One Play Can Make All the Difference

Patrick Butrym and the rest of the Badgers defensive line delivered several jarring hits as the UW defense limited ASU quarterback Steven Threet to 211 yards passing, helping No.11 Wisconsin held off Arizona State, 20-19, Saturday.

MADISON — Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is big on prophetic sayings. He likes to use tried and true clichés to get his point across. When it comes to coach-speak, few are more adept then Bielema at spinning football platitudes into teachable lessons.

And though a cynic may scoff at Bielema's famed maxims — does the phrase "1-0" grate on your ears? — it appears there is a method to the madness.

Simply put, it works.

Several plays were evidence enough of this Saturday night in a 20-19 win over Arizona State. How many times have Bielema and his coaching staff preached that every play, every rep, every down matters?

So go ahead, take your pick. Which one play made the difference in the one-point victory?

Was it…

Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson chasing down Arizona State kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks and bringing down the explosive Sun Devil at the one-yard line to save a touchdown right as the half was coming to an end?

Jay Valai crashing in and blocking the extra point attempt with Arizona State poised to tie the game with 4:09 left in the game?

Lance Kendricks fighting off a defender on his back to give the Badgers the lead with a 14-yard touchdown grab and 10 seconds left in the first half?

As Bielema says, one play can made the difference.

"I have brought up and emphasized to those guys — I have been in college football since 1992 — and every season I reflect back on, whether it is a special season, so-so or whatever, there is a handful of plays that determine a game, which determine a season," Bielema said.

Valai's leaping block may indeed determine the course of the season. With the extra point the only play in between a tie game and overtime on the horizon, the 5-foot-9 safety flew in front of kicker Thomas Weber and redirected the ball back in his face.

"The guy gave me a birthday gift," Valai said. "Thank god we made the play and we won. I jumped over somebody's leg … I'm just thinking I have to make this play."

In a game filled with momentum swings, Arizona State struck first blood. Although the Badgers took a 3-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, it lasted exactly 12 seconds of game time before Arizona State swung the margin in their favor.

Sun Devil Omar Bolden took Phillip Welch's kickoff back 97 yards and wasn't touched in the process. Special teams had been solid for the first two games for the Badgers, but no one player took on Bolden's lead blocker, and Welch grabbed nothing but air as Bolden juked past the kicker on his way to the endzone.

"There were fundamental breakdowns," Bielema said.

UW was able to grab momentum back entering the half with a 3:38 minute drive culminating in Kendrick's touchdown grab. The tight end finished the game with seven receptions for 131 yards and the touchdown. Kendricks caught two balls on the final drive of the first half and drew two pass interference penalties as the playmaker proved to be a tour de force Arizona State could not handle.

Kendricks was featured once again on the second half's final drive, when the Badgers went to the senior tight end on a crucial third-and-two. Quarterback Scott Tolzien ran a playaction pass, springing Kendricks wide open on the backside of the play. The pass was good for 17 yards, and after a John Clay first down two plays later, the Badgers were able to kneel out the victory.

"From a defensive standpoint, you get all of our bodies going in that one hole and that backside really feels that they have to get involved in the fritz and you can come back across with it," Bielema said. "It was a great call from Paul [Chryst]."

"I think the way coach Chryst does, you know, ‘hard inside, hard inside' and then bouncing it out. I don't know, but that has to be tough for a defense to defend. You are stacking up the box, and the next thing you know they are going outside on you," senior captain John Moffitt added.

If you are looking for the key momentum swing in the game — and there were many, many shifts — back-to-back drives in the middle of the third quarter should probably suffice.

After a Brad Nortman punt pinned the Sun Devils on their own two-yard line, the Badgers caught an, ahem, lucky break.

With the game tied 13-13 ASU running back Deantre Lewis sprung through the Wisconsin defensive line at full speed and was only stopped 32 yards later because he tripped over his own feet. With one man to beat and blocker in front of him, Lewis likely stopped himself from a breakaway touchdown.

UW recovered from the blow, however, and forced a punt on the drive. It took them all of eight plays to march up the field 88 yards for what would prove to be the game-winning touchdown.

Wisconsin went with its Thunder and Lightning package on the drive, giving the ball to speedster freshman James White three times for 26 yards and to John Clay three times for 35 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown scamper. Clay finished the game with 123 yards on 22 carries (5.6 yards per carry) and the one touchdown. It makes nine straight 100-yard rushing games for Clay, in what Bielema called a "special performance."

"The rotation was good," Clay said. "I was able to get some rest and by the time the fourth quarter came around I had fresh legs and could finish the drive off. I had Montee and James to come in and give me some extra energy when I needed it."

With Arizona State operating a spread, uber-fast paced offense that had poured on 95 points in its first two games, the Badgers were able to clamp down on quarterback Steven Threet — who most Badger fans had blocked from their memory — for a mere 211 yards on 33 attempts. Although UW's secondary gave up 21 completions, the tackling was sound and yards after the catch were scarce.

Coming off the heels of a four-missed-tackle-touchdown against San Jose State last week, it was reassuring to see the return to fundamentals.

"We knew that if we played a four-quarter game, they were going to get first downs, but just keep the ball in front of you and make the tackle," Bielema said. "A huge point of emphasis for us was leveraging the ball and getting the ball down."

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