Saturday, December 27, 2008

Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin vs. Florida St.


December 27, 2008 * 4:30 * ESPN
Florida Citrus Bowl * Orlando, Florida

Florida State started with wins in six of their first seven, only to stumble down the stretch, losing three out of five. The Badgers climbed as high as ninth in the polls and had lofty expectations after a 3-0 start. But the scheduling of Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa in consecutive weeks (all losses) brought Wisconsin’s year-end hopes from National Champions down to mere bowl eligibility. They did manage to regroup, winning four of five to close out the season.

When the Badgers Have the Ball

It was easy to point fingers at the quarterback when Wisconsin pulled up lame out of the gates, opening their Big Ten schedule with four losses. Then-starter Allan Evridge struggled mightily, but that doesn’t override the under-performance of the Badgers’ bread-and-butter rushing attack. When P.J. Hill and John Clay were off, so was the team; they averaged 50 yards less and scored only three times in those three losses. Eventually, they became a powerful duo, both finishing in the top ten in the Big Ten in rushing (1,866) and touchdowns (21). Dustin Sherer replaced Evridge and eventually commanded the offense to four wins in their last five. There will continue to be no secret where the Badgers plan to go against the Seminoles – straight ahead, on the ground.

When the Tide Have the Ball

Florida State enters the bowl game with worries about their quarterback’s lack of consistency. Throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns is an unfortunate statistic Christian Ponder must live with. But the athleticism he demonstrates throwing and passing will be extremely helpful against a Wisconsin team that struggled all season with dual threat quarterbacks. Florida State is balanced (182 yards rushing, 186 passing) and Ponder is third on the team in rushing yards (404) and second in rushing touchdowns (four) behind senior Antone Smith (14). “Having the ball” should also include special teams, where the Seminoles hold a significant edge: look for FBS leader Michael Ray Garvin (33 yards/return) to prove his game-breaking ability one more time.

Final Analysis

It’s easy to see how turnovers have plagued both teams in their losses (combined 31 giveaways in nine games). With that equalized, Wisconsin brings to the table an in-your-face rushing attack (14th in FBS) and a hefty offensive line averaging 320 pounds. Fresno State, like Florida State will be, was severely undersized against the Badgers, but kept Wisconsin contained. Furthermore, Florida State boasts the 32nd best rush defense (182 yards/game) and the Badgers have shown they fall short running against strong defenses (Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa). But in three of the Seminoles’ losses, they have surrendered an average of 260 yards on the ground. Which Florida State defense will show up? It’s tough to say. Offensively, the Seminoles can keep the Badgers off balance just enough under Ponder and the kicker will be, well, the Seminoles’ kicker Graham Gano (Lou Groza Award recipient) – his 93% field goal percentage will be plenty to be sure the game-winning field goal does not sail “wide-right”.

Inside the Numbers – Pass, Run & Catch

Wisconsin Badgers (7-5, 3-5)

Pass: Dustin Sherer – 1,257 yards, 5 TDs
Run: P.J. Hill – 1,021 yards, 13 TDs
Catch: David Gilreath – 515 yards, 3 TDs

Florida St. Seminoles (8-4, 5-3)
Pass: Christian Ponder – 1,807 yards, 12 TDs
Run: Antone Smith – 753 yards, 14 TDs
Catch: Greg Carr – 464 yards, 3 TDs

The CFI Prediction: Florida St. 24, Wisconsin 21

Photo Credit: College Press Box (Florida St. University)