Often overlooked by their star-studded cast of running backs — be it Montee Ball, Melvin Gordon, James White or Corey Clement — since the start of the 2012 season, the Wisconsin defense has been one of the more difficult units to move the ball on in the entire nation.
Heading into their Big Ten/Pac-12 showdown with Arizona State this weekend at Sun Devil Stadium, Wisconsin has allowed 400 yards in a game just twice over their last 16 contests.
The anomaly in that statistic is Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, who in 2012 amassed 917 yards in two games against the Badgers — a sign that could bode well for Todd Graham’s squad come Saturday night.
“The reason Nebraska was able to generate that kind of yardage, averaging over five yards a carry in both games, is because their quarterback [Taylor Martinez] can run,” Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel told Arizona Sports 620’s Burns and Gambo Wednesday. “That’s exactly what Taylor Kelly can do for Arizona State.
“That’s why I think the different ways the Sun Devils’ offense operates, it’s up-tempo pace, it’s ability to get the ball to the running backs either by handing it off or throwing it to them and now with Jaelen Strong outside if teams decide to go 1-on-1 in the box, he’s going to be open even when he’s covered. To me there’s a myriad of answers the Sun Devils have to stop [Wisconsin’s strengths on defense].”
In addition to contending with Kelly’s mobility, Neuheisel noted that Gary Andersen and Co. also have to combat the time change element that comes with going on the road to face a Pac-12 foe.
Since beating Arizona in Tucson back in Sept. 2004, Wisconsin hasn’t beaten a single Pac-12 team — including Oregon and Stanford in the Rose Bowl — away from Camp Randall.
“A lot of those games [the Big Ten plays against the Pac-12] are at night. A lot of them when they come out west are in the evening.” said Neuheisel. “The time zones are a predicament. The other thing is the quality of teams those Big Ten teams are playing.
“There’s a lot of speed in the western United States in terms of playing this game, and certainly offensive coordinators have found ways to utilize that speed by spreading the formations and making people tackle in space. Arizona State does that. UCLA does that. Oregon, Washington, they all make you tackle in space. That’s a difficult thing to do when you’re playing against athletes on this side of the country.”
While the Badgers have struggled to beat the Pac-12 in games played outside of Madison, the Sun Devils are a perfect 8-0 all-time against the Big Ten at home.