After two blowout victories at Camp Randall to start off head coach Gary Andersen’s inaugural season at Wisconsin, the Badgers face their first real test on the road against Arizona State Saturday.
After playing first-year FBS member Massachusetts and FCS foe Tennessee Tech, No. 20 Wisconsin gets it first primetime matchup of the year, travelling to Tempe, Ariz. The last time these two teams met, a thriller took place in Madison as the Badgers eked out a 20-19 victory thanks to a blocked extra point attempt.
With both sides very evenly matched, another thriller looms on the forecast.
The Arizona heat will be a change of pace for the Badgers, with kick off temperature predicted to be 93 degrees fahrenheit, dropping off to a balmy 87 by 10 p.m.
The offensive line, however, is more worried about the Sun Devils’ defensive front.
“[It’s going to be] all of us versus No. 52 [redshirt junior defensive end Carl Bradford] and No. 90 [senior defensive tackle Will Sutton]” offensive line coach T.J. Woods said.
Known for their ability to wreak havoc on offensive lines, Sutton, the All-American, and Bradford, who recorded 11.5 sacks as a sophomore, will test the Badgers’ pass protection, which through two games has given up only one sack.
However, Wisconsin has not faced similar talent on the front seven this year, and the Sun Devils utilize it aggressively, blitzing about 75 percent of the time. Even with the step up in talent and pressure, Woods said the Badgers’ line has continued to work hard and will be ready to go to war in the trenches come Saturday night.
Even with the imposing front seven, ASU will have its hands full with Wisconsin’s running back trio of senior James White, redshirt sophomore Melvin Gordon and freshman Corey Clement.
They have contributed to most of the 390 rushing yards per game so far, and they have already scored seven total touchdowns on the ground.
All but one of the team’s remaining touchdowns have come from redshirt sophomore Joel Stave’s arm, with his favorite target clearly being redshirt senior receiver Jared Abbrederis. He has 184 yards and three touchdowns on the season.
The Sun Devils have a very experienced secondary that starts two seniors and a junior.
Stave looks to provide balance to an offense that almost always runs well.
While the Badgers offense had no problem putting up points through their first two games, Wisconsin’s defense has made it nearly impossible for opponents to score. Wisconsin puts its eight-quarter shutout streak on the line against a very potent ASU offense.
Led by redshirt junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, the Sun Devils run a spread offense that features a lot of dynamic playmakers. Kelly, in his first year as a starter last season, dazzled by completing 67.1 percent of his passes while also passing for 29 touchdowns. He also possesses the athletic ability to run the ball in the read option having rushed for 516 yards last season.
When Kelly is not passing or running, senior running back Marion Grice and sophomore D.J. Foster have the ball, both recording more than 400 total yards in 2012.
The UW defense does have the tools to stop the Sun Devils, it’s just a question of how it uses them. As a unit, they have the nation’s best total defense through two weeks, holding teams to an average of 162.5 yards per game.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda highlights the ASU pace as a huge factor for the game, and thinks athletic sophomore linebacker Joe Schobert will have a big impact.
“He is made for a spot like this,” Aranda said.
The Badgers hope the rest of their team is made for their spot like Schobert as well. When Wisconsin traveled into Pac-12 territory last season the game did not go as planned, as UW lost 10-7 to Oregon State.
Arizona State presents another tough road Pac-12 opponent for the second consecutive year, and Wisconsin looks to make a statement in the national spotlight by beating both the Arizona heat and the Sun Devils in the same night.