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Original Issue

Run to the Roses

Nothing fancy about Pasadena-bound Wisconsin's offense: just a molar-rattling ground game

The offensive philosophy at Wisconsin is so simple that it might've been diagrammed in the dirt by a Pop Warner coach: run the ball relentlessly between the tackles (six yards and a cloud of dust!), block your man in the gut like he killed your dog and, if you absolutely must, throw a pass downfield (usually to a tight end) when the safeties creep too close to the line of scrimmage.

Yes, when teams play the Badgers, they know what's coming. Yet this rudimentary attack—a throwback in an era of spread and pistol formations—is reason No. 1 why Wisconsin, after beating Northwestern 70--23 last Saturday, is heading to its first Rose Bowl since 2000. "It's not complicated, what we do," says John Moffitt, a 6'5", 323-pound senior guard. "We have a history of running the ball. That's why guys come to Wisconsin, and that's why we take pride in wearing you down."

It didn't take long for the Badgers to steamroll Northwestern. In the game's first 6:58, running back Montee Ball, who began the year third on the depth chart, ran for two touchdowns. Ball, who finished with 178 yards and four TDs, started in place of John Clay, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year, who played sparingly on Saturday because of a sprained right knee. Wisconsin's depth at running back is its signature strength; the Badgers are the only I-A team that has three backs with at least 800 yards—freshman James White (1,029), Clay (936) and Ball (864).

How ruthless has the Badgers' O been this season? It led the Big Ten in scoring (43.3 points per game, including the 83 that Wisconsin hung on Indiana on Nov. 13) and was second, behind Michigan, in rushing (247.3 yards per game). Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien has completed 74.3% of his passes, best in the nation. And the Badgers' offensive line, led by All--Big Ten 6'7", 327-pound tackle Gabe Carimi, has been a force of nature. Against Michigan on Nov. 20, for instance, Wisconsin threw just one pass in the second half as Ball and White combined to rush for 354 yards and six touchdowns in a 48--28 rout.

"I've had the best view in the stadium when I hand the ball off and can see those holes open up," says Tolzien. "A lot of quarterbacks want to play in pass-heavy offenses, but I just love seeing our big guys get after it. Really, that's what Wisconsin football is all about."

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OPEN AND SHUT CASE The Badgers' line paved the way for White's big day and sealed Wisconsin's first Rose Bowl bid since 2000.