(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Game two is here, and for the first time in what seems like decades, a game with some national relevance will be played at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State welcomes No. 20 Wisconsin to Tempe, and while it’s warm, the Sun Devils no doubt wish it were a bit hotter.
Where there won’t be any issues with heat is on the field, where both teams will bring a physical style of football to the gridiron in a nationally-televised showdown.
This game means a lot to the Pac-12 as well, especially if No. 16 UCLA beats No. 23 Nebraska, as the conference could establish itself as the second-best conference in the country with a pair of big wins and a respectable showing by Cal against No. 4 Ohio State.
Back to the Arizona State game. The Sun Devils and Badgers both face their first real test of the season, and I expect a good, hard, well-played football game.
Arizona State wins if: They hold the Badgers to under 400 yards of total offense, and less than 250 on the ground. I’m not saying the Sun Devils can’t win if they allow more than 400 yards, but if they do, this game becomes a shootout, and nobody wants that. If Arizona State keeps the three-headed monster of Wisconsin tailbacks under control, they will get plenty of opportunities on offense to score points, and as this game goes on, the Sun Devils should find more space to move the ball and put points on the board. I don’t think Arizona State has many big plays early, but I do think they will hit a home run or two in the second half.
The Sun Devils are in trouble if: Zane Gonzalez has to win the game. The freshman kicker was 2-for-4 last week, hitting from 40 and 29 yards while missing from 33 and 49. His misses weren’t terrible, and for his first game, Gonzalez performed admirably. But Arizona State can’t leave it up to Gonzalez to win the game. The Sun Devils need to establish a lead early and force Wisconsin to play from behind, because the longer the Badgers either have a lead or trade leads back and forth, the more likely it is that Gonzalez will play a pivotal role in the outcome of this game.
Arizona State loses if: The defensive line can’t stop the run. It’s as simple (yet as complicated) as that. Wisconsin runs the ball about as well as any team in the country, and last season the Sun Devils ranked in the bottom third in the country at stopping the run. The Badgers have three running backs with at least 250 yards, but again, what would Taylor Kelly’s numbers look like if he had a second game under his belt against, say, UTEP? This is the big question: Wisconsin can run, but can they run this well against a team that should be ranked? If the answer is yes, the Sun Devils shouldn’t be ranked, won’t be ranked, and won’t be undefeated anymore. They will, however, be on their way to another disappointing season, because if the Badgers dominate the point of attack, just wait until Arizona State plays Stanford and Notre Dame.
Prediction: Arizona State wins, 38-24. I think Sparky shows up big for this one. It’s a blackout game. The team is remembering the Yarnell 19. Todd Graham has been preaching about the importance of a statement win for months. Either Graham has been fooling everyone since fall camp started, or this team is for real. I believe this team is the real deal, and while Wisconsin will have some success against the Sun Devils, Arizona State will show that it has great team speed, good strength, nearly flawless discipline and elite depth. Bucky better Fear the Fork.
You can reach Jason Galvin on Twitter @Jason_Galvin or by email email@example.com