LOS ANGELES -- After four months, 13 games and dozens of twists and turns, Stanford's expectations-smashing season reaches its conclusion Tuesday in the 99th edition of the Rose Bowl.

Staring at the Cardinal from the opposing sideline: its fraternal twin.

No team in the nation is closer to Stanford in style and pound-you-into-submission philosophy than Wisconsin.

The Cardinal (11-2) and Badgers (8-5) haven't tussled since the 2000 Rose Bowl. But in many ways, they encounter each other frequently.

"The closest to them is facing our offense," Stanford linebacker Chase Thomas said. "That power running game is definitely something we're used to seeing from our offense."

In an era dominated by the spread offense (four receivers, no huddles and shotgun snaps on third-and-1), the Cardinal and Badgers want to wrestle in a phone booth.

They condense the line of scrimmage, then beat on opponents with tight ends, fullbacks and mammoth linemen -- sometimes six or seven of them at a time.

Both teams delight in deploying the so-called jumbo packages, in which 200-pound receivers are replaced by 300-pound linemen and all 11 players are lined up within a few yards of the ball.

Both teams also rely heavily on the play known through the football world as power: an off-tackle run that features a pulling guard and is responsible for the vast majority of yards gained by the two standout tailbacks, Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Stanford's Stepfan Taylor.


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Problem is, Stanford's defense rarely goes full speed against the Cardinal offense in practice. Instead, it faces a scout team charged with mimicking the upcoming opponent -- usually a spread attack.

(The Badgers don't have that issue. Playing in the rugged Big Ten, they get frequent exposure to run-oriented offenses.)

"We haven't seen a team like this all year," Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason said. "So when you talk about the physical challenge, it's different.

"The line of scrimmage changes. Our guys have to get into that mindset. Everything that goes along with the spread -- it's different now, because they are going to get attacked and knocked off the ball.

"So we had to adjust our practices. We've made it physical without going over the top."

Injecting just the right amount of physicality into practice has been one of two challenges. The other: anticipating tweaks.

Both coaching staffs have an inherent philosophical understanding of the opponent's thinking. Studying a season's worth of film helps fill in most of the blanks. But both staffs know the other will add a wrinkle or two -- or 10.

Maybe the Cardinal lines up in its power formation but instead runs a bootleg. Maybe the Badgers deploy their jumbo package but instead throw a play-action pass to the fullback.

Wisconsin's offense is predicated on Ball, who has 5,040 career rushing yards and 82 total touchdowns (an NCAA record), but there are other playmakers:

Tailback Melvin Gordon provides a change of pace (10.8 yards per carry), and All-Big Ten receiver Jared Abbrederis averages 17.5 yards per catch.

"We've got to play great team defense because they have multiple weapons: the three-headed monsters, we call them," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Our guys have to know their jobs, gang tackle and make sure we don't give up the big play."

The challenge for Stanford's offense isn't to make the big plays but execute the basic ones: use the running game to set up play-action passes downfield to tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo.

But Wisconsin's defense is anchored by the biggest set of defensive tackles the Cardinal has faced all season, 335-pound Beau Allen and 319-pound Ethan Hemer. They are intimately familiar with Stanford's approach.

"They're tough against power," Ertz said of Stanford's favorite play. "They see it every day in practice. But we're going to stick with what we do, and hopefully it works."

For more on college sports, see Jon Wilner's College Hotline at blogs.mercurynews.com/collegesports. Contact him at jwilner@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5716.

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