There isn't much that separates the No. 6 Oregon Ducks and No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers. Both schools have a rich history of producing elite running backs, both field top-notch defenses and both are vying for their fourth Rose Bowl victory.
The Badgers’ explosive running back Jonathan Taylor has etched his name in Wisconsin's record books. Just a junior, he already has a dozen 200-yard rushing games in his career. One of those games came last year in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, when Taylor rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown and was named MVP.
Taylor is top five in the nation for rush attempts, yards and touchdowns. His stellar numbers landed him fifth in the Heisman voting.
With many insisting he sit out the Rose Bowl in preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft, Taylor disagreed, stating that he has worked all season to lead his team into Wisconsin’s tenth Rose Bowl appearance.
“We earned the right to be here,” Taylor told the Oregonian. “So, I wanted to finish it out right.”
His success has largely been due to the talented offensive line that Wisconsin has groomed. Tyler Biadasz — recently named the Rimington Trophy winner for best center in the country — lays the groundwork for Wisconsin's running game.
And Wisconsin relies heavily on its run game. While Taylor leads the Big Ten in rushing yards, quarterback Jack Coan ranks second to last in passing yards per game, a weakness that has the potential to be exploited.
If Oregon limits Taylor’s impact, Coan will have to step up. Seven times this season Coan has failed to reach 200 passing yards.
The Badgers will have their hands full with Oregon freshman Kayvon Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux — who stepped in when Gus Cumberlander went down with a season ending knee injury — has racked up nine sacks this season.
After his 2.5 sack performance in the Pac-12 championship, Thibodeaux will be hungry for his shot to take down Wisconsin quarterback Coan.
Another similarity between the Ducks and Badgers is their strong scoring defense. Ranked eighth and 10th, respectively, Oregon is giving up just 15.7 points per game and Wisconsin 16.1. The Badgers have surrendered 20-plus points in six of their last seven games.
Linebackers Zack Baun and Chris Orr are the leaders for the Wisconsin defense. The two seniors account for 24 of the team’s 49 sacks this season. As for the remainder of the Badger’s defense, 13 players have accounted for more than 20 tackles.
The previous matchup between the Ducks and Badgers resulted in 45-38 Rose Bowl victory for Oregon. In 2011, Chip Kelly led the Ducks to their third straight conference championship while Wisconsin returned to the Rose Bowl for the second consecutive year.