Oregon knows its mission

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Friday, December 30, 2011
— Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti has yet to face Russell Wilson, who has fashioned arguably the greatest season by a Wisconsin quarterback.

Yet Aliotti, in his third stint at Oregon and in charge of the Ducks defense since the 1999 season, knows what to expect from Wilson. He equates preparing for Wilson to scheming against Terrelle Pryor and Cam Newton, the dual-threat quarterbacks Oregon faced in bowl games the past two seasons.

"You can't put ‘em all in the same basket but they're similar guys, guys who can hurt you with their feet," Aliotti said.

Wilson is set to lead UW (11-2) against Oregon (11-2) at 4:10 p.m. Monday in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Pryor led Ohio State to a 26-17 victory over Oregon in the 2010 Rose Bowl by completing 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked four times but still finished with 72 rushing yards on 20 carries.

Newton helped Auburn to a 22-19 victory over Oregon in the Bowl Championship Series title game last season. He completed 20 of 34 passes for 265 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked twice, was held to 64 rushing yards on 22 carries and lost a critical fumble that led to Oregon's tying touchdown.

"(But) he threw the ball well," Aliotti said, "better than I would have liked him to."

The numbers suggest Wilson will cause more problems than Pryor or Newton did.

Wilson enters the Rose Bowl with 31 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He is second nationally in passing efficiency with a 191.6 rating and is fourth nationally in completion rate (72.5 percent).

Newton last season completed 66.1 percent of his passes and finished with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was second nationally in passing efficiency (182.1).

Pryor in 2009 completed 56.6 percent of his passes and finished with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Since last throwing an interception in the fourth quarter of Game 7 at Michigan State, Wilson has thrown 139 times with 16 touchdown passes.

However, Wilson's ability to avoid pressure and either extend the play or scramble will no doubt stress Oregon's defense.

Consider two of the plays he made in the 42-39 victory over Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

UW trailed, 29-21, in the third quarter and Wilson faced third and 17 from the Spartans' 42. Wilson dropped back to pass and somehow avoided a blitzing cornerback, who reached out and grabbed Wilson's facemask and broke his nose. Wilson rolled to his right and then threw to the opposite corner to hit Jared Abbrederis for a touchdown.

Later UW trailed, 39-34, and Wilson faced fourth and 6 from the Spartans' 43. He dropped back to pass, moved to his left because of pressure coming up the middle and then stood firm against a blitzing linebacker and fired a pass across the field toward the right sideline.

Wide receiver Jeff Duckworth out-fought safety Isaiah Lewis for the ball and made the catch at the 7. Tailback Montee Ball scored the go-ahead touchdown one play later.

Oregon's coaches watched the game, which was played one day after the Ducks beat UCLA in the Pacific 12 title game.

"It's actually really fun to watch," head coach Chip Kelly said. "I've been a huge fan of Russell when he was at N.C. State.

"Then, obviously, watching what he did in his first year—his only year at Wisconsin… . It's fun to watch them on tape. Hopefully it won't be as fun when we see them in person. But it's going to be a battle trying to shut those guys down."

Oregon enters the game 48th nationally in scoring defense (23.6 ppg) and 59th in total defense (381.0 ypg). As he was with Pryor and Newton, Aliotti is concerned with Wilson's ability to make plays with his feet.

"You have to be aware that he has that ability to escape," Aliotti said. "You need to stay in your lanes and understand this is the type of guy who can get outside the pocket and hurt you with his feet.

"I think our defensive line and our defense in general have gotten better. What that equates to on Jan. 2, I don't know. But I'm excited to the see the game and I'm excited to see our guys play."

Last updated: 7:01 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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