No. 20 Wisconsin readies for Sun Devil spread
MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland has heard the whispers about his team. Sure, they’ve stomped over their first two games by a combined 93-0, but the opponents were thoroughly overmatched.
No better place for the 20th-ranked Badgers to show just how good they are than in a visit Saturday night to Tempe and a fast-paced chess match with Arizona State’s spread offense.
“So this will be a big test for us, especially being our first game on the road,” Borland said. “That in itself is a lot to prove.”
So far, the switch to new coach Gary Andersen’s 3-4 defense is going well. The Badgers have mauled Massachusetts and taken down FCS team Tennessee Tech, allowing opponents to cross the midfield just four times in 25 drives.
The dominant Badgers have accumulated some impressive defensive stats. First in total defense, allowing just 162.5 yards per game. Eighth in pass defense (91 yards) and 12th in rush defense (72 yards). All this without recording a sack, too.
They’ll be tested in the desert.
Arizona State boasts a quick-strike offense led by quarterback Taylor Kelly, who had 325 yards of total offense against FCS school Sacramento State last week without having to play most of the second half.
Andersen, whose expertise is in defense, says he’s comfortable preparing for spread teams.
“There’s a lot to it. It’s assignment football, more so than just it usually is in more of a traditional offense,” he said. “But I think we’re comfortable. We’re always looking to evolve and get better, though.”
Wisconsin’s strength is in its experienced front seven, led by Borland. A student of the game, the fifth-year senior can play like a one-man wrecking crew from sideline to sideline.
So far, the less-experienced secondary has acquitted itself well. Safety Dezmen Southward is the only senior in the bunch, which also includes freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton, sophomore safety Michael Caputo and junior cornerback Peniel Jean. Sophomore cornerback Darius Hillary also plays a lot in nickel situations, and he came up big last week with a forced fumble on Tennessee Tech’s opening play from scrimmage, which set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
Southward said tackling and limiting yards after the catch will be important for the Badgers. But he likes what he’s seen so far.
“I’ve worked with those guys through winter conditioning and summer conditioning,” he said. “I think it’s just the beginning of what’s to come for the season for the rest of our secondary. These guys can play football.”
The Badgers have been drilling a lot of zone plays this week. Trying to keep up with — and slow down — Arizona State will be the biggest challenge, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.
To do that, Aranda said the defense needs to be ready on third downs to send in subs before the next snap gets off.
“We haven’t been tested yet. We’ve kind of played small ball with a lot of things ... and haven’t played as much man as much as we probably like to play,” he said. “I think so far so good. I feel good about the confidence of our players. I think they feel good about themselves and about what they’re asked to do.”
AP freelance writer Benjamin Worgull in Madison contributed to this story.