Rose Bowl Preview: Wisconsin

Author: Noah Clark

Coming into the 2019 season, not many people expected Wisconsin be in Pasadena. After a disappointing 8-5 season in 2018, the Badgers have rebounded in the best of ways this year. Wisconsin finished with a 10-3 mark and won the Big Ten West, before falling to Ohio State in Indianapolis. But now this Wisconsin team is looking to do something they have not done in nearly two decades: win the Rose Bowl, the granddaddy of them all. Sure, it seems like a tough task, but Wisconsin has faced tougher. And they have been on quite a win streak in bowl games winning their last 4 straight. The guy who really is to be appreciated for this redemption season is Badgers head coach Paul Chryst. Chryst had a lot of trouble last year as Wisconsin failed to live up to high expectations. This season, he has done a great job of getting the team motivated to play big games and that is why they are sitting in this spot. Even though this isn’t the College Football Playoff, Chryst has expressed multiple times that this is a still a big game. “I didn’t have to come here this year to be able to say, boy – I’ve known what the Rose Bowl is. Been fortunate enough to be a part of it and there’s a reason why all of our players were truly excited about the opportunity. And they call it the “The Granddaddy of Them All” and I think it’s fitting. All the bowl games we’ve been able to go to, you appreciate and they’re great experiences. And yet this one is special. And you know you’re going to face a great team. It’s in maybe the one of the best if not the best settings in all of football, nonetheless college football. And when we found out we had an opportunity to play in it, I was excited for our players, because it is a heck of an experience. And now it’s our job coming up here where we’ve got to make the most of that.”

In looking at the Badgers offense this year, they have improved mightily after struggling last year. The one thing that’s been key for this offense is their Quarterback, Jack Coan. Coan since taking over for Alex Hornibrook, who transferred to Florida State, has been an added element to this Badger team and the key piece they need. With Coan throwing 17 touchdown passes and only four interceptions, he is the Quarterback this team has needed for years since Russell Wilson left. Coan has also said that he has really gained the trust of his teammates this year as he noted, “I think it helps a lot because, as the quarterback of the team, you want to be a leader that guys can look up to and relate to and talk to. You want guys to be comfortable with you, every guy on the team, and just building relationships with guys really helps that trust on the field too.” Coan looks to continue to gain his trust from his teammates and hopes a Rose Bowl win can be the perfect ending to his junior year. Obviously this offense would not look the way it is without Johnathan Taylor. Once again Taylor has impressed UW fans with his patience, strength, and speed. With 1909 rushing yards on almost 300 carries and an FBS leading 21 rushing TDs, Taylor is looking to provide a spark and continue to make this offense flow in Pasadena. But with the numbers, comes that big question: will JT stay or will he go? If he were to stay at Wisconsin for his fourth and final year, he would be less than 900 rushing yards away from breaking the all time career rushing mark. Taylor recently spoke about his career at Rose Bowl Media. “I think about the amount of games we were able to win. You come in as a freshman, and then you go 12-0 and can get your sixth Bowl win. I think that’s the biggest thing, is the overall season. You come to Division I football to play against the best and to win. I feel like 2018 wasn’t the season how exactly we wanted it to go, but we’ve had some solid years here, as far as me being here. Our team’s had some solid years. This year we had a little down, slippery slope with a two-game losing streak, but we were able to fight hard in November and come back. I think it’s really just the way that I’ve played with my team throughout the years to be able to play hard and be able to get to a New Year’s Six bowl. I mean, making it to a Rose Bowl, this is what it’s all about.”

Looking into the defense for Wisconsin, they have also turned it around this year after having a down year in 2018. In 2019, the Badgers finished around the top 10 in total defense. Holding teams to at least 14 points per game, this defense under DC Jim Leonard, has looked like the team we have been used to seeing. A star that has been a joy to watch all season long is linebacker Zach Baun. The senior has been a force for offenses to figure out how to stop. Leading the team in sacks with 12.5 and second in tackles with 72, Baun should be a player to watch in this game against the Ducks and he spoke about how the Duck’s offense has been playing and how impressed he is with them. “Their wide receivers, running back and offensive line, they’re all really good athletes, and they make really good plays in space.” Along with Baun’s comment on the Ducks, Jim Leonard also knows how hard it will be to stop Herbert and the Ducks. “He’s impressive. He’s very, very talented. I don’t think he gets enough credit for what they ask him to do. He’s a true progression quarterback. Most of these spread offenses that you look at, they don’t ask the quarterback to do what they ask him to do. I’m extremely impressed by him. More athletic than he gets credit for. There’s a reason he’s going to be one of the top quarterbacks in this upcoming draft. So I’m impressed with what he does. He makes you earn it every down. I think you must, within the structure of what you do, you have to try to confuse him. You must try to provide different looks for him because he’s extremely intelligent and you don’t fool him very often.” The Badgers have made improvements on both sides of the football this year and this team is ready for the Rose Bowl.