Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Arizona State will measure itself at Wisconsin
By ESPN.com staff
The bad joke provoked an eye-roll from Arizona State coach Dennis Erickson that was palpable even through the telephone line.
So, sounds like Wisconsin has a bit of a finesse offense, eh coach?
"Yeah, right," Erickson said. "They are physical. That is the best way to describe them. They are physical on the offensive front. We obviously haven't see that this year."
Nope. Arizona State is 2-0 after whipping a pair of FCS teams. Wisconsin is ranked 11th in the nation. Among FBS teams.
The Sun Devils defense ranks among the nation's leaders in most statistical categories. Erickson thought he had a good defense entering the season and he still thinks he has a good defense.
But thinking and knowing are two different things.
"We obviously don't know where we're at because of the competition in the first two football games," he said.
So let's just say Wisconsin will bring the knowledge. On paper, it has no offensive weaknesses. It welcomes back 10 starters from the Big Ten's highest scoring offense in 2009.
Quarterback? Scott Tolzien is a senior who led the Big Ten in passing efficiency last year. Running back? 250-pound John Clay is one of the nation's best, and the rotation behind him is deep and talented. Receiver? Nick Toon was preseason second-team All-Big Ten, according to Phil Steele, and Lance Kendricks might be the best tight end in the Big Ten.
But it's the offensive line that stands out. They average 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and have a combined 117 career starts between them. Steele ranked them the second-best unit in the nation.
If the Sun Devils shut down -- or just significantly slow down -- the Badgers, Erickson will know his defense is among the best in the nation.
Now, even if the Sun Devils shine on defense, that doesn't mean they'll notch the upset. Their new spread offense will make its debut against BCS conference competition in front of 80,000-plus fans who won't be terribly supportive. The Badgers defense will look nothing like Portland State or Northern Arizona, and the latter held the Sun Devils to 56 yards rushing on 29 carries (1.9 yards per carry).
ASU quarterback Steven Threet, a Michigan transfer, has some history with the Badgers. As a redshirt freshman in 2008, he led the Wolverines to the second biggest comeback in school history when he rallied them from a 19-0 third-quarter deficit to a 27-25 win over Wisconsin. In a Sun Devils uniform, he has looked good thus far, but it's unlikely he'll be able to just sit comfortably in the pocket without any support from a run game.
Wisconsin also has a big, physical defense that will challenge the Sun Devils inexperienced offensive line. It's going to be a long day if the Sun Devils are completely one-dimensional.
While Arizona State hasn't played anyone of note, there have been enough flashes of potential versus the FCS foes to suggest it might be better than ninth-place in the Pac-10, where it was dumped in the preseason media poll after finishing in that spot in 2009.
How the Sun Devils show at Wisconsin, however, should be mighty revealing.
Said Erickson, "They are ranked 11th in the country, so we will find a lot about ourselves in this game."