It's finally here... The Granddaddy of Them All is upon us. Strangely it doesn't get old as we experience it for the 3rd time in a row. In fact this one has a whole different feel to it - almost like it's a new experience, at least for the fans. We as fans have Bret "Take the Money & Run" Bielema to thank for that as well.
There are so many storylines and intrigue surrounding the Badgers this season, you'd think they were the favorites, except as we write this Wisconsin is either a 7 point or 6 1/2 point underdog to their opponent on Tuesday afternoon - the Stanford Cardinal.
Even the name Stanford should bring up great memories for the Badger faithful as the last time this was the matchup the Badgers took care of business, winning 17-9 to make it back-to-back W's and send Ron Dayne out as a winner.
Can history repeat itself in this situation, or are the Badgers doomed to make it 0-3 on their travels to Pasadena as of late? Only time will tell, however, here are the official MTB "5 Things to Watch For" - a.k.a. our blueprint for a Wisconsin victory.
1. Wisconsin Must Go Deep: For all the talk of the running game it can't be successful without the threat of Wisconsin going deep in the throwing game. Unfortunately for the Badgers it hasn't happened enough over the final half of the season. In fact the biggest deep threat, Jared Abbrederis, has only 7 total catches and zero TD's over the final four games of the season. If UW wants to win it needs Abbrederis to have a big game with at least one or two deep catches to keep the defense from completely packing it in against the run. Abbrederis' biggest plays down the stretch were a pass to Phillips in the B1G Championship game and a 24 yard end around against the Nittany Lions, otherwise he's been one quite wide receiver.
2. Pressure Kevin Hogan: This may seem a bit counterintuitive against a mobile QB that is accurate outside of the pocket, but Wisconsin has been great getting pressure with just their front four. If Kelly & Gilbert are able to get pressure from the edge early and often it can take the Cardinal out of it's game plan and that's a positive step towards victory.
3. Make Stanford Make Mistakes: You may think we're talking about making them turn the ball over right? You'd be wrong however, as we're talking about making them take penalties. Wisconsin is one of the least penalized teams in the country with just 49 on the year. Stanford on the other hand have 30 more this season and Wisconsin would be wise to keep the pressure on to make Stanford take penalties. Whether that means making them hold, or making them commit pass interference penalties. If you're Alvarez you better have emphasized this is a team that makes mental mistakes.
4. Keep the playbook open: No matter what is happening in the game, Wisconsin needs to not go in a shell and just rely on the running game. If they can keep Stanford guessing this one could be fun.... and by guessing we mean using RUN BWG in all sorts of different ways. With Alvarez being the figurehead it should be fun to see Matt Canada being able to 100% be himself and see what the offense can do because of it.
5. Win one for "The Godfather": It may sound cliche, but ask anyone who played in Alvarez's last bowl game about it and they tell you they wanted to win it for Coach more than anything else. If Wisconsin takes that attitude into this game and plays with the will to not let Alvarez go out a loser than they've got all the motivation they'll need. Let's hope we see Alvarez carried off the field by his team in victory!