The new look Wisconsin Badgers set out on the road for the first time this season, as they take on a dangerous Arizona State squad in an intriguing matchup at Sun Devil Stadium.
Gary Andersen's debut season in Madison couldn't have started much better, as the 20th-ranked Badgers have begun the campaign with back-to-back shutouts, routing both Massachusetts (45-0) and Tennessee Tech (48-0). Closing out this three-game set with a win will be important for Wisconsin, which begins Big Ten play next week against Purdue.
Arizona State has also not given up a point this season. Todd Graham's team was idle for the opening weekend, but made up for lost time, with a 55-0 shutout of Sacramento State last time out. One of the contenders in the Pac-12 this season, the Sun Devils will see just where they stand in the conference hierarchy, as they take on Top-five foe Stanford next weekend on the road.
Arizona State has won two of the three previous meetings with Wisconsin, but it was the Badgers who won the last matchup, a 20-19 nail biter in 2010.
The numbers are inflated after two games for Wisconsin on both sides of the football, but the way the team has moved the football at will against its first two opponents is particularly impressive.
After two games, the Badgers are averaging an eye-popping 602.0 yards per game, fueled by a devastating ground attack that is netting 390.0 yards per outing. Monte Ball has taken his talents to the NFL, but that has allowed a trio of productive backs to showcase their wares. All three are averaging over 100 yards per game in sophomore Melvin Gordon (142.0 ypg), senior James White (126.0 ypg) and freshman Corey Clement (125.0 ypg).
The team's dominance on the ground has made quarterback Joel Stave's job rather easy in the early going. The sophomore signal caller has completed 71.7 percent of his passes over the first two games, for 416 yards and five touchdowns. Despite an offense heavy on the run, senior wideout Jared Abbrederis has been a strong asset downfield, leading the team in receptions (10), receiving yards (184) and TD catches (3).
Andersen doesn't want to label his offense, other than being a physical unit.
"I think, at the end of the game, I would like to know that the defense that we played against knows that we're a physical football team, that it was a tough game, that we're going to want to run the ball, but we also want to have the ability to stretch it from sideline to sideline, all 53 yards of the width of the field, and then the length of the field also, whatever's left. We want to have the ability to stretch all three of those zones. I've said that many times in the passing game. You've got to carry yourself with a physical presence in our offense because that's who we are going to be."
It isn't a surprise that the Badgers lead the nation in scoring defense as it doesn't get any better than zero points allowed to this point. The opposition has managed a mere 162.5 yards of total offense per game, having a hard time both on the ground (72.0 ypg) and through the air (90.5 ypg). The opposition has had 25 offensive drives in the first two games, but has only passed the 50-yard line four times against the Badgers, who have yet to allow a foe in the red zone.
The team has four forced turnovers in the first two games, but is still looking for its first sack. Still, there have been plenty of active defenders flying to the ball, led by All-American candidate Chris Borland at linebacker. The senior leads the team with 14 total tackles. Fellow LB Conor O'Neill is a close second on the team with 12 stops.
The Sun Devils are built a little differently in terms of their offensive gameplan, as ASU will throw the football early and often. With only one game in the books, it seems like the passing attack may already be at mid-season form, as Arizona State put up 365 yards passing against Sacramento State.
Quarterback Taylor Kelly was efficient in the win, completing 23-of-31 passes, for 300 yards and five touchdowns, while connecting with five different players on the TD strikes.
Senior tailback Marion Grice is a dual-threat with his ability to both run the football and catch it coming out of the backfield. He showed both facets of his game against Sacramento State, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown, while catching four balls, for 65 yards and another score. Junior Deantre Lewis is a capable back as well (6.6 ypc, 53 yards), while 6-3 sophomore Jaelen Strong (six catches, 58 yards, one TD) is another viable option in the passing game, while All-American candidate Chris Coyle (two catches, 48 yards, one TD) remains a dangerous threat as well at tight end.
The Arizona State defense also pitched a shutout its only time on the field, as Sacramento State was held to only 167 yards of total offense. While the numbers definitely are skewed due to the competition, ASU still recorded four turnovers in the win.
The scary thing is that the defensive effort was without much from All- American defensive lineman Will Sutton. The senior is a disruptive force that makes a habit of getting up field and blowing up plays, but he had just two total tackles in the season-opening win. Senior linebacker Grandville Taylor was all over the field in the victory though, posting four tackles, with one interception and one fumble recovery.