Name of the Rose: speed vs. power
LOS ANGELES -- Wisconsin All-America guard John Moffitt had the good manners not to roll his eyes. But a player can be asked about TCU's defensive speed against Wisconsin's power only so many times before his inner smart aleck breaks into the open field.
"There's an original story," Moffitt said. "I've never heard that one before, so I think you guys really got an angle."
It is not an original story. It is the original story, the game of football boiled down to its two elemental truths: speed and power. Old coaches like to say the object of the sport is to hit the guy across from you in the mouth. New coaches say you have to catch him first.
The No. 3 Horned Frogs bring the best defense in the nation to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. The No. 5 Badgers bring to Pasadena the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten. TCU head coach Gary Patterson has built a dynasty by combing Texas for players who can run and finding the right position for them in his defense. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has built an offensive line that averages 6-foot-5, 320 pounds from tackle to tackle.
"I mean, that's like a Ferrari and a dump truck," TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas said. "We are fast, but the reality of it is, when a dump truck is going straight ahead, it's a dangerous weapon."
The sport began as hand-to-hand combat. The rules have changed over the years to introduce more air and speed into the game. Given the advent of the spread offense over the past decade, the balance between power and speed may be tipping toward the latter. But Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said that's not what he knows how to coach.
Power vs. Speed
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"I'd like to think right now we're doing what fits the guys we have," Chryst said. "We have had a style we recruit to, because I think it fits Wisconsin and it fits who we are."
It is a style made famous by another team in the state a half-century ago. Bumpas, asked if the Badgers remind him of another team, drawled, "Probably the Green Bay Packers back in their heyday."
That style is to pound the defense with the running game, until the safeties cheat their way into the box. That's when Scott Tolzien, the Unitas Award winner as the best senior quarterback, will throw over their heads.
The Badgers have three running backs in range of 1,000 yards: freshman James White (1,029), junior John Clay (936) and sophomore Montee Ball (864). Clay is the dump truck. White and Ball are the Ferraris. Tolzien is fourth in the nation in passing efficiency (169.8, 74.3 completion percentage, 2,300 yards, 16 touchdowns, six interceptions).
"I don't feel like they're very sophisticated," TCU All-American free safety Tejay Johnson said. "I feel like they are big on what they do and they execute what they do really well. I feel like they just line up and they run what they run. Just watching them on film, they're really powerful. They're really explosive and they play really hard."
Bumpas, who played for Frank Broyles at Arkansas in the late 1960s, traces his defensive philosophy back to his former coach and another former Razorback, Jimmy Johnson. At Miami, Johnson turned speed into a dynasty. At TCU, Patterson and Bumpas are so committed to speed that they play a 4-2-5 scheme -- essentially, the nickel, but on first and second down as well as third.
"The 4-3 defense needs three good linebackers, and there's a lot more safeties and corner types in this world than there are bigger kids," Bumpas said. "When you look at it that way, it's easier to recruit. You give up probably about 30 pounds, but you gain speed."
TCU also gains deception. With two linebackers and three safeties, lining up to blitz requires fewer adjustments. The Horned Frogs reveal fewer tells in the poker game that is every snap.
"It's not a dead, dead giveaway every time," Wisconsin All-America offensive tackle Gabe Carimi said. "But obviously, they do give it away. There's certain stuff they do that's harder to see, but you can still see it. Slight things, like where a 'Mike' linebacker might line up."
Players on both teams say having three weeks to prepare for one another instead of one made their lives easier. And players on both teams said the skill and efficiency they have seen in video study has created a sense of urgency. They understand that if they don't play well, they may lose, and lose by a lot.
"There have been teams who had big tackles or big guards, a big center. I've never seen a team this big as a whole," TCU defensive end Wayne Daniels said of Wisconsin.
Daniels, a senior, is 6-2, 250 pounds. He will line up opposite Carimi, who is five inches taller and 77 pounds heavier. Daniels used his quickness to lead the Horned Frogs with 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
"Obviously, people want to do the size matchup," Moffitt said. "You know, we're a lot bigger than they are. But we don't look at it like that. I mean, I think a talented defensive lineman is a talented defensive lineman. And if he knows what he's doing and he has good technique, he's just as hard to block as a guy that's 6-5, 300 pounds."
It is the original story, and it may be the story of the Rose Bowl.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.
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