Bowl Breakdown: Wisconsin-Stanford

Our Wisconsin and Stanford publishers give you players to watch, keys to victory and more for the Rose Bowl.

Editor's note: For selected games during bowl season, our Scout.com publishers will go head-to-head to break down the game, giving you the players to watch, reasons to believe in each team and more.

Rose Bowl

Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Stanford
Tuesday, 5 p.m. ET (in Pasadena, Calif.)
CFN's Rose Bowl prediction

Wisconsin Badgers

By Ben Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Three players to watch

Montee Ball, RB -- One of three players nationally to earn consensus first-team All-America honors in each of the last two seasons, Ball has scored 82 career touchdowns, the most in NCAA FBS history, Ball has run for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns this season, averaging 133.1 yards per game. Ball is averaging a TD for every 11.8 carries in his career. For comparison, Ron Dayne averaged a touchdown every 17.2 carries.

Mike Taylor, LB -- Taylor has recorded more tackles than any player in the FBS over the past two seasons. With 120 tackles, Taylor ranks in a tie for 24th nationally this season after ranking third with 150 total stops in 2011. His 270 tackles over the past two seasons are 10 more than the 265 of Khaseem Greene of Rutgers. Taylor has averaged 10.0 tackles per game over the past two seasons (27 games), posting double-digit tackles in 13 games.


Montee Ball is one of Wisconsin's most dangerous running threats ever.

Devin Smith, CB -- Tied for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions on the season and ranks in a tie for third in the league with 16 passes defended on the season, Smith's 16 passes defended rank in a tie for seventh on the Badgers' single-season list. Smith has been UW's top cornerback since the start of the season and has been playing like it down the stretch.

Three strengths

Three-and-outs. The Badgers have forced opponents to go three-and-out on 42.3 percent of their drives this season, the third-best rate of any team in the nation. Of the 163 drives by UW opponents this season (excluding five possessions to end a half), 69 ended without the opponent recording a first down. On the season, the Badgers have held opponents to no gain or negative yardage on 22 possessions and opponents are converting just 32.8 percent of their third-down attempts this season, which makes the Badgers No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 21 nationally in third-down defense.

The running game. Averaging 414.2 yards per game in conference play, most of Wisconsin's offense has come from its three-headed monster at running back. With Ball, junior James White and freshman Melvin Gordon all seeing significant carries, Wisconsin piled up 640 offensive yards against Nebraska in the Big Ten championship game -- the third time this season UW has topped the 600-yard plateau. Wisconsin ran for a school-record 564 yards against Indiana and 539 yards against Nebraska (the most yards Nebraska has ever allowed in a game).

Total defense. One of nine teams that has ranked in the top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense for each of the last two seasons, Wisconsin enters the Rose Bowl ranked 13th nationally in total defense (320.9 yards per game) and in a tie for 19th nationally in scoring defense (19.1 points per game). Since the start of the 2011 season, UW has held 16 of its 27 foes under the 20-point mark, going 14-2 in those games. UW has held four of its last eight opponents under 15 points and has won 46 of its last 50 games when holding teams under 20 points.

Important thing you may not know

Wisconsin is one of nine schools to have started at least three different quarterbacks this season, and excluding Wisconsin (8-5, .615), the records of the eight other schools that have started at least three QBs this season is just 31-65 (.323).

With senior Curt Phillips set to take snaps in the Rose Bowl, the Badgers will become the first team to play in three consecutive BCS bowl games and use three different starting quarterbacks. While Phillips -- who has overcome three ACL surgeries on his right knee -- has attempted 10 passes or less in two of his four starts, Phillips led the Badgers on successful fourth-quarter comebacks to force overtime in the other two.

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Against Ohio State, the Badgers got the ball back with 1:33 to play and trailing 14-7. Despite being sacked on first down, Phillips led the Badgers 41 yards down the field in 1:25 by going 5-for-5 for 48 yards and a game-tying 5-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Pedersen with 0:08 remaining.

At Penn State, the Badgers got the ball back with 3:51 to play and trailing 21-14. Phillips went 6-for-7 for 54 yards and a game-tying 4-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Duckworth with 0:18 remaining. Phillips went 12-for-25 for a career-high 191 yards and two touchdown passes at Penn State.

What Wisconsin must do to win

Wisconsin needs to be able to get its running game moving while containing Stanford's attack, led by Stepfan Taylor. With 1,442 rushing yards this season, Taylor recorded his third consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season and is averaging a career-best 110.9 yards per game despite his offensive line entering the season with only 37 combined starts (ranked 103rd in the FBS).

Stanford uses him in third-down, short-yardage, goal line, empty formation or wildcat situations. Not surprisingly, Taylor carries the ball on 77 percent of first-down rushes and 77 percent of third-down rushes among Stanford's tailbacks. Wisconsin ranks third in the Big Ten and 21st nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 124.5 yards per game. The Badgers are 8-1 when they out-rush their opponent.


Stanford Cardinal

By David Lombardi, TheBootleg.com

Three players to watch

Kevin Hogan, QB -- Stanford's offense was anemic before Hogan took over the starting job entering a brutal November stretch. The redshirt freshman, a speedy dual threat, has yet to lose a start.

Stepfan Taylor, RB -- Much attention is focused on Wisconsin's Montee Ball, and rightfully so, but Taylor can hold his own with the Badgers' beast. Stanford's all-time rushing leader is also an excellent blocker and receiver out of the backfield.

Trent Murphy, LB -- Stanford's astounding defensive depth limits individual statistical success, but Murphy has still recorded 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss on the year. He's an athletic freak who has also returned a tip-pick for a touchdown.


Stepfan Taylor, Stanford's all-time leading rusher, will be crucial for the Cardinal's hopes.

Three strengths

Controlling the line of scrimmage. Stanford's vaunted front seven leads the nation in sacks (56) and tackles for loss (120) by wide margins. On top of Murphy, linebackers Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov, and AJ Tarpley support a monstrous defensive line that has enjoyed Henry Anderson's emergence. The Cardinal are fast, strong, disciplined, and deep up front.

Athleticism and instincts in the secondary. While the front seven has grabbed headlines, the emergence of the Cardinal's secondary has spearheaded the defense's entrance into the ranks of the elite. True freshman Alex Carter is excellent in perimeter run support, while free safety Ed Reynolds is barely shy of NCAA records for pick sixes and interception return yards.

Tight ends. Zach Ertz is impossible to stop in single coverage and a headache to cover even in double and triple teams. His size, speed, and uncanny balancing ability allow him to also split out as a wide receiver, and his 66 catches on the year demonstrate his versatility. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 monolith Levine Toilolo presents another unique match-up challenge.

Important thing you may not know

Stanford now has back-end speed in the secondary that can keep up with any team in college football. For years, the Cardinal have dragged around the stereotype of being a powerful yet slightly slow team -- and rightfully so. But an upswing in recruiting has stocked this team with elite athletes at the speed positions. This was apparent when reserve safety Devon Carrington ran down speedy Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota from the opposite side of the field to save a touchdown at Autzen Stadium in a game earlier this season.

What Stanford must do to win

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The common formula here would be to avoid turnovers, but the Stanford defense has proven dominant enough to beat elite opposition, even while the team has lost the turnover battle. So, the simple key for Stanford is to maintain elite defensive play while generating at least some offense to keep its juggernaut of a defense fresh.

The Cardinal believe they match up favorably against Wisconsin's power rushing attack, but they must be wary of the Badgers' play-action threat to remain in position to stymie the run.

If that happens, head coach David Shaw's squad will win its first Rose Bowl since being the "Indians" in 1972.

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