Big Ten: Arizona State Sun Devils

Take 2: B1G vs. Pac-12

July, 12, 2013
Your B1G and Pac-12 bloggers have been grinding away on their respective leagues' nonconference primer series. Here's the Big Ten series, and here's the Pac-12 series. Part of the fun is learning about other teams in other conferences and what they bring to the table. The Pac-12 and Big Ten face each other five times during the regular season. The Pac-12 got the better of the matchups last year. Will this year be different? Brian Bennett and Kevin Gemmell decided to talk it over.

Brian Bennett: The first thing I look at for Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups in any given season is where the games are staged. Big Ten teams don’t seem to think the West Coast is the Best Coast; they are just 5-20 in true road games against the Pac-12 since 2000, and that includes an 0-3 mark on the road versus the Pac-12 last year. (The league also has just one win in its past 10 Rose Bowls, but not all of those games came against the Pac-12.)

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaNew coach Gary Andersen and the Badgers will have their hands full at ASU this season.
So it’s not good news for the league that I cover that three of these five matchups are located far left of the Midwest. If there’s any reason for optimism, it’s that the Big Ten teams should be substantial favorites in two of the road games -- Northwestern at Cal in the opener and Ohio State against those same Bears in Week 3. Cal is intriguing because of new coach Sonny Dykes, but Northwestern and Ohio State are both legitimate Top 20 teams with conference-title aspirations; if they can shake off the jet lag and contain the Bears’ passing attack, they should take care of business.

The two most interesting games -- and what look like virtual toss-ups -- are Wisconsin at Arizona State, and UCLA at Nebraska. The Badgers have a lot of returning talent, but a new head coach and different schemes on both sides of the ball. It’s also going to be a clash of styles, with the Badgers’ power running game going up against Arizona State’s spread offense. Will Gary Andersen’s team have its new systems figured out by then, and is Wisconsin’s defense -- particularly its inexperienced secondary -- fast enough to handle the Sun Devils?

UCLA-Nebraska is probably not getting enough attention as a must-watch game this year. Last year’s shootout in Pasadena, Calif., featured nonstop pingpong action, and both teams figure to have topflight offenses again. The Cornhuskers have a perilously young defense, but Bo Pelini’s teams usually defend much better at home than on the road. Quarterback Taylor Martinez -- who grew up a Bruins fan but was recruited by them as a defensive back -- will be highly motivated to beat UCLA his senior year. This is Nebraska’s only major test in the first seven games, and it’s one I think the Huskers have to find a way to win.

Finally, there’s Washington at Illinois. The Illini get the benefit of home turf, sort of, as the game will be played at Soldier Field in Chicago. We’ll see if Tim Beckman’s crew will inspire enough fans to show up by Week 3. While Washington has been mediocre for what seems like forever, I can’t confidently pick Illinois to beat any half-decent power conference opponent at this point.

In the end, I say the Big Ten manages a winning record this time around against the Pac-12, taking the two games in Berkeley, Calif., and the one in Lincoln, Neb. A 3-2 mark sounds about right, though if Wisconsin can pull off the win in the desert, that could be a good sign for both the Badgers and the league as a whole.

Kevin Gemmell: I'm going 3-2 also, but in favor of the Pac-12. After all, if we were in total agreement, it would make for a pretty boring Take 2. So I'll play the contrarian when it comes to UCLA-Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeJim Mora
William Mancebo/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Mora and UCLA allowed just six points in the second half of last year's win against Nebraska.
We agree on the Cal games versus Northwestern and Ohio State -- though I think Cal is going to give both of those teams a better run than they are banking on. I like what Andy Buh is doing with a defense that could be sneaky good. And the Bears have some explosive depth at wide receiver. But ultimately it's a rookie quarterback -- whomever Dykes chooses among Zach Kline, Jared Goff and Austin Hinder -- and a team that will still have some growing pains as new systems are installed on both sides of the ball. Like you with Illinois, I'm not ready to give the Bears the green light yet. However, last year's game in Columbus, a 35-28 win for Ohio State, should serve as a reminder not to take Cal lightly. No doubt, the Buckeyes will remember Brendan Bigelow and his four carries, 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Both halves of the Pac-12 blog have been saying we believe Washington is going to get over that seven-win hump this year after three straight seasons of mediocrity. The Huskies have a lot of pieces in place with a returning quarterback, a 1,400-yard rusher, good receivers, a good line and the top tight end in the country. Their defense made huge strides last season in the first year under Justin Wilcox, and we're expecting another leap forward in 2013. What scares me is Washington's inconsistent play on the road the past few seasons. During the Huskies' trio of 7-6 seasons, they are 14-5 in Seattle (last year they played at CenturyLink Field) and 6-11 on the road. The past two years they are 11-2 at home and 3-8 on the road (0-2 in their bowl games at neutral sites). If the Huskies want to have a breakout year, they are going to have to win away from home. Steve Sarkisian actually talked about this in a Q&A we did back in April. But they certainly have the talent to win this game.

