Two of college football’s best defenses shape Wednesday’s 107th edition of the Rose Bowl, when No. 6 Oregon meets No. 8 Wisconsin at Pasadena, Calif.
Just two spots in the College Football Playoff rankings separate the Pac-12 champion Ducks and the Big Ten’s Badgers. Likewise, the two are ranked right next to each other for scoring defense on the season, with Oregon ranking ninth in the country at 15.7 points allowed per game, and Wisconsin 10th at 16.1 points per game yielded.
“Everyone’s willingness to work really, really hard and not settle but absolutely for our best and our best is our best. And the hard thing about that is doing it every single day,” Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos told reporters at Friday’s media availability. “We’ve become more consistent with that as we’ve grown. That’s one area that coach [Mario Cristobal] asked for us to become more consistent is just in how we prep, how we work, our mentality every day.”
The Ducks (11-2) thrived in a variety of defensive statistical categories, but one of the most important to their success in 2019 was an average of 106.8 rushing yards per game. That ranks No. 11 in the nation.
Stopping the run in the Rose Bowl plays an especially important role with Oregon lined up opposite Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor sits at 1,909 yards rushing for the season. With 91 on Wednesday, he would become the first player to reach 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons since Iowa State’s Troy Davis in 1995 and 1996.
Taylor finished the 2018 campaign with 2,194 yards on the ground. He was just shy of the 2,000-yard milestone as a freshman in 2017 with 1,977 yards.
“Whenever you’re able to represent your university, especially with the program we had, with the running backs that came through our program,” Taylor said to reporters on Friday. “To do right by those guys, it’s always good.”
Taylor’s remarkable season included a stretch of three straight 200-yard games and four overall. He has not been completely unstoppable, though — he was limited to 52 yards at Ohio State on Oct. 26 and 76 in the Big Ten West-sealing win over Minnesota on Nov. 30.
Replicating such efforts is key for the Ducks defense.
“You just got to pursue to the ball and you got to gang tackle,” Oregon defensive back Thomas Graham Jr. told reporters on Friday. “He’s a running back that is special in so many ways. I think he’s like top five in the nation in broken tackles [and] his offensive line blocks [with] very good form.”
Wisconsin (10-3) faces a similar challenge against Oregon running back CJ Verdell. Verdell went off for 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Pac-12 Championship against a Utah defense that came in allowing fewer than 57 rushing yards per game.
The Badgers rank ninth nationally, allowing just 102.4 rushing yards per game, but gave up 172 yards to Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins in the Dec. 7 Big Ten title game.
Wisconsin built a two-touchdown at halftime against Ohio State, but struggled to keep pace in the second half. The Buckeyes used an aggressive pass rush to render the offense one-dimensional.
With Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Kayvon Thibodeaux (team-high 14.0 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks) pacing an Oregon defense that ranked No. 11 in the country with 41 sacks.
“Between Oregon and Ohio State, they both have amazing athletes on the field that get after the quarterback and make big plays,” Badgers quarterback Jack Coan told reporters. “They’re an amazing defense.”
–Field Level Media