone opportunities (86%), with 34 touchdowns. Oregon is at 78% in the red zone, with 39 touchdowns.
"We have to execute (on offense), be great on third down, be great in the red zone, finish drives, try to get touchdowns instead of field goals," Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus said.
• Who is Coan and why should Oregon be worried?
He's an athletic quarterback who's completed 70.1% of his passes for 2,541 yards (195.5 per game) and 17 touchdowns, with four interceptions. His completion percentage led the Big Ten and ranked seventh nationally.
He's completed 71.4% on third down for 39 first downs, second nationally to Utah's Tyler Huntley (78.1%). His career 68.2% passing ranks second in Wisconsin history behind Russell Wilson, the Seattle Seahawks QB who completed 72.8% percent in 2011 (but lost to Oregon in the Rose Bowl).
Coan also apparently is not a stone statue — he can move around the pocket. The Badgers have allowed 20 sacks.
"He's had a complete season," said Joe Rudolph, Wisconsin's associated head, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. "He's a steady, steady dude. This team really appreciates that about him. ... It's easy to feel really good when everyone likes you."
Coan, a 6-3, 220-pound junior, said of Oregon defenders: "They're really athletic. They've got great athletes all over the field. They cause a lot of turnovers. They get after the quarterback. It's going to be a tough game for us."
He compared the Ducks to Ohio State, adding, "they both have amazing athletes on the field that get after the quarterback and make big plays. It's going to be tough for us."
Cephus, a 6-1, 210-pound receiver, leads with 52 receptions for 842 yards and six touchdowns. Six other players have 20 or more receptions.
• It'll be a great battle of premier offensive lines in the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers have put a lot of offensive linemen into the NFL and consistently put O-linemen on Big Ten all-league lists. Center Tyler Biadasz, the Rimington Trophy winner, leads the unit this season.
"We've had a combination of really good players and really good coaches, and they work at it," Chryst said. "Guys work and develop."
Chris Orr, Wisconsin inside linebacker, said Oregon, led by defensive lineman Penei Sewell, has "athletic maulers. They can move, get up to the second level. It's hard to just run around them. They're strong at the point of attack. They can move guys. It's definitely going to be a tough challenge for us, but this is exactly what you want. You want to face the best."
• Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun had an instant reaction when he thought of Oregon.
"Nike," he said. "I think everyone's that way. As far as their football team, historically it's been, like, speed guys, recruiting athleticism. ... They've definitely evolved. They're trying to evolve. They have an experienced offensive line. They really work as a group to bring, like, a physical mentality to the game."
He, like every coach and player has talked about, said "I think winning the line of scrimamge" will be the key. "They play a physical brand of football, and so do we. So whoever gets push on that line is going to most likely be the victor."
• Baun had a take on Oregon running back C.J. Verdell, who, at last sight, went for 208 yards and three touchdowns on the purportedly impenetrable Utah defense. He also had 257 yards and three TDs against Washington State.
"Downhill runner," Baun said. "He's not looking for the cut-back or anything. He's got his nose in one gap, and that's the gap he's going to hit. He's a real physical back, and then once he breaks through the line, he can really make plays in space."
The Badgers, who have a fierce front seven, are focused on the UO run game, but they realize QB Justin Herbert can do damage with his arm — and legs, when he and coaches choose (see Utah game).
"He's definitely got a lot of tools," defensive end Isaiah Loudermilk said.
"He's definitely athletic enough to do some damage, some critical damage (running)," Orr added.
The Badgers have posted four shutouts and given up 16.1 points and 293.5 yards per game, both in the top 10 nationally and on par with Oregon (15.7, 329.6)
• The Badgers have won five consecutive bowl games, including the past four under Chryst, who's 52-15 at Wisconsin.
But, they're coming off the loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
"Coach Chryst does a great job of getting guys locked in," Cephus said. "It's a beautiful thing to come out as champions and leave a mark on your season. Guys take that very seriously."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.