Wisconsin vs. Arizona State preview: Badgers head west for first big test

USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State is definitely a step up in competition for Wisconsin, but oddly, the Badgers and the Sun Devils have some striking similarities.

The Badgers were almost perfect last week. It was, for the most part, a bravura performance. Of course, it's time for the Badgers to step up and face some competition. But for the Sun Devils? They were almost perfect last week. It was, for the most part, a bravura performance. Of course, it's time for the Sun Devils to step up and face some competition.

Most of you may have missed the Sun Devils' performance because NFL Fuhbaws returned and Peyton Manning was great. But Arizona State put up 55 points against a mediocre FCS team last week. They are in the exact same boat in regards to competition level. This promise to be an exciting and evenly matched tussle of two good throwball teams.

That's not to say there aren't some differences. Taylor Kelly could well be the best passing quarterback the Badgers face all year. And Arizona State has a pass defense that has been pretty close to great. The Sun Devils held offenses to 5.5 yards per attempt, and were top-five in generating picks in 2012. They can be run on, but this isn't a defense that's good because teams don't have to pass.

But these two teams have a lot of similarities. For one, both teams' best offensive weapon is a running back. Marion Grice doesn't exactly have the running totals that would make you stand up and notice (678 yards in 2012, and only 59 last week), but he is one of the best pass-catchers out of the backfield. He had 41 grabs for 425 yards and led the team with eight touchdown catches. Grice will likely add to his touchdown total this week. He's that good and makes Chris Coyle and Jaelen Strong just that much better.

The fun of this game is going to be the defensive chess match between Dave Aranda and the tag team of Chris Ball and Paul Randolph. We all know Dave Aranda has been holding something back from the playbook because of the competition level. But Arizona State returned a lot from its second-ranked defense nationally in terms of tackles for loss in 2012 defense, and only put up four tackles for loss in week one.

There will be blitzing. There will be deception. They will have Carl Bradford and Will Sutton fully unleashed, and while Chris Young did not return after his leg injury, it seems as if this wasn't a game against a team that was already down by 35 at halftime he could have returned. He's not on the injury list as of yet.

This may sound controversial, but I don't think the Badgers are going to have a third consecutive game with a trio of hundred-yard rushers. Gordon and White should get theirs. But the 'Corey Clement bludgeons a tired defense' show will likely be preempted.

And as for Wisconsin's defense? Right tackle Tyler Sulka is coming into this game with only one career start and right guard Vi Teofilio is going into this with four. Ethan Hemer has a chance to be highly disruptive, or at the very least, hold up at the point of attack so that the linebackers are going to make some sacks and tackles for loss. The Badgers are likely going to have to get to Taylor Kelly if they are going to win this one. The right side of the offensive line may be their way in.

We all know the Badgers' placekicking has been shoddy at best. But the thing of it is? Arizona State's been just as shaky. Zane Gonzalez went 2-for-4 last week, and the tag team of Alex Garoutte and Jon Mora went 15-for-23 last season. There's no confidence for either team if they're marching late in the game down two.

As I said to start, this game has promise. Though the whole West Coast swing versus, "Hey wait, next week we have to travel to Stanford" means there is a certain variable as to the performance of the teams. Coaching preparedness may become a factor.

But after midnight, I think you may be watching.

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