Wisconsin ready for difficult challenge in Arizona State
SEP 09, 2013 4:59p ET
But what have we really learned about the Badgers? Well, they can beat bad teams, which is a start.
The question now is whether Wisconsin's players are prepared to handle their first true test of the season. The answers will come when No. 21 Wisconsin (2-0) takes on Arizona State (1-0) in Tempe, Ariz., at 9:30 p.m. CT Saturday.
So, are they ready given the lack of challenges provided in the first two weeks?
"I think that's something that is a valid point," Badgers quarterback Joel Stave said. "But we've been playing against each other throughout weeks and weeks of camp. As you've seen, the defense has been really good. The offense has been productive. I think all the reps that we've gotten against our own defense, our own offense is really good practice for us. Going into a tougher test, I think that'll prepare us well."
Of course, nobody is really sure just how Wisconsin will respond in Sun Devil Stadium, which will feature Arizona State's third annual "Blackout Game" and a likely sellout crowd of more than 70,000 fans.
The goal for Wisconsin's veterans is to make sure younger players understand the step up in competition from UMass and Tennessee Tech to Arizona State will be considerable.
"It'll be huge," Badgers safety Dezmen Southward said." Their guys are really good players. They play sound. You can obviously tell they understand what they're doing. They do it at a very fast pace and they're efficient. When they catch the ball, they're not looking to go down. They're looking to make moves and score.
"That’s pretty impressive when you look at them. It'll be a challenge for us to not only cover them but tackle them when they get in space and limit the yards after the catch."
The Badgers have lost their last three games against Pac-12 teams -- Oregon in the 2012 Rose Bowl, Oregon State last season on the road and Stanford in the 2013 Rose Bowl. Wisconsin last played Arizona State in 2010 and narrowly escaped with a 20-19 victory on a blocked extra point in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Chris Borland, who recorded two tackles against Arizona State as a freshman, said the Sun Devils' playmaking ability is easy to see on film.
"Arizona State has got a ton of speed, a good scheme, a returning quarterback and three returning offensive linemen," he said. "They've got a tremendous amount of talent. They play well at home. It's going to be a great environment."
Arizona State hammered Sacramento State, 55-0, in its season opener last week. Sun Devils quarterback Taylor Kelly passed for 300 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, and 11 different players caught a pass in the game.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton, the 2012 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, led a defense that surrendered just 167 yards. He is considered by many to be the top defensive tackle available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said Arizona State's front seven "has some tremendous football players that are going to potentially make a whole bunch of money playing this game throughout their careers." In particular, he singled out the play of Sutton.
"First of all, he is very, very sudden as a defensive lineman," Andersen said. "If I'm going to go recruit a guy, I'm going to look at a guy that’s going to be a great defensive tackle. I want to see a great bender, I want to see good natural use of hands and I want to see him be sudden. Well, he fits all three of those very well."
Saturday's game figures to be one of the rare instances this season in which Wisconsin is an underdog. Arizona State currently is a 5 1/2-point favorite.
"We want to come out there and try to make a statement," Badgers running back James White said. "We've already started watching film on them. They have an aggressive defense. It'll be a great challenge for us. They'll test us as an offense."
Consider it a welcome change for Wisconsin this season.
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