Holiday Bowl Gameday Preview: Matchups, Injuries, Lineups and Links

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Holiday Bowl: USC vs. Wisconsin

Qualcomm Stadium | San Diego, Calif.7:30 p.m. Pacific | ESPNAll-time Series: USC leads 6-0Last meeting: USC 38, Wisconsin 3 in 1966

The final game of the 2015 season for the USC Trojans approaches.

For the second year in a row that last opportunity to put a positive spin on the yearcomes in the Holiday Bowl against a Big Ten opponent.

Paul Chryst has recorded nine wins in his first season as the head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers and has the chance to hit double-digits in the win column by the end of the year.

Clay Helton will not have that same goal to reach for, as the Trojans enter the bowl game with an 8-5 record. However, finishing off a tumultuous season on a high note would give the newly-minted head coach some good will going into a daunting 2016 schedule.

Podcast:

In our USC vs. Wisconsin preview podcast, host Michael Castillo is joined by Reign of Troy editor Alicia de Artola to break down the match up between the Trojans and Badgers, talk up USC’s newest commit and discuss the Chad Wheeler situation.

Having trouble? Listen on Soundcloud.

USC Injury Report:

  • Out for the season: LB Lamar Dawson (shoulder), WR Ajene Harris (hip), OL Toa Lobendahn (knee), LB Cameron Smith (knee), OL Max Tuerk (knee)
  • Out: RB Tre Madden (knee), CB Kevon Seymour (ankle), OL Chad Wheeler (personal), WR Isaac Whitney (collarbone)
  • Questionable: OL Khaliel Rodgers (ankle)
  • Probable: LB Jabari Ruffin (linebacker)

Wisconsin Injury Report:

  • Out for the season: OL Ray Ball (shoulder), OL Hayden Biegel (undisclosed), OL Jon Dietzen (ankle), LB Leon Jacobs (toe), OL Dan Voltz (ankle)
  • Questionable: RB Corey Clement (personal), DB Derrick Tindal (back), OL Walker Williams (undisclosed)
  • Probable: WR Robert Wheelwright (leg)
  • Suspended: LB Jack Cichy (1st half)

When Wisconsin has the ball…

Traditionally a rushing offense, Wisconsin’s identity has undergone the slightest of shifts in 2015 to account for the absence of a main man at running back.

After a succession of backs which includes Monte Ball and Melvin Gordon, the Badgers have turned to a running back by committee set up with Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal splitting time. As a result, they have run the ball close to 200 times less than they did in 2014.

Less running has led to more passing, which has helped quarterback Joel Stave secure or tie several passing records for Badger quarterbacks. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, that’s more a reflection of their relatively weak quarterbacking history than any prolific numbers on Stave’s part. The senior has thrown just two touchdowns in the past six games. In that span he has thrown seven interceptions.

Running back Corey Clement, who had over 900 yards backing up Gordon last year and was expected to take over the leading role, has been dealing with injury and personal disciplinary issues for much of the season. Despite appearing in just three games, Clement has scored four touchdowns, averaging 5.34 yards per carry along the way. Since he is expected to be available for the Badgers in San Diego, he is the wild card who could turn Wisconsin’s dismal offensive output around.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wisconsin Offense:

[table id=83 /]

USC Defense:

[table id=82 /]

When USC has the ball…

The Trojans have faced stout defenses like Washington, Notre Dame and Stanford, but none of those will match the challenge that Wisconsin offers.

USC’s imperative since Helton took the reins in October has been to run the ball. Justin Davis and Ronald Jones II, along with an occasionally dominant offensive line, have rewarded that strategy for the most part as the Trojans found an identity as a running team.

More from Reign of Troy

The trouble for the Trojans in the Holiday Bowl is that Wisconsin has made it their mission to completely neutralize opposition rushing attacks. In fact, after giving up 238 yards rushing to Alabama, the Badgers have limited opponents to just 85.2 yards per game and 2.89 yards per carry.

That means the Trojans will have to find a balance with Cody Kessler keeping the Wisconsin defense honest through the air.

To do that USC’s offensive line — with Zach Banner taking the place of Chad Wheeler at left tackle and Khaliel Rodgers hobbled by an ankle sprain — will need to keep Kessler upright, which is no easy feat against the likes of All-American Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel rushing off the edge.

The Trojans’ senior quarterback will have some help with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Darreus Rodgers and Steven Mitchell as healthy as they have been in some time after the bowl prep layover. Of course, Kessler will need to be sure he’s hitting his own receivers on not Wisconsin’s Tanner McEvoy, who has picked off six passes this season.

Projected Starting Lineups

USC Offense:

[table id=84 /]

Wisconsin Defense:[table id=85 /]