Maybe the best thing that can be said about the Badgers performance in the first two weeks of this season is that they enter this weekend with two wins. Despite the unblemished record, Wisconsin has struggled to find its rhythm on offense and given up untimely big plays on defense.
To keep a zero in the loss column, the Badgers will have to clean up the miscues on both sides of the ball, because the Arizona State Sun Devils (2-0) have the team speed to capitalize on any lingering problems.
The Badgers certainly do not have to be perfect but Arizona State's spread offense, led by junior quarterback and Michigan transfer Steven Threet, has racked up 95 points through two games and pushes the pace of the game to a near frantic level.
""You just have to plan that way,"" defensive coordinator Dave Doeren said. ""You have to be ready to get your plays in quickly and keep your substitutions to plays where it's a dead ball situation and be smart about bringing guys in and out.""
Senior linebacker Blake Sorensen said while the fast pace is different, it should not take the Badgers by surprise.
""Our scout team has been doing a great job running at a really high tempo,"" he said. ""It's definitely going to be a challenge.""
Sorensen and other upperclassmen at Wisconsin certainly remember Threet, who helped Michigan stage a comeback victory after trailing 19-0 at halftime in 2008 in Ann Arbor, Mich. It was the first loss in what ended up being a severely disappointing 7-6 campaign for the Badgers.
""It's a different offense and he's been coached differently and is running a totally different system,"" Doeren said. ""But you know the guy's going to play hard for four quarters and he isn't going to quit. When [Michigan] came back and beat us, he was the guy.""
While the Badger defenders will be out to exact some revenge from the loss in 2008, junior free safety Aaron Henry said it will be important for the unitto stay within the game plan, an area he thought needed some improvement after two weeks.
""Sometimes last week, guys tried to do too much,"" Henry said. ""If you go out there and just try to take care of your responsibility, the game is going to be so much slower and you can play the game at a fast pace.""
While the defense will have to make adjustments to keep up with Threet and the Sun Devils attack, the UW offense will try to help out by doing what it does best—control the clock.
Through two games, the Badgers have possessed the ball for 70:13, compared to 49:47 for the opponents. A major factor in that statistic is the power running attack that Wisconsin possesses, but UW's ability to convert on third down—they have a 54 percent (14-26, 2nd in the Big Ten) success rate—has been pivotal.
The Badgers offensive unit will be tested this week by an athletic ASU front seven that rotates along the defensive line and features an athletic group of linebackers. UW running backs coach John Settle particularly mentioned sophomore linebacker Vontaze Burfict as a player the offense has to account for.
""Number seven, he's one of the best,"" Settle said. ""You probably liken him to [Michigan State All-American] Greg Jones in our conference. He's a heck of a ball player and he's the glue of their defense.""
""They run and hit,"" he added. ""They play defense the old fashioned way.""
Forcing Arizona State to keep that defensive unit on the field Saturday will be a key for a Badger team looking to turn in its first truly impressive performance.