Arizona State Sun Devils Show Improvement In Near Upset Of Wisconsin Badgers
The Arizona State Sun Devils traveled to Madison, Wisconsin in search of an upset over the AP ranked No. 11 Badgers, but came up one point shy.
The Wisconsin Badgers beat the Sun Devils, 20-19, in one of the most entertaining games this season after a blocked extra-point attempt by Wisconsin's Jay Valai, which would have tied the fame for the Sun Devils with roughly four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
In what was a heartbreaking loss, full of missed and bad calls, the Sun Devils proved in front of a national audience that they can hang with the big boys.
Arizona State needed a win against Wisconsin after coming off of consecutive losing seasons, but instead, they walk away with their first loss of the season.
But not without putting up a fight.
The Sun Devils were 14-point underdogs heading into Saturday's match—they lost by one.
Arizona State was not expected to be successful against the Badger's rushing defense—they rushed for 169 yards.
Much can be taken from this loss in Madison, and the positives outweigh the negatives.
Steven Threet absolutely took over the Sun Devil offense at Wisconsin in every way, showing a poise and confidence that Sun Devil fans have not seen in years.
Threet, who completed 21-of-33 passes for 211 yards, is made for Noel Mazzone's high-tempo spread offense. Before the previous play was even completed, you can see Threet looking at the sideline for the next play to execute, keeping the fast-paced offense on the move and the Badger defense a step behind.
Along with Threet, was ASU's ability to move the ball on the ground, which many did not expect against with the huge mismatch in size between the small Sun Devil Offensive line and the large Badger defense up front.
Running back Deantre Lewis was able to tally-up 122 rushing yards (one short of Badger John Clay) on just nine attempts, while Cameron Marshall added 35 yards of his own and one touchdown.
But the stars of the night were by far the Arizona State special team, who racked up 261 kick return yards against the Badgers.
In the first quarter, Omar Bolden had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, followed by a punt return touchdown that was called back due to two illegal blocks in the back by the Sun Devils.
The most heartbreaking play of the game was Kyle Middlebrook's kickoff return in the closing seconds of the first half, in which he was tackled within the one-yard-line after time had run out on the clock.
After these huge returns, the crowd at Camp Randall Stadium would let out a sarcastic cheer after an ASU returner was tackled inside the 50-yard-line.
Of the negatives, were the continued penalties. Although they committed less than the previous two games, one might have cost the Sun Devils the game.
On the Badgers' last drive of the game, the Sun Devils made a huge stop in Wisconsin territory to force a third-and-long, or so they thought. A reckless personal foul was called for a late hit against the Sun Devils, keeping the Badgers' drive alive, and eventually running out the game clock.
Another negative was the Sun Devils' ability to close down a touchdown. ASU seemed to get down the field with ease, but when they entered the red zone, all bets were off.
Dropped passes by wide open receivers in the end zone resulted in Threet's zero passing touchdowns.
"I told them we blew a lot of opportunities offensively to score touchdowns and score points [and] that is why we lost," head coach Dennis Erickson said after the game.
Along with the offensive mistakes was a missed field goal by former Lou Groza winner, Thomas Weber.
Most college football games have blown or missed calls, and the Wisconsin-Arizona State game had its fair share.
Although it is a "coulda, woulda, shoulda" situation for the bad calls working against the Sun Devils, they were blatantly there, and you can't help but wonder, "If it weren't for those calls, would the Sun Devils have won?"
Probably, but what's done is done.
Overall, the Sun Devils put up a huge fight over a No. 11 team in a game that everyone expected to be a lopsided win in Wisconsin's favor.
The new Arizona State spread offense has proved its worth under starting quarterback Threet, and the defense stopped a very potent Badger running game on multiple occasions.
Up next, Arizona State takes on the No. 5 Oregon Ducks on Saturday, September 25, at Sun Devil Stadium.