Rose Bowl preview: Wisconsin looks to knock off Stanford
A little less than a month ago on Dec. 6, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez met with the media and announced he would return to the sidelines to coach the Badgers in the Rose Bowl against Stanford following the surprise departure of Bret Bielema to Arkansas.
Under Bielema the Badgers had lost the last two Rose Bowl games to TCU and Oregon, close games lost by a combined nine points. Under Alvarez, the Badgers won the 1994, 1999 and 2000 Rose Bowl games.
"I think the amount of confidence that he has is tremendous," said Badgers offensive lineman Travis Frederick. "I don't think it has anything to do with false confidence. I think everything is completely justified. I was saying in there that somebody asked me what could I say about Barry Alvarez? The best thing that I can describe him as is absolutely everything that you've ever heard about him is true."
Frederick continued: "The amount of swagger that he has, the confidence, the tremendous coaching ability, everything like that. So I think that he's kind of brought that to the team. I think the team has accepted that and has a little bit more confidence about them as well."
Yet while Alvarez leads the Badgers out of the tunnel against Stanford, the PAC-12 champions, he won't be the one charged with containing running back Stepfan Taylor (1,442 yards, 12 TD) and big, 6-foot, 6-inch tight end Zach Ertz (66 catches, 837 yards, 6 TD).
"It's almost kind of like a mirror image where our guys on defense are going to see some things that they recognize, because they go against them in training camp and spring ball," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "It's going to be some very similar styles. But at the same time we have our own uniqueness as well.
"I think there's going to be a little bit of a chess match as we get into this thing. But I think once again it's going to be exciting to go see something familiar on film."
Then there is the Cardinal defense which ranks 14th in the country in points against at just 17.5 per game. Notre Dame, the nation's top team, needed overtime to beat the Cardinal and scored just 20 points. And Chip Kelly's mighty Oregon offense managed just 14 in an overtime loss to Stanford.
"They're very physical," said Badgers running back Montee Ball. "They're big. They're big up front. The linebackers are very physical. Like I said, they play extremely smart, which allows for them to make great plays.
Added Badgers receiver Jared Abbrederis: "They make plays. They have a couple of pick sixes. They have guys that they like to fit on the run. They play really sound defense. So we've got to make sure we're on at the wideout position and tight ends, and whoever is catching the ball. They have pretty good guys back there, and they're going to be a good test for us."
Alvarez and the Badgers will no doubt pull out all the stops to snap a two-game Rose Bowl losing skid and add to the former coach's legacy. A victory will also set new coach Gary Anderson up well heading into the next recruiting season.
Yet no one wearing red and white is about to make any predictions. Not after a season with five overtime games and five losses by a total of six points in regulation. Not against this Stanford team.
"It's going to be a four-quarter game for sure," Ball said. "We're kind of very similar. Establish the run game and just keep at 'em downhill. I expect it to be a very physical fourth quarter game. The team with the least amount of penalties that stays focused the longest will win."
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