Saying that this year has been a transition for the Badgers’ defense would be an understatement. A first-year defensive coordinator and a new scheme are the highlights of the new-look Wisconsin defense.
The Badgers have made the best of it so far, not allowing a point yet this season. Arizona State is next on the list to test the strength of the UW defense.
Wisconsin starts out with a relatively young secondary. Freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton and redshirt freshman safety Leo Musso are a testament to that. Despite this being their first active year, both Musso and Shelton have an interception for the Badgers.
Wisconsin also has some younger players in the linebacking corps, but its core is still strong under the leadership of redshirt senior linebackers Chris Borland and Conor O’Neill. Borland currently leads the Badgers in total tackles with 14, while O’Neill follows right behind him with 12 this season. Both linebackers have recorded 5 solo tackles.
Arizona State is also undefeated thus far this season. The Sun Devils trampled FCS opponent Sacramento State 55-0 last week.
“They were very solid in their first game,” head coach Gary Andersen said in a press conference Monday. “They were good offensively. They really cause you some problems. It's a wide open offense. They do a lot a lot of their offensive game when they're running the football, turns into somehow, some way a version of triple option almost, and the way you've got to be able to look to try to defend things. Many times that's with a throw down the field, it’s the pitch guy. That may seem a little of an awkward statement, but that is the facts.”
ASU senior running back Marion Grice is the man who pushes the Sun Devils’ rushing attack. Grice had 679 yards on 103 carries in 2012 and tacked on another 425 yards off 41 receptions. Grice ended up leading the Sun Devils in all-purpose yardage last season.
“They’ve got some passes broken up, some balls batted down by the front,” defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. “So overall I think we’ve affected the quarterback, but we have not been tested yet.”
Arizona State redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly is a dual-threat quarterback who could pose problems for the Badgers despite their hot start this season.
Wisconsin’s defensive line and linebackers must be able to get pressure on Kelly to stop the Sun Devils from running and pitching all over the gridiron, and ASU’s experienced signal caller could benefit from UW’s young secondary. However, Andersen knows his guys are up to the task at hand.
“They've spent enough time watching Arizona State, and trust me, they understand the level of competition is stepping up,” Andersen said. “I think they've waited for this moment. They're excited about the moment.”