The Wisconsin Badgers have landed in the desert and it's time for one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season to take place.
Sun Devil Stadium is shaping up to provide an electric atmosphere for Saturday night's primetime affair and the two teams are chomping at the bit to get on the field.
Much has been made about Arizona State's quick-strike attack and Wisconsin's dominant rushing game. Luckily, these teams are so much more than their stereotypes. The Sun Devils have world-class athletes, but they also play smart football. The Badgers like to burn the clock with a methodical ground game, but they are just as prone to breaking loose and breaking a defense for a 70-yard touchdown.
For either team to win it will take a commitment to executing a game plan. Let's take a deeper look inside what the Sun Devils are preparing to do to Black Out Bucky and make some noise in the national rankings.
Arizona State's Three Keys to Victory
1. Keep the defense off the field
If Arizona State scores in two minutes or less and Wisconsin eats up six minutes of the clock with each series, the fourth quarter will favor the Badgers. The temperature at the field level will sit comfortably above 100 degrees which is difficult to manage for any team. Even the team that practices in that weather. If Arizona State's defense stays on the field for more than 35 minutes, the Sun Devils could run out of gas.
The Badgers' offense is built for sustaining drives. Gary Andersen's squad practices that way and so far, they've played that way. The Sun Devils need to find a way to get their defense off the field and that starts with creating turnovers. If Will Sutton and Carl Bradford have time to rest and recover in between series, the likelihood that they'll maintain their speed and drive off of the snap increases. The Badger offensive line is mammoth and their size will show up in the fourth quarter if Arizona State's defense is on the field for too long.
Offensively, the Sun Devils must establish the running game. It won't just open up the pass, it will allow the defense the time it needs for schematic changes and rest. Defensively, it's all about creating turnovers and getting stops on third down. The Sun Devils cannot have a situation where they are forced to stop Wisconsin's rushing attack in the fourth quarter.
2. Play from ahead
It would do wonders for the Sun Devils' confidence to score on the opening drive of the game. A lot of college football teams prefer to defer the option to receive a kickoff until the second half. Tomorrow night, the Sun Devils should buck this trend. Arizona State is the first legitimate offensive threat the Badgers face. The Sun Devils need to take advantage of this and get on the scoreboard while the Badgers are still getting accustomed to playing in the heat.
The Sun Devil defense can afford to take more chances with an early lead. The Badgers are comfortable running the football so Arizona State will have the opportunity to pack the box and bring extra pressure from the line of scrimmage. If Arizona State builds up a two-score lead, the Badgers have no choice but to take their chances through the air. That's where the Sun Devils have an advantage.
The bottom line is that the Badgers are out of their element when playing from behind. Teams that thrive on running the football can come back from 10-point deficits. These types of teams struggle when the lead increases. The playbook becomes smaller and their comfort level decreases as well. Arizona State will have 70,000 screaming fans, so it's a good idea to get them engaged with an early score.
3. Feed off of the atmostphere
You know the drill. The bright light of ESPN are shining upon the field, the fans are decked out in black, the atmosphere is chaotic. The Sun Devils preach the importance of staying focused. On Saturday, it's about focused fun. That means riling up the crowd with big plays early and keeping their foot on the pedal throughout the game.
Taylor Kelly tried to hit D.J. Foster on the first play from scrimmage last week on a deep route and don't be surprised if the Sun Devils turn to something similar against the Badgers. Kelly's touchdown pass to Kevin Ozier in last year's blackout game rocked the city of Tempe, but the Sun Devils couldn't maintain their edge. This year, the Sun Devils can help themselves by engaging the fans quickly and holding onto that momentum until the clock strikes zero.