Wisconsin vs. Arizona State Preview: Big Test Early On For The Sun Devilsby Tyler Pollard on Sep. 12, 2013, under Arizona State Sun Devils
Tempe, Ariz.– The season is just beginning but the stakes couldn’t be higher for the Arizona State Sun Devils when they take on the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers this Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe.
The Sun Devils couldn’t have asked for a smoother season opener than last week against Sacramento State, firing on all cylinders and shutting out the Hornets 55-0. For Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham, it was the first shutout of his coaching career and the first shutout for Arizona State since shutting out Nebraska 19-0 in 1997.
This week, Arizona State faces its first big test of the season in the Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin. Wisconsin, after playing two nonconference teams in Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech to start off the season, is also facing their first big test of the season under first year head coach Gary Andersen. It’s a matchup between two teams who are both trying to find out, just how good they really are.
Offensively Wisconsin is built on running the football. The Badgers are third in the nation in rushing yards, featuring a trio of excellent running backs in senior James White, sophomore Melvin Gordon and true freshman Corey Clement. Each of the three running backs have been spectacular for Wisconsin to start the season, individually rushing for over 100 yards in each of the Badgers first two games this season.
Getting the start at tailback for the Badgers will be White, who leads all FBS running backs in rushing yards with 2,823 yards. To go along with that, Wisconsin is 11-0 when he rushes for over 100 yards. Behind him the Gordon became the fastest player in Wisconsin history to reach the 1,000 yard mark last week, rushing for 1,003 yards on his 104th carry in the second quarter of last Saturday’s win over Tennessee Tech. While Clement became just the sixth true freshman in FBS history to rush for 100 yards in his first two games last week and the first ever to do so at Wisconsin.
“Obviously, as you guys can see, this is as good a running team and as good a big play team as we are going to play,” Todd Graham said. “We will find out exactly where we are at when it comes to run defense.”
At the helm of the offense for the Badgers is sophomore quarterback Joel Stave. Stave started five games for the Badgers last year before being sidelined by a broken clavicle against Michigan State, leading the Big 10 with a passer efficiency rating of 149.6. This year Stave has been no different in the efficiency department, going 29-35 for 380 yards this season, while going 8-8 for 57 yards and three touchdowns inside the red zone.
The Sun Devils will come into this game on defense with the game plan of slowing down the run and making Stave beat you with his arm.
Stave has a multitude of weapons at the running back position, but to go along with that Stave also has senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to get the ball too. Abbrederis, who also returns kicks and punts for Wisconsin, is Stave’s go to guy with reason, fourth in school history with 2,243 receiving yards and is leading all active FBS players with an average of 16.7 yards per catch in his career. Abbrederis is a very prolific and exciting player and gives the Badgers balance in a run heavy offense.
While the Badgers have dominated their opponents offensively this year, they haven’t really faced a team with a good defensive front to slow down the run. With playmakers up front like defensive tackle Will Sutton, the Sun Devils will try and disrupt the flow of Wisconsin’s running game and put the game in Stave’s hands.
Sutton, will play a huge role in containing the dynamic trio of running backs Wisconsin will display Saturday.
“I think it is pretty hard to run at Will (Sutton) or away from him,” Todd Graham said. “It doesn’t matter to me either way. We are going to do things to put him a position to make plays.”
It is a matchup to look out for as the Sun Devils struggled against the run last year, giving up 182.9 yards per game, 10th in the Pac-12. Despite this, the team focused all offseason on improving against the run, and this Saturday will show whether that hard work paid off or not.
On the defensive side of the ball, Wisconsin comes into the game with six starters returning on the defense for new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. While facing below average offenses, the defense has been dominant, posting shutouts in each game to start out the year. The Badgers have also held opposing offenses to a nation-leading 162.5 offensive yards per game.
The defense is anchored by the experience the Badgers have at the linebacker position in seniors Ethan Armstrong and Chris Borland, who both started every game at linebacker for the Badgers. Borland, who was on the 2nd team All-American list last year, is a turnover machine, as his 13 career forced fumbles are the most in school history and just one away from tying the NCAA record.
The Sun Devils are going into Saturday’s contest looking to not fall victim to the turnovers Borland and the rest of the Wisconsin defense will try to cause offense, along with getting their own running game going in senior Marion Grice and sophomore DJ Foster. Although limited last week to only 158 yards due to Sacramento State stacking the box, Grice and Foster will play huge role in taking the pressure off junior quarterback Taylor Kelly to make plays.
“The key for us on offense is taking care of the football,” Todd Graham said. “ We must be able to establish the run and take what they give us”
If the Sun Devils can execute the way Graham wants them too on offense they will exploit a Wisconsin defense that really hasn’t been challenged yet. Look for ASU to try and establish the run early in order to set up the play action, so Kelly can get the ball down field to guys like sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
The game features a matchup between two teams who up to this point have not been tested on either side of the ball. This Saturday will give each team, the fans and the nation an indication of how good they are.
For the Sun Devils this game is the first of a very tough stretch of games, a challenge the coaches, players and fans know they are up for. It will tell them whether they can go and compete the next week with one of the best teams in the nation on the road at Stanford.
Entering this game the Sun Devils are 8-0 all time against Big 10 opponents in Tempe. It’s a trend the Sun Devils hope they can keep going.