If you watched the Big Ten championship game, then you saw the Wisconsin Badgers‘ running attack at their best. That running attack will have to be at its best during the Rose Bowl against the Stanford Cardinal. The Cardinal possess one of the best rush defenses in the country while the Badgers are providing a rushing attack to this game that seems to just now be hitting its stride.
The Big Ten Championship Game provided the best example for how the Badgers should have been executing their running attack all season. Not only did Montee Ball get his touches, but James White and freshman Melvin Gordon also got theirs, and that’s something that is uncommon this season. Not only that, but it was the way the Badgers were calling plays for their running attack that wowed me. They were doing straight running plays, sweeps, pitches, end-around runs involving their running backs, they did everything. And the result was that running attack overwhelming and pounding the Nebraska Cornhuskers into submission to the tune of a 70-31 final. It looks like the score of a landslide in college basketball, but it was a landslide in college football.
It wasn’t just the flash and the score that made this performance an example to follow, but it was also how productive the Badgers were only through rushing. Eight of the Badgers’ ten touchdowns came on the ground, and one came from the arm of White as he threw a touchdown late in the first half of the game. The Badgers racked up 539 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by the Cornhuskers in a game, and of those 539, the yards were well distributed with Ball rushing 202 yards (and three touchdowns), White rushing for 109 (and four touchdowns), and Gordon rushing for 216 (and one touchdown). Another plus to this productivity is that the Badgers’ quarterbacks only had to attempt nine passes in the entire game.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for the Badgers and their running game because the usually reliable Cardinal rush defense slipped up the same weekend the Badgers won the Big Ten.
Against the UCLA Bruins, the Cardinal gave up nearly 300 rushing yards despite winning the Pac 12 title game. Of those, Bruins running back Johnathan Franklin gained 184 and scored twice. Freshman quarterback Brett Huntley ran for 84 and scored once for the Bruins to go with Franklin’s big night. This also meant that the Bruins only score other than a rushing touchdown was a field-goal early in the third quarter.
Up until this game, the Cardinal had one of the best rush defenses in the country. Even after this game they still do, but this being their last outing prior to the Rose Bowl isn’t the best thing for them. It should definitely give the Badgers confidence that they will be able to run against a defense that has been very successful at stopping the run this season.
However, and I can’t emphasize this enough, the Badgers have to run their offense the way they did in the Big Ten title game. I wrote something to that degree after the Badgers’ early loss to the Oregon St. Beavers, and I stand by it today. All running backs need to be involved, the play-calling should be tricky and unexpected to the opponent, and yes, the QB’s should be involved, but not too involved.
I’ve heard a lot of chatter in Wisconsin about how the passing game needs to be more involved for the Badgers to have a shot at winning. To that I have only this to say: not a chance. If recent Rose Bowl losses and recent play by the Badgers has demonstrated anything beyond the shadow of a doubt, it’s that the passing game must be limited unless you have a Russell Wilson-type quarterback. And the Badgers certainly do not have anyone close to that kind of quarterback this year. If the Badgers won to make the third of their three straight Rose Bowls go better than the last two, use the running attack to its fullest and implement the pass when needed.