Originally posted on The Duck Stops Here  |  Last updated 1/2/12

Oregon has to win one of these, this year, now. Another loss would cement the can't-beat-elite-teams/extra-time-to-prepare reputation. While it's amazing to see Oregon football rise from 0-0 ties to three straight conference titles and Top Ten rankings, to get this far and fail again, it starts to become frustrating.

For one, the future is at stake. A win establishes the Ducks as a frontrunner for the 2012-13 national title and secures high position in the preseason poll. That matters, even if Chip says it doesn't. Like it or not, in its present configuration college football is as much a politicial horserace as the Republican nomination. The preseason poll is the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary rolled into one: it identifies the candidates who'll get the most attention and credibility, and trailing badly early makes it a very tough road to the final two.

Recruits are watching this game, and some very good ones will decide in just a few days whether they want to be Ducks or Trojans or Bears. If the Ducks win impressively and have fun doing it, players like DeForest Buckner, a defensive end from Hawaii, feel even more comfortable and more sure about making the decision to put on the Oregon hat. A couple of really good players on the fence or merely considering Oregon might be swayed to make the jump, seeing those cool lids and witnessing the birth of a new tradition of excellence for the PAC-12 and Rose Bowl Champions. A win sets Oregon apart. It begins to level the table with the traditional powers, establish the Ducks as whats happening now. Lose, and they look a little ridiculous in their shiny wings.

A win stamps the careers of Eddie Pleasant, LaMichael James, David Paulson and Mark Asper and the rest as the most special team in Oregon history, a team that went to three BCS bowls culminating in a break-through win in the Rose Bowl, the first in 95 years. Oregon has been in an amazing run as a PAC-12 program. All it needs now is a signature accomplishment.

If they execute, the Ducks are better than Wisconsin. They're faster. They have more athletes. They've faced better offenses. Nick Toon is a good football player, but he is no Marqise Lee. Walk-on Jared Aberderis at the other wide receiver spot is physical and capable, but he's no Robert Woods, The Badgers, while a tough, physical defense, don't have the speed to contain the Ducks on the perimeter, and they don't have a dominating defensive linemen to disrupt the Quack Attack from the middle.

Here are the keys to an Oregon victory:

Get De'Anthony Thomas loose

He's the X factor for UO offense. Wisconsin will sell out to stop LaMichael James, and DAT is the weapon they can't properly account for. In the open field, no one can cover him or stay with him one-on-one. The Wisconsin kick coverage ranks last in the Big Ten, and if The Black Mamba gets a lane, he's gone. The game is in Southern California, his triumphant return home. This is his coming out party, the big stage set that will announce him as the next great star in college football, the player broadcast teams point to at the start of every promo and telecast. He's the most electrifying player the Ducks have ever had, a legend in the making. Legends do great things in big games. If Thomas gets 12-15 touches and three touchdowns, the Ducks win.

Keep Russell Wilson in the pocket, get some pressure and 3-4 sacks

Oregon led the nation in sacks this year while the Badgers gave up 23. The blitzing, swarming, stunting front seven can do John Neal's youthful secondary a big favor by disrupting the Wisconsin passing game and keeping the accurate, dangerous Wilson in check. He makes great decisions and rarely turns the ball over, so their best option is to limit the time he has to scan the field and wait for Toon, Aberderis and Duckworth to get open. They must collapse his pocket, and keep him in it.

Keep Montee Ball from running wild

Ball is a great back behind a huge, athletic offensive line. The Ducks have to swarm and fly to the football, cut off his cutback lanes and chase him down with exceptional pursuit. They have to wrap up, force some negative plays, and get off and around blocks. They must do an excellent job of recognizing their keys, staying at home against the play action pass, and be alert for tricks like the throwback pass from Ball to Wilson, a play the Badgers have used twice this year for big gains. No one has stopped Ball completely this year, but Oregon must make him work hard for his yards, and win a few series, force some passing situations with some stops on first and second down. They have to play with relentlessness and determination, keep pushing against the run, and it would help immeasurably to have great games from their linebacker corps of Michael Clay, Dewitt Stuckey, Josh Kaddu, Kiko Alonso and Bo Lokombo. The Ducks need this rotation to play like warriors and make some plays.

Get consistency and focus from the offense

In the previous big game losses, Chip Kelly's attack never properly established its rhythm and tempo. Oregon has to execute in this game. No 9-21 passing performances. No handoffs bouncing off a thigh and all the way to the end zone. Darron Thomas must be crisp and on point, and his receivers have to catch the ball. They can't let David Paulson go missing. Break some big plays, and move the football crisply and efficiently, and they can break the Badgers. Oregon has a much better offense than Michigan State, provided they play their game, and the Spartans torched the Badger defense twice.

In their last game the Ducks had 10 penalties for 120 yards. That won't work in Pasadena. They need to avoid the self-inflicted wounds, penalties and turnovers, because Wisconsin is a very disciplined team that makes few errors. It's essential to match that execution.

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