Know Your Foe - Arizona State

Badger Nation partners with Hod Rabino, Publisher of, to answer pressing questions about Arizona State. What do fans know about the Sun Devils after two BCS opponents? How do fans view Dennis Erickson and No.11 Wisconsin?

1) What have they seen from this team, especially since they have played two FCS schools that leads them to believe they are improved over last year?

The argument that playing two FCS programs won't teach you much about your team is valid to some extent. There are, however, some aspects that ASU was looking for improvement in and even by playing two FCS teams you can still notice those enhancements.

First and foremost is the ASU offense. This group was so anemic last year that even against FCS teams it would struggle, especially in the passing game. Which brings us to QB Steven Threet. The transfer from the University of Michigan has been a significant upgrade over last year's signal caller Danny Sullivan and again FCS opponent or not you can tell that the offense does run smoother and is more innovative. The playmakers on the team have come to the forefront under first-year's offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone.

After leading the Pac-10 last year, the ASU defense obviously came into 2010 with high expectations. Even though their effort at times could have been better, they certainly haven't shown any signs in these first two games that they won't be capable of playing at a high level this year. They have done especially well in the second half, which really isn't all that different of a trend from last year.

2) Does Steven Threat appear more comfortable in this type of system than Michigan's?

Threet said that he does like the fact that he isn't asked to run as much in ASU's spread offense compared to Michigan's spread. Ironically, he has looked very good running the ball on occasion.

Yet, I'm sure that Wisconsin fans, and Big Ten fans for that matter are aware of what type of QB Michigan would like to have in its system and that doesn't fully suit Threet's skills. While Threet has had some bumps here in the first two games, namely three interceptions, he has completed 67 percent of his passes and that's with several drops from his wide receivers. All in all, his play thus far in 2010 is indicative of his comfort level let alone his natural abilities.

3) Who are some of the big playmakers to look out for?

On offense running back Deantre Lewis is the proverbial home-run threat every time he touches the ball, albeit he has done more damage so far catching the ball than running it. Fellow running back Cameron Marshall had an outstanding season opener rushing the ball but he and the rest of the tailbacks didn't play well in the second game so it will be interesting to see what he will do on Saturday. Jamal Miles is another running back in the mold of Lewis that will move the chains and do so with blazing speed, and is the team's most dangerous returner.

At wide receiver Aaron Pflugrad and Mike Willie have had their ups and downs as well but unquestionably have shown the ability to make things happen in the passing game. Kerry Taylor is another wide receiver to keep your eyes on.

On defense I would look for defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, Linebacker Vontaze Burfict, Safety Clint Floyd and corners Omar Bolden and Deveron Carr to be the standouts on this side of the ball.

4) Dennis Erickson obviously has had success in his career and he has ASU in the BCS mix a couple of years ago. How are people viewing the last couple lean years?

It's almost as if the 2007 season record of 10-3 in Erickson's first year in Tempe was a curse more than a blessing. It did mask the enormous rebuilding task that he had ahead of him and the last two seasons were the growing pains of that process. Nonetheless, that's not to say that the offensive recruiting and philosophy could not have been better in that time frame and there are some signs that 2010 could mark the beginning of righting the ship for ASU on that side of the ball.

Fans are definitely not giddy with back to back losing seasons. Again, some understand that this is the price you have to pay for a program turnaround and some are less impatient on that issue. The Sun Devil followers are obviously very happy with the defensive progress that has taken place in the last two years and just hoping to see the same with the offense.

5) What do you think are the team's biggest strengths right now and some of the team's biggest weaknesses?

One thing I haven't talked about yet is special teams and that is certainly a strength of ASU's. Punter Trevor Hankins is averaging 53.2 yards a punt and kicker Thomas Weber is 3 of 4 this year with two of his makes coming from 45 yards or more. Those two players have been tremendous assets to the team this season.

We mentioned Threet's performance and consequently the passing game and pass protection have generally been showing well in the first two games. ASU's run defense has been stout allowing just 58 yards a game and it will obviously be interesting to see them match up against Wisconsin's ground attack.

The running attack for ASU has been inconsistent with 242 yards against Portland State and 56 against Northern Arizona University. It's anybody's guess how it will fair in Madison this weekend. ASU has committed 24 penalties for 224 yards and needless to say that is one team aspect that will have to change for ASU. The dropped passes so far have been an issue.

6) In playing Wisconsin, what do you think is a favorable match-up for ASU and what do you think is a favorable match-up for Wisconsin?

The speed that ASU has on both sides of the ball could be the biggest challenge Wisconsin could face in this game. It can help and halt the Badgers' passing game, while create big plays on offense giving a road team much needed momentum.

Obviously Wisconsin's running game is an area that very few defenses have been successful stopping, and this is undoubtedly the biggest key to the game. The ruckus environment at Camp Randall won't make it easy for an ASU team that hasn't had a signature road game win in a while, and the Sun Devils have to make sure that loud surroundings or not they don't allow their emotions to get the best of them and have the yellow flags come out early and often.

7) How have linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Omar Bolden improved their game from last year?

In Burfict's case there hasn't been much change. On the positive side he leads the team in tackles which is what you would expect your pre-season All-American to do. The energy and relentlessness from last year have been in full display once again in 2010. Conversely, Burfict has been undisciplined at times in his assignment and the penalties he commits and that as well is something that was evident in 2009.

Bolden was injured much of last year so there is hardly any valid report you can submit on his 2009 performance. However, it's quite clear that this year he is playing his best football ever. He's displaying a level of confidence that is now consistent with his play and his leadership abilities.

8) After losing four games against elite opponents in 09 by five points or less, has Erickson or the coaching staff changed anything or conditioned different to be stronger in late game situations?

The jury is still out on that. You would like to think that a much improved offense and a healthy placekicker in Weber should make the difference. All in all, I would be surprised if ASU lost as many close games as they did last year. Their confidence level and mental makeup seems to be stronger than last year.

9) What's your honest prediction for this game?

While I think ASU could sneak out with a victory I'm also well aware of Wisconsin's track record in non-conference home games and on the other hand the Sun Devils' track record in non-conference road games. Yes, compared to years past this is a better ASU team in many aspects but I'm not sure it will be enough on Saturday. With a heavy heart I would have to say Wisconsin wins by 10.

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