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Four Matchups to Watch in 2020 Rose Bowl

Who and what to watch for on both sides of the ball when the Badgers and Ducks tussle in Pasadena.

LOS ANGELES -- The Wisconsin Badgers and Oregon Ducks will face off in the 106th edition of the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1. As both teams continue to prepare for the extravaganza, presents four matchups to keep an eye on when the highly-touted programs clash in Pasadena.

Oregon's offensive line vs. Wisconsin front seven (Part 1)

There are multiple layers with this matchup that will be intriguing to watch. Let's start out with the Ducks' ground game taking on the Badgers' rush defense. 

Mario Cristobal's unit averages 183.2 rushing yards per game, 43rd in the nation and second in the Pac-12. That included a 239-yard effort in the Pac-12 championship against Utah to help clinch the Rose Bowl berth on Dec. 6. Through a baker's dozen worth of contests, running back C.J. Verdell has gained 1,171 yards on 6.5 yards per carry with eight touchdowns. 

Priding itself on stuffing the run, Wisconsin has given up just 102.4 yards per game -- good for eighth in the FBS and third in the Big Ten. However, Ohio State and Nebraska gained over 200 yards each within a month's time (264 and 273, respectively). 

"They can move people up front," redshirt senior inside linebacker Chris Orr said of Oregon's rushing attack on Dec. 29. "They're physical up front. They're athletic. They can move and their running backs get north and south. Their running backs run their scheme really well. They break arm tackles in the hole and that's when they burst for those electrifying runs. They're physical runners, downhill runners. They run hard, and the quarterback makes smart decisions. He can move well enough to hurt you, and he smart decisions. He has one of the best arms out there."

More on that last part from Orr in a bit.

Oregon's offensive line vs. Wisconsin's front seven (Part 2)

On the flip side, Wisconsin has recorded a program single-season record 49 sacks through 13 games, displaying a resurgence of pressure on opposing signal callers that was seen in 2017 but diminished last year. Outside linebacker Zack Baun and Chris Orr have combined for nearly half of those quarterback stops behind the line of scrimmage (12.5 and 11.5, respectively). 

Oregon has protected quarterback Justin Herbert quite well in 2019, allowing just 23 sacks in 13 contests. The most allowed by the Ducks this season came on Sept. 21 at Stanford (four), while Auburn, Washington State and Arizona recorded three each.

"I think the [defensive] tackles do a really good job of getting, pushing, collapsing the pocket," Oregon offensive lineman Shane Lemieux said on Dec. 29. "The edge rushers I think are really physical guys, and they do a really good job of just beating people at effort. They're not going to give up, and they're always fighting, man. They're always fighting, and both of those linebackers have a bunch of sacks because they're smart football players. They're really instinctual, and they're able to get to the passer."

Jack Coan vs. Oregon's turnover-happy defense

Cliché as it may be, protecting the ball is key in every game. The junior quarterback has done so during a 2019 campaign that has seen him only throw four interceptions in 13 games. That currently ranks tied for fourth in the nation in fewest committed as of Dec. 29.

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While Coan has not thrown over a handful of picks, Oregon is tied for 17th in the nation in turnovers (23), and its 19 interceptions -- including two pick-sixes -- are tied for second-most in the nation with Clemson. 

It is worth noting, however, that Wisconsin has coughed up possession on 14 lost fumbles this season -- more than one per game. In a duel against a talented and opportunistic program, Paul Chryst's offense cannot allow any sudden change opportunities.

Justin Herbert/Oregon's receiving corp vs. Wisconsin's secondary

Part of Oregon's offensive success this year in scoring nearly 36 points per game comes from the leadership and playmaking ability of its senior quarterback. Herbert has completed 66.7% of his throws for 3,333 yards with 32 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

The Badgers' defense has allowed 191.2 passing yards per game, good for 15th in the nation as of Dec. 29. Since the Nov. 9 game against Iowa, however, opposing offenses have thrown for at least 208 yards -- including 326 to Purdue, 296 to Minnesota and 320 to Ohio State.

During media availability on Dec. 29, Orr compared Herbert's arm to that of Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley's in strength. The redshirt senior 'backer called out that the Ducks' signal caller will present a challenge to Wisconsin's unit.

"I think, one, he just makes smart decisions. He's not going to throw it into a triple or double coverage," Orr said. "He doesn't throw the bone-headed picks that you might see. He has a strong arm, and I think he can fit stuff in there in places that you wouldn't expect a college quarterback to throw it."

Two Ducks -- wide receivers Johnny Johnson III and Jaylon Redd -- have caught 50 or more passes this season. In the last four games alone, the former has reeled in 24 balls for 422 yards with five scores through the air.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Faion Hicks believes the defense can challenge the receivers as they "want to get hands on them and make them work" for their production. That being said, he knows there is talent on the other side of the ball.

"They have playmakers," Hicks said on Dec. 29. "No. 3 [Johnson] for them shows up every game. They have really fast guys. Justin Herbert has a really strong arm. He doesn't make a lot of bad decisions. He does a good job of going through his progressions, so it's going to be fun playing against him."