The ASU-Wisconsin game is really a critical one for the Sun Devils. It kicks off a four-game stretch (with no bye weeks) that also includes Stanford, USC and Notre Dame. ASU is another team looking for some national credibility, and this is its first opportunity to get some. You're right to talk about the ASU offense, but that defense -- which ranked first nationally in tackles for a loss and second in sacks last season -- is going to be crazy good with Will Sutton and Carl Bradford leading the attack. I'm banking on a good game, but ultimately one ASU wins at home.

That brings us to UCLA-Nebraska, a game I'm also surprised more people aren't geeked up about outside of the respective fan bases. This should be a fantastic showcase for both leagues. Brett Hundley impressed in his freshman campaign, and I think this game is going to be a spotlight for two of the country's most athletic quarterbacks. I was in Pasadena for the game last season, and what actually stood out to me was UCLA's defense -- particularly in the second half. The Bruins allowed only six points, and kept Martinez to 11 yards rushing and the Huskers to 106 total yards in the final 30 minutes. They should be improved in Year 2 under Jim Mora and Lou Spanos. If the Bruins pull this one off, it's going to be because of what they can do defensively.

Ohio State: What might have been?

December, 31, 2012
Ohio State posted one of the great "What might have been?" seasons in the history of college football this year.

Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Cal Sport MediaUrban Meyer remembers clearly and fondly a win at Northwestern while at Bowling Green
That might have completely transformed the 2012-13 postseason. It certainly would have made for a much better Rose Bowl, however things played out.


  • It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
  • If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
  • Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
Of course, this speculation includes the assumption that the NCAA would have been satisfied with the Buckeyes just sitting out the 2011 postseason. It rarely pays to assume what the NCAA will do. Based on wanting to make an example out of Ohio State for a scandal that included extra benefits violations involving memorabilia, tattoos and cash, as well as a cover-up by former coach Jim Tressel, the NCAA quite possibly still could have banned the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

But you never know.

That is the excruciating discussion Ohio State fans have had among themselves all season as the wins piled up in coach Urban Meyer's first campaign. Many have dumped the blame on athletic director Gene Smith, who was admittedly -- and curiously -- surprised when the NCAA opted to ban the Buckeyes from the 2012 postseason.

It's apparently a sore subject around Columbus. Ohio State declined an interview request for this story, with spokesman Jerry Emig saying "A would of, should of, could of, wouldn't read well."

It probably would have read better than the Badgers' record, which features more losses than five other Big Ten teams.

Of course, the Rose Bowl and its participants are trying to grin through the curious circumstances that created a less-than-thrilling matchup. As could be expected, Stanford folks are going out of their way to not slight Wisconsin. The Cardinal, said coach David Shaw, won't take the Badgers lightly.

"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."

There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.

While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.

As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.

This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.

That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
Illinois junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will miss tonight's game against Arizona State because of a sprained ankle, a team spokesman confirmed.

Scheelhaase made the trip to Arizona State and went through some warmups, but he has been ruled out for the game. Reilly O'Toole will start at quarterback for the Illini, and Miles Osei also is expected to see action under center.

