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September 10, 2013

Badgers prep for multiple defenses

MADISON, Wis. - When the Wisconsin Badgers line up for their first offensive possession of this week's game against Arizona State, they'll see a defense that is at the same time both similar to and much different from their own.

Both teams want their defenses to attack instead of react, and will blitz extra players from a variety of spots on the field. But that's about where the similarities stop. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham brought his "base" 3-3-5 defense to Tempe after his one-year stint at Pittsburgh, but the Sun Devils do a lot more than just sit back in a nickel package.

The Sun Devils will rotate between 4-3, 3-4, and 3-3-5 formations depending on what the opposing offense does, which makes them a hard team to prepare for. It doesn't help that the Sun Devils have no less than two or three true "hybrid" positions on their defense.

"They bring all kinds of schemes," Wisconsin senior offensive lineman Ryan Groy said Tuesday. "They make you learn their whole defense, make you learn each formation and each scheme they're going to bring."

The hybrid positions in question, the "Spur" and "Devil" linebackers, will bounce between multiple positions on the field. The "Devil" linebacker is both a rush end and a middle linebacker, depending on the defensive call, while the "Spur" plays like both a linebacker and a defensive back. Each position requires a great deal of athleticism, and it adds up to a scheme where Graham and his staff can play multiple defenses with the same players on the field.

"They play 'multiple D,'" offensive tackle Rob Havenstein said Tuesday. "If you're going through Madden and you're picking what defense you want, it's not a 4-3, it's not a 3-3 stack. They do a lot of different things. [But] they've got some tendencies just like any defense, and we're trying to get better at that with our film study."

And all of that comes before focusing on Arizona State's best defender, defensive tackle Will Sutton. Sutton recorded 23.5 tackles for loss last season as Arizona State's "Tiger" defensive end, a combination of a normal 4-3 defensive tackle and a 3-4 defensive end. That's not a position where players usually rack up defensive "glory" stats, but the 6-foot-1, 305-pound Sutton pulled it off anyway.

"[Sutton] is a tough guy to move off the ball," Havenstein said. "He makes plays left and right- he makes plays defensive tackles shouldn't make, but he's just that exceptional of a football athlete."

"They've just got some great players. The whole scheme works to their advantage."

Sutton and Arizona State's front seven will pose a tough test for Wisconsin's offensive line in particular, which features two new starters this season. But even though the schemes aren't ever going to match up between the two teams, Havenstein said playing against an aggressive defense is something he and the other linemen are used to by now.

"Our defense- they bring guys from the freaking bleachers [too]," Havenstein said. "You have no idea where they're coming from an all of a sudden coach Aranda is back there sacking the quarterback. Our defense brings a lot of people, and they bring people from a lot of different places."

Arizona State's defense features a lot of different elements to digest, but at the very least the Badgers aren't expecting to see a defense that's less aggressive than they're used to.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.

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