(AP)—- The warm-ups are over for Wisconsin.
After outscoring two inferior foes by a combined 93-0, the 20th-ranked Badgers’ season gets serious Saturday in the desert when they play Arizona State.
”The only thing we can do is make sure we’re hydrated well, and we’re prepared as far as physically to go out and play a four-quarter game and not cramping up,” safety Dezmen Southward said. ”I don’t know how hot it will be. I’ll have to check it out.”
It’ll be a scorcher compared to Wisconsin weather. The National Weather Service forecast called for a daytime high of 103 degrees and a low of 82. The game will kick off in prime time.
Things could get sticky for other reasons, though.
This will be Wisconsin’s first true test of the season. Compared to their first two games - a 45-0 win over Massachusetts followed by a 48-0 drubbing of FCS foe Tennessee Tech - playing the Sun Devils might equate to a final exam three weeks into the semester.
”Time will tell,” coach Gary Andersen said Monday, asked how much his team has benefited in getting ready for the tougher part of the schedule. ”I like the fact that we have gotten into the games and we started well emotionally. We weren’t too high. We weren’t too low.”
Just like their even-keeled coach. To their credit, the Badgers finished strong in both blowouts. Andersen’s club kept its focus.
”So it’s prepared us,” he said ”It’s time to move on, and we go play the next team on our schedule, and we’re excited about the opportunity. I believe we’ll be prepared.”
The Sun Devils had fun with their own FCS foe last week with a 55-0 rout of Sacramento State in their season opener. Saturday’s game will be a matchup of FBS schools that are 1-2 statistically in total defense - only 162.5 yards allowed by Wisconsin and 167 given up last week by Arizona State.
The Badgers have not allowed a touchdown in 11 straight quarters, dating to the 2013 Rose Bowl.
To study up, Andersen has been viewing Arizona State film dating to last season for a more complete gauge. Coach Todd Graham’s spread offense could resemble a track meet compared to the slower foes beaten up so far by the Badgers.
In this case, one of the best defenses for Wisconsin might be an offense that hasn’t missed a step on the ground under Andersen, in Madison. The Badgers have started the year with three 100-yard rushers in each of their two games, moving the ball at will with the trio of James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement - who was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after running for 149 yards and two scores last week - in the backfield.
It would be quite an accomplishment if they can accumulate the same stats against All-America defensive tackle Will Sutton and a unit that Andersen described as a ”very solid, salty defense. They play with a lot of emotion.”
Conversely, Wisconsin usually doesn’t wither to such challenges. Big Ten opponents have known for years that the Badgers like to run, and yet that has rarely slowed them down.
If the Badgers can keep grinding out yards, and sophomore quarterback Joel Stave continues to improve as a game manager, the defense can get just enough of a breather to keep fresh. Wisconsin has allowed opponents to cross midfield just four times in 25 drives.
Besides dealing with the heat, Wisconsin players will also need to adjust to the change in time zones and a late start after their first two games began just before midday. Arizona State is also hyping up the prime-time game as a ”Blackout,” hoping the Sun Devil Stadium stands turn into a sea of fans wearing all black.
Andersen plans to take his team west early, on Thursday, to help players get acclimated - not that he’s using any of the periphery factors as excuses.
”But regardless of how all that boils down, you know, it doesn’t matter that we’re flying across the country. It doesn’t matter that we’re going two time zones. It doesn’t matter that it might be really hot. That’s part of traveling,” he said. ”And the adversity that comes our way because of any of those situations … will be a nonfactor if we win or lose the game.”
While this should be Wisconsin’s first tough matchup of the season, it’s the first of several in a brutal run for Arizona State. After facing Wisconsin, the Sun Devils will play No. 5 Stanford on the road next week, Southern California at home Sept. 28 and No. 21 Notre Dame in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 5.
”We don’t look at it as a negative,” offensive lineman Jamil Douglas said. ”We see it as a challenge.”
First, Arizona State will try to improve to 9-0 all-time at Sun Devil Stadium against Big Ten opponents. The Sun Devils have outscored those teams 320-111 during the eight-game run.
”It’s a great opportunity and great exposure for our program,” Graham said. ”It’s a great opportunity to take our program to the next level and that’s what our focus is. I’m excited about it.”
Arizona State leads the all-time series with Wisconsin 2-1. The last meeting was in 2010 in Madison, a 20-19 win by the Badgers decided by a blocked extra point.