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Football: Wisconsin quick hits

Here are five stats that have defined Wisconsin’s football’s season — and could very well define the upcoming Rose Bowl. Click here for a similar take on Stanford.

Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez is stepping in as interim head coach for the Rose Bowl. Alvarez went 3-0 in his three previous Rose Bowls, including the Badgers’ win against the Cardinal on Jan. 1, 2000. (Courtesy of Wisconsin Athletics)

3: This is the Badgers’ third straight Rose Bowl appearance. Despite losses to TCU in 2011 and Oregon in 2012, that makes Wisconsin the only program in the nation to win its conference in each of the last three seasons. The Cardinal, Badgers and Ducks are the only teams who have gone to BCS bowls in each of those three years.

The departure of head coach Bret Bielema, who took an open coaching position at Arkansas after the Big Ten Championship Game, means that there isn’t complete continuity from those previous bowl appearances. An exodus of five Badger assistant coaches doesn’t help matters for Wisconsin either.

But athletic director and interim head coach Barry Alvarez is no pushover. As the helm of the Badgers’ program from 1990-2005, he won all three Rose Bowls he coached in — including a 17-9 triumph against Stanford in 2000 — and went 2-0-1 against the Cardinal.

3.8: Don’t be fooled by Wisconsin’s 8-5 record, which makes it the first five-loss team in Rose Bowl history. The Badgers have lost those five games by an average of just 3.8 points, including overtime defeats against Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State — teams with a combined 26 victories. Wisconsin hasn’t lost by more than 10 points since 2009.

That could play right into the hands of Stanford, which has a penchant for winning close games, not losing them. Since its 20-13 overtime loss at Notre Dame the Cardinal is 4-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

3.8 also is the number of penalties that Wisconsin takes per game, good for the fourth-fewest average in the nation. So don’t expect Stanford to get any of the help that UCLA, the nation’s most-penalized team, gave the Cardinal in those two wins to close out the year, when the Bruins took a combined 20 penalties for 208 yards.

25: Wisconsin star running back Montee Ball had his 25th multiple-touchdown game in the Big Ten Championship Game, tying an NCAA record. The senior also broke NCAA career records for total and rushing touchdowns in 2012.

Though Stanford allows an average of just 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game — the 20th-best figure in the nation — it has occasionally yielded to elite tailbacks this season. USC’s Silas Redd had a pair of scores against the Cardinal, Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey had three and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin had two in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

This also sets up as a matchup between Stanford’s third-ranked rushing defense (in terms of yardage) and Wisconsin’s 12th-ranked rushing offense. With the Badgers owning the two best team rushing performances in college football this season — 564 yards against Indiana on Nov. 10 and 539 against Nebraska in the conference title game — something has got to give.

15: The importance of the run game to the Badgers’ offense was illustrated best in the final four games of the season, after fifth-year senior quarterback Curt Phillips was installed as the starter. In his two wins in that 2-2 stretch, Phillips threw just 15 combined passes and was sacked twice; in his two losses, he threw 50 combined passes and was sacked seven times. You can expect the Badgers to go with the former, run-heavy gameplan on Jan. 1.

What does that mean for Stanford? On one hand, it places more emphasis on the Cardinal’s front seven, which (even against backs like Ball) plays to Stanford’s strength. On the other hand, it effectively takes the Cardinal’s secondary out of the game and neutralizes the greatest improvement made by its defense last offseason.

Stanford hasn’t played a team that favors the run this much; every opponent has thrown the ball at least 20 times on the Cardinal. But given Stanford’s poor track record with pass-happy opponents — unexpectedly close wins against Arizona and Washington State, which threw 69 and 59 times against Stanford, respectively — maybe the Badgers will be right up the Cardinal’s alley.

19.1: Wisconsin’s 19.1 points per game allowed is tied for 19th best in the country. For reference, that means that the Badgers’ defense is just slightly better than those of San Jose State, Oregon State and Oregon, three teams that gave the Cardinal trouble and held Stanford to 21.3 points per game, a touchdown below its scoring average.

Like Stanford’s, Wisconsin’s defense is predicated on stopping the run with a strong defensive front. Will the Cardinal be able to establish its own rushing attack? Ask Ohio State, an even better rushing team which came into its Nov.-17 showdown with the Badgers averaging 41.3 points per game. The Buckeyes had just one touchdown in regulation.

About Joseph Beyda

Joseph Beyda is the executive editor of The Stanford Daily. Previously he has worked as the football editor, a sports desk editor, the paper's summer managing editor and a beat reporter for football, baseball and women's soccer. He co-authored The Daily's recent football book, "Rags to Roses," and covered the soccer team's national title run for the New York Times. Joseph is a junior from Cupertino, Calif. majoring in Electrical Engineering. To contact him, please email jbeyda "at" stanford.edu.