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December 31, 2012In contrast to past years when the Rose Bowl game featured a clash of styles, the two teams playing in the 2013 "Grandaddy of Them All" are nearly carbon copies of one another.
As a result, football's third phase could be a factor in the game's outcome.
"I think the special teams could play a big part in this game," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "Watching Stanford, they're similar to us. They're very physical, they're not going to make a lot of mistakes. You have to beat them. I think we play the same way. You'd better bring your big boy pads for this game. I happen to like games like this."
Stanford doesn't mind them, either.
"We're two similar teams that like to run the football and play great defense," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We don't know anything about that. Whatever people say about point spreads and those things, those things don't matter. Just about every game we play comes down to the last possession late in the fourth quarter.
"So our minds are geared up for that, and we know it's going to be a heck of a football game."
Numerous bowl week practice standouts for Card
According to Stanford coach David Shaw, there have been no shortage of bowl week practice standouts. Shaw said after one of the Card's practices that the time off between the Pac-12 title game and Rose Bowl allowed some of the team's younger scout team players to shine.
"There's been a lot of guys," Shaw said. "And the funny thing is a lot of times the guys that show most of the guys that aren't going to play, you know, the Barry Sanders, and the Ikenna Nwafors, and those guys, the Noor Davises have been phenomenal. They've shown so much growth. But the guys that are going to play in the game, I think Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy have made strides, which is really exciting. Josh Garnett has taken the next stage in his maturity as a college football player. Those things are exciting. I think the way Alex Carter has practiced has been fun to watch.
"Nobody ever talks about Terrence Brown. Terrence Brown has been on it. He's been deflecting passes, he's been aggressive, and those things are exciting to see. The way our linebackers have approached this week in practice, has been fun. It's been fun to watch.
"Shayne (Skov) and Chase (Thomas) running around, those guys are setting the tempo. That's why I don't worry about what other people say about any kind of a letdown or anything. Those guys won't let it happen. They play hard every day. It's been fun. I think Trent Murphy as well has been dominant in our practices. So those guys have been fun to watch."
Shaw has singled out Nwafor for praise on several occasions during the bowl practice period. The redshirt freshman is still raw, but has the physical tools to be a force on the Cardinal defensive front, and could see the field as early as next year.
"To be honest, Ikenna Nwafor just this week of practice was almost unblockable," Shaw said before Stanford left for Los Angeles. "For a guy with all of the physical tools to finally start to get it, it's exciting to see. And for our guys up front, our guys are pretty good up front on the offensive line, we've had trouble with him all week. And that's exciting, knowing that we're going to bring back basically the entire starting defensive line and add a guy like Ikenna Nwafor to that group."
Tight end uncertainty
Nothing is official, but the best guess is that both Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz will be off to the NFL after the Rose Bowl. There aren't any experienced veterans to fill the expected void at the position, but the Card does have a number of younger tight ends with some promise.
"We're going to have to replace obviously Zach and Levine and the depth that Jemari Roberts gave us, so having somebody to be able to step into those roles is something we're excited about," tight ends coach Ron Crook said.
True freshman Luke Kaumatule seems likely to get a crack at a starting spot. Kaumatule has impressed during his true freshman season, and has the frame and athleticism to help the Cardinal in the passing game in 2013.
"His development is going well," Crook said. "He is a guy that needs to spend a lot of time in the weight room with Coach Turley and his staff. He needs to develop a lot of strength, but he has a very bright future and we're really excited about seeing where he goes."
Other tight end candidates include redshirt sophomore Davis Dudchock, and a pair of Cardinal players current slotted elsewhere on offense. Fullback Ryan Hewitt and wide receiver Devon Cajuste could switch positions - or at least see some time at the tight end spot.
There's also the possibility that a true freshman tight end makes an impact in 2013. Stanford will sign between two and four tight end prospects.(Greg Taboada and Eric Cotton are already committed; Durham Smythe and Austin Hooper are in the admissions process with Stanford and are high on the Card).
"I think there definitely is (opportunity for a true freshman tight end to contribute)," Crook said. "I don't know if it's more than normal but with as many tight ends as we use throughout the course of the season I think there's always potential to play early in your career at that position."
2013 offensive line potentially a "great problem"
While Stanford's offense line did a solid job for most of 2012, the departure of Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro made a noticeable impact, in both the power run game and pass protection. With the continued maturation of the 2012 offensive line recruiting class, however, expectations for the line are sky-high in 2013. If anything, the Cardinal coaches could struggle finding roles for all of their Pac-12 ready players.
"What a great problem," offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren said of the surplus of line depth and talent. "The nice thing is this game is pure, something Coach Hamilton always says. It's a pure game and we're going to let it sort itself on the field in spring football and then again in training camp. We'll play those best five. We'll find a way to do it just like we do every year, and if we have to play specific people in specific roles like we did this year, I don't know if any offensive line has ever done as much of that as we did this year."
No matter which players end up earning starting roles, Ertz is confident that the line will be among the nation's best next season.
"The offensive line are some of the best in the country, in my opinion," Ertz said. "I mean, with David and Cam and Danser and Khalil coming back along with Andrus and Kyle and Josh having another year under their belt. There's no reason they're not one of the best lines in the country. All five of our linemen next year will have a ton of potential. I think they'll blend well because they're all very good friends off the field. I think it's going to be something special to see."
A different approach
Wisconsin's defense is taking a markedly different approach in preparing for Stanford this year than it did Oregon last year. Whereas the Badgers pulled out all the stops to prepare for the Ducks' blinding offensive tempo, it'll be mostly business as usual in getting ready for the Card.
"Last year we were doing this thing called supersonic tempo where our scout team was running plays and we had like two huddles running plays as fast as they could just to kind of prepare us for Oregon's fast-paced tempo," said onetime Stanford recruit and current Badgers' defensive tackle Beau Allen. "With Stanford, it's more like our offense where you have your snap or your play and then you look to the sideline and have plenty of time to get the call and just can kind of casually get in your stance. It's completely different from that aspect."
More than Montee
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball has received plenty of praise and publicity - and for good reason. Ball has gained more than 3,600 yards rushing over the past two seasons and is the NCAA career record holder in touchdowns with 82 in his Badger career.
But there's more to Wisconsin's backfield than Ball. Backups James White and Melvin Gordon are potent runners in their own right. White and Gordon combined to gain 1,372 yards and score 15 touchdowns in 2012.
"We liken him to our Kelsey Young, Anthony Wilkerson," Shaw said in response to a question about Gordon. "They come in and give us a spark plug. They're not going to touch the ball 25, 30 times like Stepfan Taylor. But they have a chance to change field positions, and that's what he does for them. He's a special athlete. I think all three of their backs do something unique that we have to account for. Because, you know, if you're just paying attention to Montee Ball, one of those guys can rip off a 30 yard run very quickly."