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Sports Network Preview: Arizona State @ Wisconsin

Sports Network | September 15, 2010

GAME NOTES: The 11th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers and Arizona State Sun Devils put their undefeated records on the line this weekend in a non-conference showdown at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

The Badgers have posted a pair of a double-digit victories to kick off the season and that includes a 27-14 triumph over San Jose State in their home opener last weekend.

“We just made the point in the locker room that we’re guaranteed 12 opportunities, and we’re two games into it and we’re in the right column,” said Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema. “We’ve got two wins under our belt. There is no flow chart to show where you should be; it’s just important to get those two wins. Half of the teams today in college football won’t win.”

It marked the 15th consecutive home-opening win for Wisconsin, which began the 2010 campaign with a 41-21 triumph at UNLV. Winners of their last 26 regular- season games over non-conference opponents, the Badgers are brewing with confidence heading into this weekend’s clash.

As for the Sun Devils, this will be their first true test having opened the season with back-to-back FCS programs. The scheduling rarity occurred after San Jose State backed out of a game, instead taking on Alabama for a bigger payday.

Still, ASU seized the opportunity and followed up a season-opening win over Portland State, 54-9, with a 41-20 triumph against Northern Arizona last weekend. While the results were positive, head coach Dennis Erickson was less than pleased with his team’s effort against Northern Arizona.

“We were sloppy on both sides of the football,” stated Erickson. “We dropped balls or didn’t throw it very well. We made some plays but it was not a good day. We didn’t execute very well and sometimes that stuff happens. It usually happens in a game like this. We didn’t play very well defensively.”

The Sun Devils and Badgers are clashing for just the third time and first since ASU took a pair of games from the Badgers in 1967 and ’68.

ASU had its hands full with NAU this past weekend and it wasn’t until a pair of fourth-quarter TDs that the team was able to pull away. After winning the starting job at QB, Michigan transfer Steven Threet appears to have settled into a groove and he threw for 391 yards and a three TDS last weekend. Threet was picked twice, but showed good poise and the ability to make big plays.

Mike Willie was clearly his target of choice, reeling in eight balls for 114 yards and a score. A community college transfer, Willie made all the big catches against NAU, as each of his receptions went for first downs.

The ground attack however, never got going last weekend, gaining just 56 yards after rumbling for 242 in the opener. If ASU is to spring an upset this weekend, the offense will need to be more balanced and that means a better effort from the ground game.

Defensively, the Sun Devils have had good success thus far and that is too be expected when facing a pair of FCS programs. ASU hasn’t allowed more than 260 total yards in either game, while recording four INTs and three sacks along the way.

The unit has been especially stout versus the run and that showed last weekend when NAU managed just 69 yards on 34 carries. ASU also stepped up on third downs, holding NAU to just a 2-of-14 effort. Vontaze Burfict guided the defense with 11 stops and a forced fumble and he will need to be on top of his game in order to help slow down Wisconsin’s power ground attack.

Speaking of which, Wisconsin has averaged 245.0 rushing ypg through the first two games and the Badgers are one of just six teams in the nation to have averaged at least 200 ypg on the ground in each of the last three seasons. Heading the attack is John Clay, who went for 137 yards and two TDs in last weekend’s win over SJSU. It marked the eighth consecutive 100-yard effort for the reigning Big Ten rushing champ, who posted 123 yards and two scores in the opener versus UNLV.

Clay helped pick up an offense that wasn’t all that impressive, as QB Scott Tolzien had some issues hanging onto the ball. Tolzien had three fumbles, none lost, to go with an INT against SJSU, although he did complete 15-of-22 tosses for 191 yards and his first TD. More of a manager of the offense, Tolzien is a proven winner with a 12-3 record as the starter for Wisconsin.

Nick Toon, the team’s top receiver, was held out against SJSU as a precautionary measure with turf toe, but is expected back this weekend. His return should help Wisconsin do a better job of stretching the field.

Wisconsin’s run defense suffocated SJSU last weekend, allowing just 55 yards on 20 carries for a measly 2.8 ypc average. Unfortunately, the Badgers weren’t nearly as successful versus the pass, as SJSU was able to complete 22-of-30 tosses for 252 yards and two scores. The unit did come up with a pair of INTs, but also failed to record a single sack after getting four in the opener.

Antoni Fenelus and Blake Sorensen each had seven tackles and an INT in the win, while J.J. Watt finished six stops, including two for a loss.

Its hard to get a read on the Sun Devils at this point, as they have yet to face any major teams. This could be a real shock for ASU, as Wisconsin is one of the top teams in the nation. Expect the standard, with Clay dominating on the ground and the Badgers’ defense controlling the line en route to the victory.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 34, Arizona State 14