Arizona St.-Wisconsin Preview

BY foxsports • September 14, 2010

Wisconsin has an unblemished record despite a pair of imperfect performances to begin the season, but the 11th-ranked Badgers will have a tougher time overcoming mistakes against improved competition.

Coach Bret Bielema hopes for a sharper showing as his team continues its non-conference slate Saturday against visiting Arizona State, which will feature a quarterback who already has beaten the Badgers once.

While three turnovers prevented Wisconsin (2-0) from pulling away against UNLV until the second half of a 41-21 season-opening win Sept. 4, the team's home opener followed a different pattern.

The Badgers jumped ahead of San Jose State 20-0 last Saturday, but they squandered chances to take a bigger lead before hanging on for a 27-14 victory.

"You can't be any better than 2-0, so we'll be happy with that, but I'm actually very disappointed," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We have things to correct and we're going to come out next week better."

Taking care of the ball may be atop Wisconsin's list. Freshman running back James White fumbled through the end zone to halt one scoring opportunity against the Spartans, and quarterback Scott Tolzien's fumble on fourth-and-1 inside San Jose State's 5-yard line ended another drive.

The Badgers' pass defense also was sloppy in the second half, allowing two touchdown passes to a team that had totaled four in its previous six games.

"The great thing about it is you never want to be peaking early on in the season," said Tolzien, intercepted once in each of the first two games. "Obviously we're not happy with where we're at."

One thing that's not a concern for Wisconsin is running back John Clay's performance.

The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year has averaged 6.5 yards per carry through two games, totaling 260 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The 255-pound junior has topped 100 yards in eight consecutive games.

Still, Bielema said he will continue to work White and sophomore Montee Ball into the running game.

"We're going to go with who's hot," the coach said. "We have who is going to start the game (and) we do have a little bit of a feel for what plays each one of those guys plays better than the others."

Wisconsin seemed rattled Saturday following an injury to senior kick returner David Gilreath, who left the stadium in an ambulance after he was knocked out during the third quarter. Gilreath was released from the hospital later in the day, although he won't play against Arizona State.

The status of Nick Toon is unclear after he missed last week's game with a turf toe injury, but Wisconsin hopes last year's leading receiver can return as it tries to improve its 37-4 home record since the start of 2004.

That includes 25 straight wins against unranked opponents at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers also have won 26 consecutive regular season non-conference games regardless of location.

They haven't faced Arizona State (2-0) since losing 55-7 in Tempe in 1968, but the Sun Devils' starting quarterback has experience beating Wisconsin.

Steven Threet transferred to Arizona State after playing 10 games for Michigan in 2008. The Wolverines went 2-8 with Threet, but they beat then-No. 9 Wisconsin 27-25 on Sept. 27, 2008.

Threet completed just 12 of 31 passes for 96 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, but he hurt the Badgers with his legs, carrying nine times for 89 yards.

"He's 1-0 against us," Bielema said. "He's got a lot of talent. He's very tough to bring down, and you can tell he's a good competitor."

Wisconsin, which allowed 252 passing yards to San Jose State, will face a challenge containing Arizona State's aerial attack. Threet has thrown for 630 yards and five touchdowns in comfortable wins over Portland State and Northern Arizona.

But the Sun Devils must be prepared for a steep increase in the talent of their opponents, with their next three games against ranked teams. Arizona State has lost six straight against Bowl Subdivision foes.

"As we get into this part of our schedule coming up," coach Dennis Erickson said, "there is no mercy. None whatsoever."

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