TEMPE, Ariz. — The numbers are impressive: 780 total rushing yards, 390 rushing yards per game and a trio of 100-yard rushers in each of the first two games.
The Wisconsin Badgers have the second-best ground game in the country, and it’s headed this way.
“I see that,” senior associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Paul Randolph said after examining the film. “I see a team that’s committed to their way of doing things, which is running the football and play-action pass. They’re the same mold that they’ve been…physical, getting after people up front, knocking people off the ball and running the football downhill. They’re doing a really good job of it so far, irregardless of who their opponents are.”
In the season opener, Wisconsin carved up UMass, averaging 8.9 yards per carry. In Week 2, they sliced Tennessee Tech to the tune of 7.6 yards per touch.
“They’re executing at a high level,” Randolph said.
So, how does one go about defending a team like that, a team that other than Oregon has no equal, at least this early in the season?
“You can’t load up the box,” Randolph said. “That’s one thing you can’t do because their passing game—they have a really good passing game. The biggest thing is just fundamentally knowing what your keys are, who you’re keying for run-pass and making sure your eyes are planted firmly on those guys.”
Wisconsin, Big Ten champions the past three seasons, is undefeated over its last 26 games when totaling more than 230 yards on the ground.
Randolph, though, doesn’t have a number in mind that his defense must hit to have a chance to win. His goal is much simpler.
“Not to give up a cheap one. Not to give up big plays…not to give up a one-play touchdown run. That’s the biggest thing,” he said. “We’ve got to make them fight and strain for every single (yard).”
For all of its success a year ago, ASU struggled stopping the run, giving up 182.9 yards per game. That number ranked 10th in the Pac-12 and 81st nationally.
“Coach (Todd) Graham talks all the time about what you put emphasis on is what you get,” Randolph said. “We’ve put an emphasis on being a better run defense. That all starts mentally first of all, having a hard-edge mentality and attack and physically dominate the line of scrimmage. And then it has to do with fundamentals, and I think our guys have truly bought into being better technicians upfront. You have to be that to defend the run well.”
Their first big test awaits Saturday.