09/11/2013 03:05 PM
With a 48-0 defeat of Tennessee Tech Saturday, Wisconsin became the first Big Ten team since the 1963 Ohio State Buckeyes to open the season with consecutive shutouts. While that is an accomplishment that any team would be proud of, the Badgers know they haven't even scratched the surface of the level of competition they will see over the remaining 10 weeks of the regular season.
Enter Arizona State.
The Sun Devils finished third in the Pac-12 South last year and enter the 2013 season with high hopes. After having a bye-week in Week 1, Arizona State flexed its muscles in a 55-0 win this past Thursday night against Sacramento State. No wonder the Badgers find themselves as 5.5 point underdogs.
Before sitting down to watch this weekend's game, here are three things to know about the Sun Devils.
- They are 'Strong' at wide receiver
Junior-college transfer wide receiver Jaelen Strong put his stamp on the season-opener for the Sun Devils last week. In limited playing time, because many of Arizona State's starters rested on the sidelines in the second half, Strong caught six receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-4 receiver, who has three years of eligibility remaining, is a big target for junior quarterback Taylor Kelly. Strong used his strength (no pun intended) to haul in a 24-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter even though a defender was called for pass interference on the play.
"Jaelen is a big physical guy that can go up and get the ball," head coach Todd Graham said after the win Thursday. "He gives us a nice target out there. He's also a guy that on third down and nine can go down there and post up and get a first down. And he's learning; he's only going to get better."
Strong isn't the only receiver that Kelly looks to, however. In their victory over Sacramento State, 11 different Sun Devil receivers caught 27 passes for a total of 365 yards.
Tight ends Chris Coyle and De'Marieya Nelson both hauled in touchdown passes, so the Badgers will have to look for each of them releasing their blocks and finding space in the open field.
- A tale of two defenses
Arizona State led the nation in tackles for loss per game and ranked second in sacks last season. That same defense, however, was also 10th in the Pac-12 in rush defense (182.8 yards allowed per game) and gave up 26 plays of 30-plus yards, tied for ninth (with Arizona) in the Pac-12.
Upon reviewing those statistics, it's fair to say that the Sun Devils believe in an aggressive, harassing mode of defense.
Graham confirmed that assessment last week. I know I'm not going to be happy if we're finessing anything. There are two types of coaches: ones that try not to lose and ones that just go out and put it in the left lane and say, 'Let's go perform.' I want the scheme to fit who I am and what I believe. Everything we do, we're going to be aggressive.
Defensive tackle Will Sutton, defensive end Carl Bradford and Chris Young are the premier talents on this aggressive squad. Bradford is not a traditional defensive end in the sense that he is a "Devilbacker" -- a hybrid position in Graham's defensive scheme that attacks from the edge. Redshirt freshman Viliami Moekiola starts for the Sun Devils at free safety.
Young was taken out of the Sacramento State game with a lower-leg injury and his status is still uncertain for the Badgers. If he can't go, one can be certain that James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement will be licking their lips in anticipation of going up against this already iffy rush defense.
Arizona State gave up 150 yards or more in six of nine conference games last year. Of those six games, ASU allowed 200 yards or more in four, and of those four, one was Oregon who, put up 406 yards on the ground. If the Sun Devils think the Badgers have a running attack that isn't better than just about every team in the Pac-12 -- Oregon aside -- they will have another thing coming this weekend.
While the Sun Devils did hold Sacramento State to just 51 rushing yards on 31 attempts (1.6 yards per rush), it must be taken with a grain of salt as the Hornets have trailed for 106 minutes and 12 seconds of the 120 minutes they have played so far this season.
- Another dual-threat
The Badgers did a commendable job in containing Darian Stone of Tennessee Tech, holding him to just 16 yards on seven carries (2.3 yards per rush). The competition gets a little tougher here in containing Arizona State's dual-threat junior quarterback, Taylor Kelly.
The Sun Devils don't dial up as many designed quarterback draws as the Golden Eagles did, but Kelly has the ability to pack it in and run for the first down if his receivers are covered down the field. Last season, Kelly rushed for 516 yards and averaged almost four yards per rush.
But, as most quarterbacks do, Kelly earns his scholarship with his arm. The Eagle, Idaho, native was 23-of-31 for 300 yards and five touchdowns in one half of action Thursday night against Sacramento State, so there's no question he will be the best quarterback the Badgers have seen so far this year. In 2012, his first season as a starter, Kelly threw for 3,039 yards, 29 touchdowns and had a 67.1 completion percentage.
If there's a knock on Kelly, however, it's his turnovers. In his career, Kelly has a 3.78 touchdown-to-interception ratio, something that Graham no doubt hopes sees improvement this year. With Gary Andersen and Dave Aranda preaching turnovers to the Badgers defense, the opportunity is there to pounce on what could be a weakness in the Sun Devils' arsenal.
With these three things in mind, the Badgers should be prepared for their first real test of the 2013 season. Playing on a Saturday night at any college stadium is tough, but going into Sun Devil Stadium with 75,000 screaming fans and coming out with a win is quite the task. Andersen has said in the past that he likes playing tough schedules and he certainly has his wish here with Arizona State. Come Sunday morning, Badger nation should have a better understanding of just how good this 2013 squad is and can be.