No. 20 Wisconsin, Arizona St face first real tests
TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)
No. 20 Wisconsin breezed through it first two games by a combined score of 93-0 to open a season with consecutive shutouts for the first time since 1958.
Those easy wins came against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech.
Saturday night's game against Arizona State should be nothing like the Badgers' first two against overmatched opponents.
The Sun Devils are fast, athletic and have one of the nation's most productive offenses, along with one of the best defensive linemen anywhere.
Sun Devil Stadium also will be jam packed, filled with rowdy fans all dressed in black to create a blackout effect.
It will be a big step up in competition and the Badgers are looking forward to it.
''They've spent enough time watching Arizona State and, trust me, they understand the level of competition is stepping up,'' first-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. ''I think they've waited for this moment. They're excited about the moment.''
The Badgers won't be the only ones facing their first real test of the season.
Arizona State had a bye the first week of the season, then ran over Sacramento State 55-0 in its first game.
The Sun Devils withstood an initial surge by Sac State's offense, then shut the Hornets down, giving coach Todd Graham the first shutout in his eight years as a head coach.
Arizona State's offense picked up where it left off last season, using its snap-it-quickly scheme to score on its first five possessions to build a 42-0 lead by halftime.
Now, it gets a whole lot tougher for the Sun Devils; Saturday's game against Wisconsin kicks off a stretch of playing four straight teams that were ranked in The Associated Press preseason Top 25.
''We think that is a great opportunity for our program and great exposure for our program,'' Graham said. ''We can take our program to the next level so I am excited personally.''
Here are five things to look for when the Badgers meet the Sun Devils:
POWER VS SPEED: Wisconsin, like many teams in the Big Ten, relies on its power running game, punishing opponents up front with big offense linemen and a cache of talented running backs who can break off long runs on every touch. Arizona State fits perfectly into the Pac-12 mold of offense, relying on its athleticism and a breakneck pace, often snapping the ball as soon as the officials place it. It should be interesting to see which team can establish its style of play.
STOPPING THE RUN: Wisconsin has been one of the nation's best rushing teams for decades and its trio of backs - James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement - each went over 100 yards rushing in both of the Badgers' first two games. Arizona State had a solid defense in its first season under Graham in 2012, but the big weakness was an inability to stop the run. The Sun Devils finished 81st in the country against the run, allowing 182.9 yards per game. Arizona State worked hard on its run defense during the offseason and will get a huge test against the Badgers.
WISCONSIN'S NEW D: The Badgers switched to a 3-4 defense in their first season under Andersen and the results have been good so far. Wisconsin allowed its first two opponents to cross midfield four times in 25 combined drives and the Badgers enter Saturday's game with the nation's No. 1 overall defense, allowing 162.5 yards per game. The new D will get a big test against Arizona State, though. The Sun Devils play fast and will spread Wisconsin out with a good mix of running and passing, so the Badgers will have to be sound on their assignments.
KELLY's DEVELOPMENT: Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly had a superb first season as Arizona State's starter in 2012, throwing for 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, second-most in school history, while setting a school record by completing 67 percent of his passes. The junior had a strong debut this season, matching his own school record with five touchdown passes and accounting for 325 total yards against Sac State in a little over a half. Now he gets to see what he can do against stiffer competition.
THE HEAT: This is the desert, so the cooler temperatures of fall haven't quite kicked in. Temperatures on Saturday are expected to be in the triple digits and still about 95 degrees around kickoff time. Madison is still pretty warm this time of the year, but nothing like what it'll be like in Tempe. Wanting to get his team acclimated to the heat before Saturday's game, Andersen had the Badgers fly out a day early (on Thursday) so they could practice under similar conditions as they'll have during the game.