SAN DIEGO, CA-  DECEMBER 27:  The USC Trojan looks on against the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the National University Holiday Bowl on December 27, 2014 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Holiday Bowl 2015: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Wed. Dec. 30; 9:30p.m. CT
Where: San Diego, CA; Qualcomm Stadium (71,294)
TV: ESPN
Radio: Badger Sports Network
Last Meeting: No.5 USC 38, Wisconsin 3 (Sept. 24, 1966 (at Los Angeles))
All-Time Series: USC leads, 6-0

1 Burning Question: Who is For Real - USC’s Offense or Badgers Defense?

As much as the USC offense has produced some eye-popping numbers, the Badgers defense has produced at about as high a level of any defense in the country. The common theme has been that the Badgers have not seen as dynamic an offense as the Trojans put out there, but the numbers suggest the same question should be asked about the Trojans offense.

USC has faced one defense that ranked inside the top 35 in total defense this season and just four inside the top 50. It’s lone game against a top 35 defense came against Washington, and the Huskies took a 17-12 victory in that one. It was also the lowest point total produced this season by the Trojans.

The USC record against those four top 50 defenses? Just 1-3, with its lone victory coming against Utah. It’s something that should scare the Badgers though, as Utah looks a lot like the Pac-12 version of the Badgers — a team with a killer defense and an offense struggling to do what it should (run the ball well and complement with a competent passing game).

All of it adds up to the key question — USC’s offense or Wisconsin’s defense? The winner there is likely the winner of this game.

2 Key Stats:

— 6-0: That is the record of USC against the Badgers, with a 2-0 advantage in bowl games. Both of them were Rose Bowl victories though, and Wisconsin has faced an unranked USC squad just one time before Wednesday night’s contest. That last time was in 1965, but this will ironically be the firs time a ranked Badgers team will take on an unranked USC squad.

— 31: That is the number of career victories Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave would have with a win in the Holiday Bowl. It would also break a tie at the top of the school record book, with Stave holding the lone spot at No. 1 over Brook Bollinger, whom he is tied with at 30 victories currently. Stave’s 30 career wins and .750 win percentage (30-10) both rank fourth among active FBS quarterbacks.

 

3 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Wisconsin 24-17 (10-2 season record)
Nate: USC 28-24 (7-5 season record)
Sawyer: Wisconsin 31-28 (10-2 season record)

4 Players to Watch:

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

MADISON, WI - SEPTEMBER 26: Joel Stave #2 of the Wisconsin Badgers drops back and passes the football during the second half against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at Camp Randall Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Joel Stave

Joel Stave, Wisconsin QB — One last go-round, this is it for a career that has seen ups, downs, coaching changes, Big Ten championships and all sorts of craziness. Stave will have a chance to set another record with a win, but it can’t come despite him. With Corey Clement’s status more of a game-time and in-game feel, Stave is going to have to carry a bigger load in this one. Luckily he’s used to that in 2015, but he has to come out firing to help a defense that will be tested unlike it has ever before this season. Stave can’t have a flat first half and try to rally, he simply needs to be on from the start.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC WR — Those that follow recruiting know the name of JuJu Smith, who was a huge target for the Badgers early on in the Gary Andersen era. He eventually chose USC in what seemed like a formailty for the West Coast high school star. He’s turned in to a star on the field in college too, and if the Badgers want to win, they’ll need to bottle up Smith-Schuster. That’s been easier said than done this season though, with JuJu coming in with him leading the Trojans in receptions (85), yards (1,389) and touchdowns (10). The battle between UW’s corners and Smith is going to huge to deciding our “1 Burning Question.”

Joe Schobert, Wisconsin OLB — It is easy to target him as a key player, winning plenty of postseason honors (B1G LB of the Year, multiple 1st team All-American awards and more) and all. However, a look inside the gaudy numbers that got him those honors suggests a slow down at the end of the year. Over the last four games of the season, Schobert had just four tackles for loss (18.5 on the season) and none of his 9.5 sacks. He needs to show up on the stat sheet in a major way for the Badgers to have success in the Holiday Bowl.

Tawain Deal, Wisconsin RB — There’s little secret that the Wisconsin Badgers running game was a big fail in 2015. However, there was hope before injury to redshirt freshman running back Tawain Deal — as he rushed for 357 of his 495 yards before the injury (4.4 yards per carry). He picked it back up in the regular season finale, rushing for 90 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota Eastern Dakota. With a full month to get even closer to 100 percent, Deal needs to be the workhorse for the Badgers offense, helping to sustain drives and wear down the USC defense.

 

5 Bold Prognostications (That May Or May Not Come True):

Alec Ingold Will Lead in Rushing Touchdowns: The freshman hybrid back has proven to be a great short-yardage option for the Badgers. It has resulted in him putting up six touchdowns on just 49 total carries this season, most of them within two yards of the goal line. Wisconsin loves to use him to sustain drives and get the tough yardage. He’ll be counted on for that in this smash-mouth matchup. Look for him to take advantage and score a few touchdowns on the ground.

Cody Kessler Will Throw More Interceptions than Joel Stave: Hey, we didn’t say bold for nothing. The season numbers for the two suggest this is insane, with Kessler throwing just six interceptions and Stave throwing 11 of them to just 10 touchdown passes. However, Dave Aranda has had a month to work on this specific game and you can bet Darius Hillary wants to go out on a high note and Sojourn Shelton wants to end his INT drought too. That will happen as the Trojans will be bottled up and throwing the ball a ton. Look for Kessler to throw one too many in to coverage and for Hillary to be the first to the interception table, one that is likely to include Tanner McEvoy as well.

Alex Erickson Will Outduel JuJu Smith: With all the talk of how great JuJu Smith-Schuster is (and he really is very good), there’s another wide receiver stuffing the stat sheet in this matchup, and that is UW’s Alex Erickson. Some have seemingly forgot that Erickson is no slouch on the stat sheet, putting up 72 receptions (3rd in the Big Ten) for 924 yards (4th in the Big Ten) and three touchdowns. Expect that last stat to get corrected a time or two, but don’t be surprised to see Erickson lead the receptions category for the game either, he’s simply the best target and few have been able to contain him even knowing he’ll be the target going in.

Rafael Gaglianone Will Hit 50-yard FG: This is how I see it playing out, Wisconsin wins the coin toss, defers to the second half. It then finds itself with the ball last in the first half, as Stave starts out inside his own 20-yard line and leads the Badgers inside Trojan territory. Wisconsin, knowing it starts with the ball, gets in field goal position and Gaglianone knocks home a 50-yarder as the half expires. It’s how UW scores 24 points and not 28…specific enough for you?

USC Will Score 10 points off Badgers Turnovers: While I expect Stave to throw fewer INT’s than Kessler (because that’s bold as hell), Stave’s INT will come in really bad field position and it could even be of the pick-six variety. Either way, his INT will likely put the defense in a really bad situation that will lead to a score. Also, don’t be surprised to see Dare Ogunbowale or Tawain Deal coughing up the football to get another score for the Trojans.

Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com

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