By Lew Patton
#25 USC Trojans vs. Wisconsin Badgers
Wednesday – December 30, 2015 – 9:30 PM
Qualcomm Stadium – San Diego, California
Records Before the Game
USC Trojans (8-5, 6-3 Pac-12)
Wisconsin Badgers (9-3, 6-2 Big 10)
Back in August, neither school envisioned being here. But, that’s the cold, hard reality. The Holiday Bowl isn’t a bad place to be, it’s just not a playoff game or Selection Committee bowl.
Now, who really wants to be here and play like it? That may be the biggest key to this game. The Badgers have had to deal with injuries but still excelled, with its losses all coming to current CFP Top 25 clubs. The Trojans are coming off a loss in the Pac-12 title game to Stanford as they are led by freshly minted head coach Clay Helton, who was given the full-time job after serving as interim boss after Steve Sarkisian was let go during the season.
When you think of the Wisconsin Badgers’ offense, you usually think of a run first and pass second offense; right? Well, this year’s Wisconsin offense is the reverse, headed by the Badgers senior helmsman Joel Stave who owns a record of 30-10 as a starter at Wisconsin. Stave’s .750 career win percentage is the fourth-best mark among active FBS quarterbacks (minimum 25 starts). Stave’s favorite target is Wisconsin’s leading receiver WR Alex Erickson, (924 yards) who has accumulated more yardage than their leading rusher (RB Dare Ogunbowale, 769). The Badgers have seen their leading receiver outgain their leading rusher in a season just 12 times in the modern era.
Defensively, the Wisconsin Badgers have allowed the opposition to reach the red zone just 22 times in 12 games, ranking the Badgers No. 1 nationally in terms of fewest opponent red zone chances. The Wisconsin Badgers have allowed just 25 runs of 10-plus yards, the lowest total of any FBS defense. Alabama (29), Nebraska (35), San Diego State (36) and Akron (37) round out the top five.
Trojan QB senior Cody Kessler has completed 280-of-414 passing for 67.6%, 3,315 yards, 28 touchdowns along with six picks this season, plus four rushing touchdowns. The other playmaker is sophomore JuJu Smith-Schuster who has the team-best 85 receptions, team-best 1,389 yards, 16.3 averaging, 10 TD in 2015, plus 4 KOR, 51 yds, 12.8 averaging. This youngster has blazing speed! The ground game averages 176 yards per matchup but faces a Wisconsin run defense that only gives up 98 yards a contest.
USC’s defense has been very generous this season allowing 400 total yards but 253 passing yards which plays right into Wisconsin’s scheme of things.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31 – USC 22