Arizona State Sun Devils vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview
It has been nearly three years, to the day, since the brisk September day in Madison, Wis., when the Arizona State Sun Devils special teams ruled Camp Randall. Omar Bolden returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Kyle Middlebrooks was tackled at the 1-yard line, as time expired in the first half.
Stop me if you have heard this before, "It was the Sun Devils' kicking game that was their ultimate demise." After Cameron Marshall scored from two yards out to bring the score to 20-19, Arizona State missed the point after touchdown.
This year, the matchup will, once again, pit two undefeated teams against each other, but unlike the last meeting, neither team has allowed a single point to be scored. Wisconsin (2-0) is currently ranked No. 18 in the USA Today Sports Coaches Poll and No. 20 in the AP poll. Arizona State (1-0) is ranked at No. 28 and No. 26, respectively.
Although the 45- and 48-point shutouts for Wisconsin and 55-point shutout for Arizona State look impressive. If you look at the opponents, they lose their lustre—Massachusetts, Tennessee Tech and Sacramento State are nowhere near the level of the Big Ten and Pac-12.
- Date: September 14, 2013
- Time: 7:30 pm PT
- Location: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: 92.3 KTAR FM (Phoenix metro Area) Sirius 92, XM 192
- Spread: ASU by 5
Arizona State Keys to Victory
Must Eliminate or Limit Turnovers
Head coach Todd Graham has preached day in and day out about ball security. I am sure Graham was pleased not only with the fact that the Devils never turned the ball over but also capitalized on all four Sacramento State turnovers last week.
Maintain Discipline and Composure
Perhaps the most amazing feat in the season opener was that Arizona State was only penalized once against Sacramento State—for a whopping five yards. This is due largely in part to the new culture and discipline that Graham has instilled in the players.
The Sun Devils went from being one of the most penalized teams in the country to 10th for fewest penalties and eighth in fewest penalty yards in 2012. If the Devils hope to win at the highest level, this is a trend that must continue.
Play All 60 Minutes
Arizona State dominates their opponents in the first and fourth quarters, but need to focus on playing and scoring in all four quarters. Since Graham has taken the helm, the Devils have outscored their opponents, 159-69, in the first quarter and 129-62 in the fourth.
Wisconsin Keys to Victory
Run, Run, Run and Then Run Some More
The Arizona State run defense finished the 2012 season 10th in the Pac-12 and are making strides to remedy this. Although impressive on Thursday night, one game against a FCS school is not enough of a test to see if that has changed.
Wisconsin's running game is ranked second in the nation, averaging 390 yards a game. Their trio of running backs in James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement have each broken the 100-yard mark—in both games.
Beef Up the Secondary
Arizona State quarterbacks like to throw the ball. The trio of Taylor Kelly, Michael Eubank and Mike Bercovici threw for 365 yards, including bombs for 57 and 41 yards. They come in at No. 9 in the country for passing yards, and the Badger secondary must adjust for the deep threat and speedy receivers on the Arizona State roster.
Rattle the Kicker
Arizona State true freshman place-kicker Zane Gonzalez went a perfect 7-of-7 on PATs and made his first career field-goal attempt of 40 yards. He also missed from 33 and 49 yards late in the game. If the Badgers can get into the head of this young kicker and rattle him, we might see a repeat of the 2010 game when Wisconsin eked out a 20-19 victory on a blocked PAT.
Players to Watch: Arizona State
QB Taylor Kelly
Kelly's 300 yards passing and five touchdowns last week were achieved in just over two quarters. Over his past four games, he is 76-of-102 for 1,005 yards with 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His efficiency over that time frame is a mind-blowing 207.6.
Saying that the team lives and dies with how well Kelly plays is not an understatement, Kelly's accuracy and ability to find the open man is paramount to a big win over Wisconsin.
DT Will Sutton
When the consensus All-American decided to return to Arizona State for his senior season, he stated that there was "still work to be done." Sutton played a big role in the revamped run defense against Sacramento State. In just over two quarters of play, Sutton had two tackles, a half tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery.
Keep an eye out for the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year along with Devil backer Carl Bradford to have a big night against the Badgers. Sutton and Bradford combined to be the most dangerous duo in FBS.