Scheelhaase, the starter for the past two seasons, sustained the ankle injury in last week's opener against Western Michigan. He sat out practices Monday and Tuesday before returning for Wednesday’s workout, but O'Toole and Osei took most of the snaps with the first-team offense.
Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.

Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?

Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?

It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.

So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.

Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.

Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.

After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.

The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.

Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.

Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.

We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?

The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.

The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.

Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.

Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.

But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.

That might say something about playing better defense.
Ball/JamesUS Presswire

Montee Ball and LaMichael James will highlight a showdown of high-powered offenses.

After a year's hiatus, the Rose Bowl is back to its traditional self: A Pac-12-Big Ten matchup.

And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.

Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!

Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?

Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.

That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?

[+] EnlargeBall
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMontee Ball's 1,759 yards and 32 rushing touchdowns on the season have helped the Badgers score an average of 44.6 points per game.
Ted Miller: Oooooo. I’m telling Chip Kelly that you said the Ducks run a 3-4! He hates that. No idea why. Coordinator Nick Aliotti will tell you that the Ducks throw a lot of stunts and looks -- 3-4, 4-3, 2-5, etc -- and crazy stuff at you. They are fast, underrated and bigger than many think. Their top four defensive tackles, who are in a regular rotation, weigh 321, 300, 283 and 286 pounds.

Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.

Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.

Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.

While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?

(Read full post)

Video: Illinois LB Jonathan Brown

September, 18, 2011

Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown speaks with Adam Rittenberg on the Fighting Illini's win over Arizona State.

Video: Illinois-Arizona State preview

September, 17, 2011

Adam Rittenberg previews Illinois' matchup with Arizona State and says that defense holds the key to victory for both teams.

It's game day in Champaign

September, 17, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Greetings from Illinois' Memorial Stadium, where tonight No. 22 Arizona State and Illinois will meet for the right to start 3-0 and earn a bit more national respect.

It's a beautiful day in central Illinois, and while I've been in the press box for a very long time, it looks like a fun scene around the stadium. Weather should be very comfortable tonight.

Arizona State and Illinois boast identical records and similar profiles as programs that always seem to have the talent to turn a corner but, for various reasons, struggle to do so. These are the types of showcase games both programs tend to lose, but one team will walk out of here feeling very good about itself.

Illinois is looking for its first win against a ranked opponent since 2007, when it knocked off top-ranked Ohio State in Columbus en route to a Rose Bowl appearance.

This is a matchup I circled before the season as a potential swing game for Illinois. The Illini beat up on Arkansas State and South Dakota State, but they'll be tested much more by a talent-stocked Arizona State team.

Quarterbacks Brock Osweiler (Arizona State) and Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois) both come in with a lot of confidence, and they have solid weapons around them. Both offenses can put up a ton of points, and this game could come down to which defense makes momentum-turning plays in the fourth quarter.

I'm extremely excited to see Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict in the flesh, and also how Illinois is replacing three NFL draft picks on the defensive side.

Keep it right here for coverage of Arizona State-Illinois throughout the night.

Video: Arizona State-Illinois preview

September, 16, 2011

College Football Live Extra previews Arizona State-Illinois.
MADISON, Wis. -- In a perfect world, Wisconsin would have delivered 60 minutes of dominance.

The Badgers would have bolstered John Clay's Heisman Trophy candidacy, dominated the line of scrimmage, stormed out to a big lead and exacted revenge on Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet for what he did at Michigan nearly two years ago.

But in the imperfect game of football, Wisconsin had to settle for 60 minutes of resolve.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's John Clay rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State.
Many things went wrong Saturday against Arizona State, but the 11th-ranked Badgers didn't let the negatives linger in a 20-19 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.

"There's a handful of plays that determine games, that determine seasons," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "Football is a game comprised of four quarters, 15 minutes each, 60 minutes of playing time. But really, it's 60 minutes of reaction.

"Who reacts better to what happens?"

Wisconsin reacted better Saturday, especially in two moments when things seemed dire.

The first came at the end of the opening half. Wisconsin's offense finally had translated yards into points, as Scott Tolzien found Herculean tight end Lance Kendricks in the end zone to claim a 13-10 lead.

