We are one day away from the Las Vegas Bowl between the Wisconsin Badgers (8-4 overall, 6-3 Big Ten) and the Arizona State Sun Devils (8-4 overall, 6-3 Pac-12). While neither team planned on being here at the beginning of the season, Thursday’s game gives each team a chance to end the year on a high note and hopefully get some early momentum going for 2022.
If you’re like me, you probably didn’t know too much about ASU’s season this year. Thankfully, Brady Vernon of our SB Nation cousins House of Sparky was able to answer all of my questions about the Sun Devils. Here are his, uh, less than optimistic answers!
I think it is safe to say that not many Wisconsin fans followed Arizona State’s season closely (and vice versa), so can you give us a rundown of how this year went for the Sun Devils and did it meet expectations?
Most people would think, “Oh, Arizona State went 8-4, that’s pretty solid for them,” right? Well, the Sun Devils basically beat a lot of bad teams and struggled against those that actually had a pulse. Everything was lined up for Arizona State to win the Pac-12 South, and even the conference as a whole to be honest.
QB Jayden Daniels was primed for a great year, the defense filled with veteran players, back-to-back recruiting classes filled with high-level talent. The BYU result sucked some juice from the season because it easily could’ve been won and Arizona State would’ve jumped near the Top 10 in the rankings. However, the collapse at Utah allowing 28 unanswered points in the second half ruined it all for Arizona State.
The program had a chance to be the front runner in the South with an easier schedule ahead, and that loss bled into the Washington State turnover fest. Ask any Sun Devil fans and this season was a disappointment, as well as the fact that the program seems to be going the wrong way after such high hopes in Tempe.
There have already been a number of key Sun Devils that have opted out, including top-two running backs Rachaad White and DeaMonte Trayanum. The Badgers have the top-ranked rushing defense in the country, btw. Who is going to be running the ball for ASU in Vegas and will this drastically change the offensive game plan?
The starting running back will be Daniyel Ngata. The California native is a former four-star running back and was ranked 125th overall by 247 Sports in the 2020 class. Ngata, who has a brother at Clemson and is the cousin of former Sun Devil Brandon Aiyuk, has plenty of talent but hasn’t had the opportunity. His career at ASU started slow due to injuries and the emergence of White as a junior college transfer.
The offense will probably look a lot different because in certain games White was the ENTIRE offense and to add to it the offensive line will be shifting quite a bit from injuries and opt outs. I think many people are intrigued to see what it’ll look like.
Wisconsin isn’t known for their prolific passing offense, but ASU will be missing two of their top corners in this game too. Will the Badgers be able to take advantage through the air or should they still stick with their ground-based attack?
At this point, I don’t think anyone knows who is even playing for the Sun Devil defense. Linebacker Darien Butler and defensive end Tyler Johnson won’t play in the bowl game either to prepare for the NFL Draft. The Arizona State defensive line has had a plethora of injuries this year. Honestly, either form of offense might be good for Wisconsin because the opposition will likely play young, inexperienced players.
The Badgers, historically, have struggled with dual-threat QBs and Jayden Daniels is a prime example of a guy who can give Jim Leonhard’s defense fits. What makes Daniels special and how do you see him attacking Wisconsin’s stout defense?
Daniels is a fantastic runner. He does some special stuff in the open field and any play seems like it can be a big run for him. However, my biggest critique of him is that too many times his first instinct is to run and that he lacks anticipation at times as his receivers do come open later in a play.
A lot of fans are hoping with the lack of support around him, he starts to show what they expected of him coming into the season because he has elected to return for one more season next year.
Arizona State doesn’t give up a whole lot of yards, ranking No. 19 in the nation in yards allowed per game. What are the strengths of ASU’s defense and where might UW be able to attack them?
The strength of the defense coming into the season was the experience and the depth on the defensive line. Between injuries over the season and opt outs for the bowl game as mentioned before that’s quickly disappeared. Not to take away from the team’s accomplishments, but Arizona State didn’t exactly play a handful of great offenses this season.
I think the Sun Devil defense was solid and pair it with a weak schedule of offenses, the numbers looked really good.
Lastly, and I don’t need an exact score prediction, but how do you think the game goes? Who do you think wins and who has to MVP performance for the Sun Devils to come out on top?
I think Arizona State struggles to score and I think there’s going to be communication issues and clear “I’ve never started” moments on the defense. If Arizona State is to win the MVP will be Daniels having a great day on the ground and finding anything in the passing game, which would be a hopeful prediction at this point. I think Wisconsin wins and we don’t see a lot of offensive fireworks from either side.