The sack brothers are two of only 10 returning players who registered double-digit sacks last year and the only teammates. Their 24.5 combined sacks stat was better than 51 teams in the FBS.
RB Marion Grice
Grice picked up where he left off in the season opener, scoring two touchdowns, a six-yard rushing strike along with a 26-yard receiving score. Last year, Grice's 19 touchdowns (11 rushing and eight receiving) placed him at No. 3 all time in school history, and his 114 points is fifth-best in single-season scoring.
Grice's breakout season earned him accolades not only in school history but also at the national level. His eight receiving touchdowns were the best in the nation for running backs, and his total touchdowns ranked No. 15 in the country.
For a complete look at the Arizona State Depth Chart, click here.
Players to Watch: Wisconsin
Running Back Committee
Anybody who plays fantasy football hates those three words, but new Wisconsin Badgers head coach Gary Andersen loves them.
The trio of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement have all averaged over 125 yards per game rushing and seven touchdowns between the three of them in the first two games.
Their 390 rushing yards-per-game stat is second-best in the country behind only Oregon. To put it in better perspective, the Badgers rushing trio averages 9.3 yards per carry, nearly a first down every time they touch the ball.
LB Chris Borland
The redshirt senior out of Kettering, Ohio, is already making a big impact on one of the nation's stingiest defenses. The 2012 first-team All-Big Ten selection leads the team in tackles with 14, five of them solo, one-half for a loss.
Borland was selected to three preseason All-America teams(second and third) and three first-team All-Big Ten teams. He was also named to the Bednarik, Nagurski, Lombardi and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch lists.
For a complete listing of the Wisconsin depth chart, click here.
What They Are Saying
Head coach Todd Graham held his press conference earlier this week and had the following tidbits to offer up.
On facing Wisconsin:
...this is as good a running team and as good a big play team as we are going to play. People sometimes don’t correlate that with Wisconsin. They were fourth in the country last year in 40-plus-yard plays. That is a lot of big plays. We will find out exactly where we are at when it comes to run defense.
His offensive philosophy is simple, “Our philosophy offensively is to focus on us." Graham said. "Focus on taking care of the football and take what they give us.”
Wisconsin has had some issues facing the spread offense in the past, and Arizona State has the style nearly perfected. However, the Badgers don't seem too worried. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writes:
"I think it has gotten better every year," fifth-year senior linebacker Ethan Armstrong said of UW's ability to keep pace with spread offenses. "The more you see it the better you're going to be...they are going to test us and hopefully we'll respond the right way."
The receiving corps at Arizona State is impressive, one of the new standouts is wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Jeff Metcalfe of azcentral.com wrote about Strong:
Sophomore wide receiver Jaelen Strong had a team-high six catches in the 55-0 win over Sacramento State, one for a touchdown.
I feel like I can do a lot more. The little mistakes I made could have let me get close to 100 yards (he had 58). I know what I can do to help me and our offense to do better, so I have to work on that.
This game is going to get crazy.
Over 71,000 people will pack into Sun Devil Stadium for another round of "How Hot Can it Get in Here?" Last week's game-time temperature was 107, and the forecast for Saturday night is a balmy 102.
Although the Big Ten is a formidable conference with perennial champions, the visit by the defending Big Ten champions doesn't strike fear into anybody in the desert. The Sun Devils have owned the Big Ten in Tempe—an amazing 8-0 outscoring opponents and 320-111 in those eight contests.
To make things even crazier, Arizona State is 9-1-1 all time in games following a shutout when both games are played at home.
This will mark the fourth matchup between the two teams which Arizona State leads 2-1. Overall, Arizona State is 16-14 against current Big Ten teams (Nebraska included) and 4-2 against Big Ten teams in bowl games.
Wisconsin's running game will be tough to stop, but fortunately for the Sun Devil faithful, Taylor Kelly and his potent offensive arsenal will be even tougher for this Wisconsin team to stop.
Arizona State 42, Wisconsin 31
David is the Featured Columnist of Arizona State Athletics for B/R. Follow him on Twitter at @asudave.