Thursday, September 16, 2010

#11 Badgers Have A Lot to Prove on Saturday vs. ASU

By: Nick Grays

With two games in the books, the Badgers have yet to live up to their potential as one of the top teams in the country. Opening the season at UNLV, the Badgers left the first half with only a 17-14 lead despite holding the Rebels to a mere 12 total yards while racking up 279 of their own. The Badgers were granted another chance to show off their talent by welcoming in San Jose St. for their home opener at Camp Randall. However, they failed to impress against a less talented team once again when they were forced to fight off a late-rally attempt from the Spartans. Freshman wide-out Chandler Jones who weighs in at a whopping 165 lbs. embarrassed the Badgers secondary by grabbing eight balls for a game-high 113 yards, including a 37 yard touchdown which made the famous top ten on Sportscenter.

Fortunately for the Badgers, they play in a major conference and will have many more chances to prove why their #11 ranking fits. Their next opportunity looms right around the corner against a dynamic Arizona State team which features a high-powered offense and better-than-average defense. Arizona State comes into the match-up 2-0 after defeating Portland State and Northern Arizona by a combined 66 points.

If you're the kind of person that likes history, the numbers don't bode well for the Badgers. In Wisconsin's only two previous meetings with Arizona State, the Sun Devils are 2-0 with an average winning margin of 37 points (42-16 in 1967, 55-7 in 1968). Moreover, the Sun Devils' Head Coach Dennis Erickson is also 2-0 against Wisconsin while coaching at Wyoming and Miami. To make matters worse, Arizona State boasts a formidable 14-5 record versus Big Ten opponents while the Badgers have struggled with a 17-25-1 record against Pac-10 schools.

If the Badgers look to improve their record against Pac-10 opponents, one thing is for sure, they need to hold onto the ball. Through two games, Wisconsin has turned the ball over four times. The Badgers have particularly been bad in the red zone where they have committed four fumbles this season, two of them being recovered by the opposing team. Quarterback Scott Tolzien hasn't helped the situation by throwing two costly interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown in the UNLV game. Coach Brett Bilema made it well known during his weekly press conference that Tolzien will improve.

Bilema recalled telling Tolzien, "You're so smart, you know the reads, you know the reactions, you know people's abilities, you don't have to press, you just have to let the game come to you."

As far as the defense goes, the Badgers' secondary have a daunting task in front of them. Not only must they find out how to stop an offense that's scored 13 of their 15 scoring drives in less than three minutes, they go up against a familiar face in Steven Threet. In 2008, Threet was a standout quarterback for the Michigan Wolverines who helped deliver a 27-25 win over the Badgers. Bilema hasn't forgotten about the Michigan transfer.

"Well, he's 1-0 against us. Obviously he was a quarterback in Michigan when we lost our lead there a couple years back. He's got a lot of talent. He's very tough to bring down. You can tell he's a good competitor. He seems to have good composure relatively early in his career there at Arizona State. All the reasons he was recruited to Michigan, all the reasons he's at Arizona State, he's a good quarterback," said Bilema.

On a positive note, the Badgers have arguably the best running game in the nation. The combination of a beastly offensive line and running backs John Clay, Montee Ball and James White give the Badgers a chance to stay in any game with any opponent. As a squad, the Badgers currently rank 17th in the nation with 245 yards rushing per game. Clay is the only active player in the NCAA to rush for 100+ yards and a touchdown in eight straight games. Look for that number to reach nine when the Badgers continue to work the ground game and win a barn-burner in Madison this weekend.

Nick's Prediction: Wisconsin 40 Arizona State 34

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