Only 10 seconds remained in the half, but Philip Welch botched a squib kick. Arizona State already had one kick return for a touchdown against a Badgers team that ranked 119th nationally in kickoff coverage in 2009.

This time, Sun Devils receiver Kyle Middlebrooks broke into the open field.

"Just watching, I'm like, 'Run Shelton, run Shelton, run Shelton,'" safety Jay Valai said. "I thought I had an asthma attack for a second."

Added defensive end J.J. Watt: "If he scores a touchdown there, it changes the entire dynamic of the game."

Badgers safety Shelton Johnson, with help from safety Dezmen Southward, tripped up Middlebrooks just shy of the goal line as time expired. Johnson said he had a good angle on Middlebrooks but likely needed Southward to slow him down before the end zone.

"That's a touchdown," Valai said. "Shelton stopped six or seven points right there. That was the biggest play of the game."

Johnson disagreed, giving the credit to Valai for his own "special" moment.

Wisconsin's defense had kept Arizona State out of the end zone for nearly 56 minutes before Cameron Marshall crossed the goal line with the apparent tying touchdown. Former Lou Groza Award winner Thomas Weber lined up for the extra-point try, but Valai burst through the line, hoisted his 5-foot-9 frame into the air and blocked the kick.

"A lot of guys don't pay attention to every play, but one thing the coaches drill into our heads is, 'This could be the play, this could be the play,'" Valai said. "I saw the hole, went over it, guy lifted me up in the air and I blocked it."

Veteran coach Dennis Erickson was as surprised as anyone to see Valai burst through.

"In all my career, I've never seen something like that," the Sun Devils coach said.

Bielema often watches how a defense, his own or an opponent's, responds after a touchdown is scored.

"It's a huge emphasis for me," Bielema said. "I point it out all the time when we go against a defense that gives no effort on a PAT. That doesn't just happen. That's from 365 days of mental and physical conditioning that our guys pride themselves on."

Valai's effort helped Wisconsin live another day as an undefeated team.

There were other examples of Badger resolve Saturday:

  • Down two primary receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath) because of injury, Wisconsin leaned on Kendricks, who recorded a career-high 131 receiving yards on seven catches. Tolzien also had his best performance of the young season (19-for-25, 246 pass yards, TD).
  • The defense held Arizona State to one offensive touchdown despite losing standout linebacker Chris Borland (shoulder) early and Watt and linebacker Culmer St. Jean for parts of the game.
  • Star left tackle Gabe Carimi, who is Jewish, played on Yom Kippur and fasted from noon Friday to 1 p.m. Saturday, when he received an IV before the game.
  • Watt twice left the game with a bruised quad but walked it off on the sideline and returned to record three quarterback hurries and a pass breakup.

"We had so many different situations of adversity today," Watt said. "For our team to respond every single time and get out of here with a win, it's huge for us and gives us a lot of confidence going forward."

The Badgers certainly aren't without their issues.

Kick coverage lapses like the ones against Arizona State usually get you beat. Wisconsin continued a disturbing trend of racking up a ton of yards (440) but not translating it into points. Clay had another big day (22 carries, 123 rush yards, 1 TD) but couldn't convert two third-and-short situations in the fourth quarter.

Most unsettling is the potential loss of Borland, the team's best all-around player. The 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year on Saturday aggravated his surgically repaired left shoulder, which kept him out of last week's game.

Bielema didn't know the extent of the injury after the game but said, "We definitely want to do what's best for Chris. You can't just keep going with him not going to be there or going to be there. The fortunate thing is he does have a redshirt year available."

Can the Badgers overcome obstacles and still take a step from being very good to elite? Time will tell, Saturday's win showed they won't shy away from adversity.

"We've got to take everything we can from this game," Bielema said, "the breakdowns, the mistakes, but also the positives and the extra efforts. It's a summation of everything that went on. We did enough good things to win this football game, but we have to correct and move past anything that can prevent us from winning in the future.

"I really just like the resolve of these guys."
MADISON, Wis. -- Nothing was easy about Wisconsin's 20-19 win, but the 11th-ranked Badgers certainly will take it and move on.

