Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Third time’s a charm. Whatever your cliché, it’s time for the Ducks to finally step up and defeat a quality non-conference opponent.
The Ducks will enter Monday’s Rose Bowl game against Wisconsin with a chip on its shoulder. Winless in bowl games thus far, Chip Kelly has a chance to prove he can get it done against the best of the best.
Wisconsin will remind a lot of people of the Ohio State Buckeyes team that defeated the Ducks 26-17 in the 2010 Rose Bowl. Russell Wilson, who threw for 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season, is just as much a dual-threat quarterback as Terrell Pryor proved to be on January 1, 2010. Along with completing 72.5 % of his passes this season, Wilson was also the Badgers’ number three rusher with 320 yards and five scores on the ground.
What Wisconsin has, however, that not even Pryor’s Buckeyes had is a ground game that goes beyond the quarterback making every play on his own.
Receiving the fourth most Heisman votes this season, Badgers’ running back Monte Ball is a game changer. Rushing for 32 touchdowns, and scoring on six receptions, Ball was one of the nation’s most dynamic backs all season. At just under six-feet tall and just over 210 pounds, Ball has a similar physique as the two backs who ran for nearly 200 yards against the Ducks in this year’s season opener against LSU. The difference? Ball will try and do that without sharing backfield touches.
LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas are all just as capable as performing on a high level as Ball; but what it comes down to – and where the Ducks have failed over the past few seasons – is blocking for the playmakers.
There’s no question that the Ducks will be undersized come Jan. 2. Like Ohio State, Auburn and LSU all over again, the Ducks will be facing both offensive and defensive lines that you rarely see in Pac-12 play. An average of 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, the offensive line of Wisconsin outweighs the Oregon defensive line on average by 50 pounds. They’re going to have seemingly no problem blocking for the Badgers backfield, so whether it be aggressiveness, speed or simply heart, the Ducks must somehow do the same.
In the past two years, Ducks fans haven’t seen the offensive battles that many expected to see in post-season play. While Wisconsin may have the biggest dual-threat offense the Ducks have seen this year, Oregon will undoubtedly showcase the best total offense the Badgers have faced this season.
With two offenses that average more than 90 points per game combined, securing the football could be the biggest key of all in this game. The team that gives up the most possessions will have a tough time keeping up with the other’s offense. If you give the Badgers short fields from sloppy turnovers, expect them to score every time – not unlike LSU in the season opener. Four turnovers against LSU, two against Auburn and two against Ohio State all left the opposition with leads that the Ducks could never quite recover from. Protect the ball, let the offenses truly duke it out, and the Ducks hold the advantage.
Take what you’ve learned about dynamic quarterbacks, powerful running backs and massive offensive lines, but don’t forget the one thing the Ducks have that it has lacked over the last couple of seasons.
LaMichael James is an NFL-bound redshirt junior who will leave the university as arguably the greatest Duck of all time.
Darron Thomas has both the offense and defense believing in him on every play.
Even true freshman DeAnthony Thomas has become a leader in his own right. Following a shaky performance in the season opener against LSU, which featured two costly fumbles by the freshman, Thomas has become one of the biggest threats on an already explosive offense. A threat to bust a big play every time he carries, catches or returns, Thomas has quickly become one of the faces of a team that is looking to finally become a legitimate contender.
The Ducks have been known as a second half team over the past couple of seasons not just because of conditioning and speed, but because of Chip Kelly’s game planning and ability to make halftime adjustments.
If Kelly can learn from his mistakes of the past two seasons and make the right adjustments, third time truly will be the charm for a team looking to get its first win when it counts the most.