Physical test awaits Sun Devils

Winners of their first two games of the season, ASU's final non-conference game of the season will have them traveling to Madison, Wisc. For a road meeting with the no. 11 Badgers. ASU head coach Dennis Erickson is naturally expecting this contest to pose the biggest challenge thus far.

"Their program the last couple of years has been excellent," Erickson said. "You watch them from last year and they have a lot of starters back, probably 17 or 18 from a year ago. They are a good solid football team, very disciplined. They are a physical team in all aspects of the game."

The Badgers are also undefeated, beating UNLV and San Jose State already this season. Having an effective offense that relies heavily on the run game with sizeable players like 6-1 255-pound running back, John Clay.

"Their running backs are unbelievable led by John Clay but they have three they play there, the (Montee) Ball kid and James White. They are going to run it any way they can run it. Their QB is an excellent player that throws a lot of play action pass. They can burn you deep and they have good receivers.

"Defensively they are very physical. Their linebackers and their front four are big guys. It's a Big Ten football team and something that we obviously haven't seen this year. We'll find heck a lot about ourselves this week and where we are at."

The maroon and gold have not faced the Badgers in over 40-years therefore the most comparable opponent Arizona State has seen within the past few seasons would likely be Stanford. With the strength and power of their run game, the Badgers will undoubtedly present the Sun Devil defense with challenge, much like the Cardinal did last year, forcing them to close gaps in the attempt to shut down their powerhouse players.

"They run a lot of power," Erickson commented, "as many ways as they can run the power play. The back is huge and breaks tackles; we haven't faced anybody like him - he's big time. If you saw him last year in the bowl game, against University of Miami, he was pretty special.

"They play him but like I said, they bring a couple other guys in there too. James White, out of Fort Lauderdale is a guy that really has a lot of talent and speed but gives them a different look. But whoever is in there with that front, it averages well over 300-pounds, they're big and they've got great players. They're just a good solid football team and that's how they play. They play good, solid smash mouth and they're going to come after you."

Confident in his team's ability to tackle, Erickson will spend the week preparing his defense for the deft running attack that Wisconsin has to offer.

"We've tackled pretty well," Erickson noted. "Again, we've tackled in space and this is going to be in space but it's going to be in a small space. You have a 250-pound back coming at you, then you better have more than one guy there tackling him. You have to get a lot of guys around the football and if he gets going north and south, up the field on you, then you've got some issues so hopefully we can be solid in there and stay in our gaps and get people to them and try to keep him corralled a little bit."

Having suffered several losses in the defensive front due to injuries in fall camp, the Sun Devils are slowly but surely regaining their health.

"I believe we'll have Toa (Tuitea) back," Erickson said. "I don't think that Corey Adams will be back, it doesn't look like it but I'll know more as the week goes on. Saia (Falahola) is a lot healthier than he was a week ago. But other than that, in the tackle situation, we're real healthy and obviously that a real key in this football game."

The Sun Devils ability to pressure their opponent's offense wasn't one of the stronger aspects the team displayed this season, but there have been some mitigating circumstances.

"We only have one or two sacks, I believe," Erickson stated. "Both teams that we've played, they ran the style of offense that they get the ball off pretty quick they don't hold it. I thought the guy from Northern Arizona got rid of it as good as anybody I've seen, I mean he got the football out of his hand. So with that, you're not going to get as many sacks but we put a lot of hurries. We put pressure on both quarterbacks in this game and forced them to make some bad throws.

"We played (James) Brooks inside a little bit in our nickel, which is where he got his sack in the game on Saturday. When people are like that it's hard to get pressure, especially when the ball gets out that quick as far as sacks are concerned. But we pressured them with some blitz too. You'd like to get better with it, but I'm happy with where we're at right now."

Traveling to a Big Ten stadium is something that many of the Sun Devils have not experienced yet in their careers. In such and energetic and intense environment, Erickson and his unit will need to mentally prepare for the noise and distractions that will likely be part of Saturday's contest.

"I've been in Camp Randall a couple times with a couple of teams that I've had," Erickson noted. "Both times, before Barry Alvarez got there and they weren't very good at that time but their fans our unbelievable, I mean, it's an event and it will be packed. We're looking forward to it. We're looking forward to going there and obviously we've got to work on some things because of the noise and so forth but our players are looking forward to going in there and playing in an environment like that."

Last season's Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Vontaze Burfict, has a reputation for playing with high intensity, which often results in unnecessary penalties. Called for two personal fouls during the Saturday's matchup, the linebacker must control his enthusiasm as the season continues.

"He had one Saturday, a mental mistake," Erickson said of Burfict. "Other than that, he's been good and he understands it. He played awfully good on Saturday; we just have to continue to get him playing better. I don't want to say play harder, but play better."

Burfict was not the only Sun Devil to contribute to the penalty situation against the Lumberjacks. Collectively, the maroon and gold accumulated 13 penalties for 131 yards throughout the contest.

"Penalty wise we had four on offense," Erickson said, "two of them were holding and two of them we offside. We had two in the kicking game, one of them in the kicking game was trying to block a punt at the end of the half so I mean, we went all out and we had a hold. Then we were in good shape but defensively we had a roughing the passer on James, which was a step and hit so it was a judgment call.

"Then we had an unsportsmanlike, which is what you don't want to have but we had one of those. We're going to have some penalties, I don't want thirteen but we're going to have penalties, that just how we play. As long as they're not of the unsportsmanlike-type or ridiculous penalties, you live with them and play. Hopefully we learned from it, it's behind us now, we just have to go play. Our guys are going to play hard, that's just how we play."

Unable to effectively establish their run game against Northern Arizona, the Sun Devils ran for only 29 times for 56 yards. Although the maroon and gold were still able to walk away with the win, it is unlikely that they will have the same outcome against the Badgers without an improved production from their running backs.

"We've got to run the ball better," Erickson admitted. "I don't know if you want to call it establishing it but we've got to run the football better and we have to attempt to run it more. We really kind of got out of running the football early in that game and I mentioned that the other day, we only ran 28 or 29 times and a lot of our things that we do offensively is based on how they play us.

"So when you see that bubble screen and things like that, going outside it's because we choose to do that. We might have had a run play called, we may have had 50 run plays called during that game and only ran 29 or 30 of them. In saying that, you've got to be able to establish the run better than we did. The week before we ran it good, but we've got to be able to run it, we've got to play better in the run game up front also."

One player that has received a lot of attention upon his arrival in Tempe is offensive lineman, Aderious Simmons. The junior college transfer, with just two years of junior college experience has made his way into the rotation after only a few short weeks as a Sun Devil. The progression that has already been made by Simmons is a testament to how much of an asset he will prove to be as time goes on.

"This is really the first that I've had like Aderious (Simmons) and he's getting better all the time," Erickson said. "Unfortunately he hasn't played a lot. He played in the second half and he played okay. The thing with Aderious (Simmons), a month from now he'll be a way better football player. He has such a huge upside. I've never really had a case like that where a guy has played two years then has come in, but as you know he is very athletic and has long arms. Probably mentally and technique wise, and understanding what to do is what is hurting him more than anything right now."

As a whole, the offensive line protected well against Northern Arizona but due to their inability to create gaps in the Lumberjack defense, they contributed to the ineffectiveness of the run game.

"Okay but we've got to get better," Erickson commented. "I thought we protected well, we weren't as good in the running game as we need to be, I guess is the best way to put it."


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