Badgers want a pressure-packed game

Southern California's Cody Kessler (6) is pressured by Stanford during the second half of a Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Southern California's Cody Kessler (6) is pressured by Stanford during the second half of a Pac-12 Conference championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Credit: Ben Margot

Credit: Ben Margot

What is the most effective way to contain a prolific passing attack?

By badgering  -- pun intended -- the quarterback from start to finish.

Even the most poised and experienced passer, such as USC senior Cody Kessler, can be rattled by consistent pressure.

Wisconsin's players and coaches know they must make Kessler uncomfortable when the Badgers (9-3) face the Trojans (8-5) in the Holiday Bowl Wednesday at Qualcomm Stadium.

"They give up sacks," UW linebacker Joe Schobert said. "When you give Kessler the time to pick out his receivers, they have some dangerous weapons. He is an accurate quarterback who can make all the throws.

"For us it is going to be about getting pressure on the quarterback and making him uncomfortable in the pocket so he can't take advantage of that."

Kessler, a three-year starter, has completed 67.6 percent of his passes (280 of 414) for 3,315 yards this season, an average of 255.0 per game. He has 28 touchdown passes and only six interceptions.

USC has allowed 35 sacks, one every 13.3 dropbacks, for 233 yards in losses.

The Trojans' No. 1 line in the Pacific-12 title game featured two juniors, two sophomores and a freshman, and Stanford recorded four sacks in a 41-22 victory. Junior left tackle Chad Wheeler has not participated in bowl practices since his reported involvement in an incident on Dec. 19 near campus.

Wheeler, who has suffered at least two concussions this season, reportedly was taken into protective custody for psychiatric evaluation and his status for the game is unknown.

"They've got a young, very athletic offensive line," UW linebacker Vince Biegel said. "So it's not necessarily a lack of (talent). I think they (sometimes) let guys go and thus pressure gets brought on the quarterback.

"From what I've seen, the quarterback does a good job of putting the ball in position for the wide receivers to make plays.

"It's going to be a big assignment for me and Joe to get after the quarterback this week, cause havoc and make life a little easier for the secondary."

Schobert and Biegel have been UW's most disruptive pass rushers all season, and they will have to get after Kessler on Wednesday.

Schobert leads the team in sacks (9.5) and quarterback hurries (14). Biegel is No. 2 in both categories with eight sacks and seven hurries.

"For us to be our best or have a chance to be our best, your good players need to play well," UW coach Paul Chryst said. "This game ... if we're going to be at our best defensively, Schobs and Vince need to play well."

Schobert is optimistic the blitz packages designed by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will give UW an advantage in the battle.

"I don't know if they're going to have seen a lot of things that we do," he said. "They'll have obviously a lot of film from this whole season.

"But it's different when you watch film and when it actually happens in the game."

Both Schobert and Biegel have been effective rushing from the outside, but Aranda has also devised packages that put one or both of his outside linebackers between the tackles.

That has caused confusion among offensive linemen and led to free rushers.

"Coach Aranda is the man," Biegel said. "I really do mean that. I've said (before) that I will take a bullet for this man and I stand by that statement.

"I've been in this defense for three years now, and I understand what I need to do and I understand what the pieces around me are doing."

Kessler, 6 foot 1 and 215 pounds, isn't considered a running threat but he can move well enough to avoid pressure. He has gained 109 yards on the ground, with a long run of 21 yards, and has four rushing touchdowns. He also has lost 241 yards in sacks.

Although he was sacked four times by Stanford, twice on third-and-long situations, Kessler did show mobility on a 12-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that allowed the Trojans to pull within 27-22.

"He is poised," UW secondary coach Daronte' Jones said. "He has seen it all. He has a lot of games under his belt."

Biegel is eager to test Kessler with whatever plan Aranda devises.

"You never know what's going to happen that week, what blitzes he is going to dial up," Biegel said. "And that makes it a fun defense to be a part of."