Down six starters at times during the game, the Badgers did just enough to hold off a tough Arizona State team. You've got to credit offensive coordinator Paul Chryst for a gutsy call on third-and-2, as quarterback Scott Tolzien hit tight end Lance Kendricks across the field for a huge first down.

The Tolzien-Kendricks connection was huge today, and the Badgers got enough from their running backs and a short-handed defense.

Wisconsin didn't make the national statement it hoped to, and there are several lingering issues on this team, namely kickoff coverage. But two special teams plays from Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai proved to be the difference today.

I'm heading down for interviews but will be back with more from Camp Randall.

Can the Badgers finish?

September, 18, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- All week long, Wisconsin's theme has been FINISH.

Finish plays. Finish drives. Finish games.

A shorthanded Badgers defense finally relented, allowing a Cameron Marshall touchdown with 4:09 left. But safety Jay Valai continued a day of huge special teams plays by blocking the tying PAT attempt. Wisconsin clings to a 20-19 lead.

Can the offense finish things off?

Star running back John Clay twice has been stopped on third-and-short situations, running laterally rather than busting Arizona State up the gut. You'll see a lot of Clay on the upcoming drive as Wisconsin tries to run out the clock.

We'll find out a lot about Wisconsin's ability to finish right here.
MADISON, Wis. -- It's not very much fun to face Wisconsin's offense on third-and-1.

You pretty much know mammoth junior running back John Clay will get the ball. And there's very little you can do to stop him.

Arizona State tried on a third-and-1 just inside the red zone, but Clay got through the first line of defense and was gone. With so many defenders committed to the line of scrimmage, Clay scooted through the right side of the line and had nothing but open field ahead of him.

Wisconsin's 8-play, 88-yard scoring drive might be the turning point of this game. The Badgers did an excellent job of mixing personnel and plays. Quarterback Scott Tolzien continued a very good performance, and Jared Abbrederis and talented freshman running back James White both contributed nicely.

Despite missing two starting linebackers (Chris Borland and Culmer St. Jean), the Badgers defense continues to keep ASU out of the end zone.

Wisconsin's offense tends to get stronger as the game goes on, so we'll see if the Sun Devils can handle Clay and the massive Badgers' O-line in the fourth quarter. Badgers lead 20-13 at the end of three quarters.

Time to jump around!

Sun Devils tie it up behind Threet

September, 18, 2010
MADISON, Wis. -- This feels like a high-scoring game, but the scoreboard says otherwise. Both offenses continue to move the ball pretty much at will until inside opposing territory.

Arizona State quarterback Steven Threet continues to pass the ball in rhythm, but an incomplete pass in the end zone to T.J. Simpson forced a game-tying field goal by Thomas Weber. Wisconsin cornerback Niles Brinkley seemed fortunate to avoid a pass-interference penalty on the play, as he never turned around for the ball. Threet has completed 14 of 20 passes for 140 yards.

The Sun Devils have racked up 239 yards without reaching the end zone. That needs to change against a Wisconsin offense that usually gets stronger as the game goes on.
MADISON, Wis. -- A few thoughts at halftime, as No. 11 Wisconsin has rallied to take a 13-10 lead against Arizona State.

Turning point: In a half defined by special-teams highlights and lowlights, Wisconsin's Shelton Johnson made the biggest play of them all. After Wisconsin had taken a 13-10 lead with 10 seconds left in the half, Arizona State's Kyle Middlebrooks broke away for what looked like the Sun Devils' second kick return touchdown of the half. But Johnson caught up and tripped up Middlebrooks at the 1-yard line as time expired, preserving the Badgers' lead.

Best player in the half: Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks. Down two starting receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath), the Badgers clearly are relying on Kendricks to be the No. 1 option in the passing game. The senior has stepped up so far with five receptions for 104 yards and a 14-yard touchdown despite defensive pass interference with 10 ticks left in the half.

Stat of the half: The teams have combined for 407 offensive yards but only one offensive touchdown (Kendricks' catch). Arizona State's lone touchdown came on a 97-yard kickoff return by Omar Bolden.



Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29