It appears that both ASU and Wisconsin haven't been terribly impressive in their first two games in 2010. What are some of the concerns you have seen with the Badgers so far?
The two main problems Wisconsin continues to battle through its first two games is ball security and red-zone offense, a semi surprise seeing as the Badgers return 10 starters on offense and plenty more that were involved in the rotation last season. On seven trips to the end zone, Wisconsin converted only four of those trips into points, two into touchdowns.
The other three attempts were marred with fumbles and miscommunication. The defense has been very good this season in keeping subpar opponents off the board, but the fact that the offense has yet to find its rhythm against those opponents is a little bit of a head scratcher.
The Badgers are clearly a power running team. That kind of offense is not very conducive to coming back from significant deficits. What is the confidence level in staying in the game should the Badgers fall behind early and/or be behind late in the game?
Confidence is very high with this team that it can overcome any problem set in its way. Wisconsin's power running game does allow the Badgers to control the clock and dictate tempo, but the offense and quarterback Scott Tolzien have plenty of passing weapons to utilize. UW's offense led the offense in both scoring (31.8 points per game) and total offense (416.9 yards per game) a year ago, so this unit has no problem putting up points.
Throw in the fact that all five returning starters on the offensive line have a combined 100 career starts and average 6-5 ½ and 323 pounds, that's a lot of power to open up running lanes and create a passing pocket in crunch time. From Big E:
It's 3rd and 4, Badgers have the ball. Probably a run or a pass?
It honestly depends on the flow of the game. Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst has shown throughout his tenure at Wisconsin that he can go against the norm. John Clay and his 260-pound body is averaging 130 yards per game on the ground this year, so Chryst isn't afraid to open up some running lanes and let Clay go.
Still, there is plenty of confidence in the passing game. Tolzien led the Big Ten last season in pass efficiency (143.0) and his 2,705 passing yards were second-best in school history. If it's a passing play, look in Lance Kendricks' direction, as the big tight end led UW in yards last week and his size and speed makes him a tough matchup.
Either way, third down is just another down for this unit, who converted 47.5 percent of its third downs last season, which was 10th best in the nation.
What is Wisconsin's impression of ASU's team speed on both sides of the ball and what specific challenges could it cause for the Badgers?
UW Coach Bret Bielema talked on Monday about defensively; ASU will be Wisconsin's toughest test since it beat Miami in last year's Champs Sports Bowl. From the Badgers perspective, the defensive line is big up front, the linebackers are quick and they play with a lot of energy. The biggest challenge for UW will be simulating the speed which Arizona State's offense runs. Averaging over 85 snaps a game, no Big Ten team on Wisconsin's schedule comes close to that. Bielema and his staff will try to simulate that speed by having both the first-team and second-team offense run rapid fire against them, so it'll be interesting to see if that helps UW handle the faster pace.
Wisconsin's success on offense, specifically their running game, is well documented. It is also well documented that Wisconsin struggled against top-15 defenses last season. Given that ASU had the 13th ranked defense last season and looks to have upgraded their unit quite a bit, what are your concerns about your offense going against our defense?
The concern is that is Wisconsin can't have success against Arizona State, how are the Badgers going to matchup offensively against Ohio State and Iowa? The Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes are the BCS favorites right now out of the Big Ten and Wisconsin is kind of lying in the weeds. Both of those games have been starred on the calendar for quite some time because UW's offense made several mistakes in both of those games, particularly with turnovers. With turnovers plaguing the offense through two games, the big key is ball security and if Wisconsin can run its offense clean and efficient against such a good unit.
Blocking by the wide receivers is vital for the ASU offense. How good do you think the Wisconsin defensive backs are in shedding blocks?
If I could pick one weakness on this team, it would be the secondary. The Badgers rotate three cornerbacks on a constant basis – senior Niles Brinkley and juniors Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith - and all three are good at one thing, but have not developed into a complete cornerback. There technique and fundamentals have improved under former Iowa State secondary coach Chris Ash, committing only two penalties in two games, but the group allowed 252 passing yards against a porous San Jose State offense.
If I was Dennis Erickson, I would challenge this group all game long in the passing and running game until one of them stepped up to the plate. If ASU could do one thing to but the Badgers on their heels, it would be in the passing game.
From Big E
What is the Badgers' philosophy on special teams -- high risk/high reward or "don't screw it up?"
It's definitely the latter. Bielema ran the special teams unit himself the last couple seasons and the group had little success nationally. After splitting up the special team coaching responsibilities, Wisconsin has taken some strides in some areas. UW leads the Big Ten in kickoff coverage and junior punter Brad Nortman and kicker Philip Welch have had good starts to the season. In terms of the punt return and kick return game, a moral victory is a fair catch or a modest return, respectively.
From Hod Rabino:
As someone who has followed Wisconsin football for a while, are you surprised that Bret Bielema has done such a good job in just four years? What do you think the key reasons for his success are?
Yes and no. I am not surprised Bielema had such a good first season (a school-record 12 wins in 2005) because Barry Alvarez handed over the keys to a stacked team on both sides of the ball when he left the sidelines for the A.D. office. I am also not surprised he struggled for the next two seasons because you could tell that the recruits the staff was bringing in and some of the moves it was making weren't a great fit. I was surprised to see how talented, poised and confident the group looked last season, especially considering how young they were and that's a credit to Bielema and his staff.
Bielema is a good fit for Wisconsin because he doesn't try to turn Wisconsin into something it's not (see Rich Rodriguez at Michigan). Bielema's a blue-collared, Midwest guy, so he knows the values that make the school and community what it is. For his team, he instills that Midwestern work ethic where UW plans to outwork every opponent. He's said itself that UW will never be the sexiest team in the country, but UW will be the team that will rely on its strengths (i.e. running the ball behind that big offensive line). In the recruiting game, Bielema and his staff use that same mindset – find tough, hard-working kids that want to win. It shows, as UW's last recruiting class was Bielema's best yet.
From Big E:
Name an "under the radar" guy that doesn't get a lot of pub, but that ASU fans should watch for on Saturday.
Watch for Jared Abbrederis, a redshirt freshman walk-on wide receiver from Wautoma, a little town in Wisconsin. Abbrederis came to Madison as a spread quarterback and ran the scout team offense. IN order to see the field, the coaching staff told him he would have to switch positions. He switched to wide receiver last fall, slowly built up his repertoire as a receiver by working with the backup quarterback and has been very impressive running routes, catching the ball and simply making plays.
From Hod Rabino:
What team aspect has been the biggest surprise so far this season and what has been the biggest disappointment?
The biggest disappointment would be the offense's struggles through the first two games but the biggest surprise is how well the defense has responded through the opening couple weeks, especially junior defensive end J.J. Watt. With UW needing somebody to step up in the place of dominant pass rusher O'Brien Schofield, Watt leads the team with three tackles for loss and three pass breakups, ranked third on the team with 10 tackles and has forced a fumble and blocked a field goal. Throw in the fact that Watt has lined up as an extra tight end in short-yardage situations; Watt has been a key factors in all areas of UW's success.