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September 13, 2013

All-Out Blitz: Arizona State

Welcome to BadgerBlitz.com's "All-Out Blitz,", where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) ran Tennessee Tech out of the stadium last week, but they'll need to step up their game this week against a tough Arizona State team.

In the meantime, here's what you need to know about the Sun Devils:

Head coach: Todd Graham (2nd season @ Arizona State), 9-5
Arizona State All-Time Record: 570-363-22 (.608)
2013 Record: 1-0 (0-0 Pac-12)
Ranking: RV (AP), RV (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 2-1

Did you read these?

Badgers turning up the heat
Badgers prepping for multiple defenses
Walking the Beat: Arizona State

Last year

Serial carpetbagger Todd Graham took over as Arizona State's head coach last year after a one-year layover at Pittsburgh, and promptly started to shut critics like me up after leading the Sun Devils to an eight-win season and their first bowl win since 2005. It doesn't really matter that Arizona State beat weak teams easily and wasn't competitive against the Pac-12's upper crust, because the Sun Devils return a boatload of starters and key contributors from that team, and they have their sights set a little higher this season.

This year

The Sun Devils took a bye in week one, and blew Sacramento State out of the water in their first game last week. So in a way, Arizona State and Wisconsin are pretty similar at this point- we just don't know what to expect from them on a week-to-week basis.

On offense, the Sun Devils return junior quarterback Taylor Kelly, who threw for 3,040 yards last year and completed 66.9 percent of his passes. He also threw 29 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, which is pretty darn impressive for a first-year starter. He's a great fit for what Arizona State wants to do on offense, and it doesn't hurt that he's pretty mobile, too. Kelly ran for 520 yards last season, so the Badgers will have to keep an eye on him at all times.

But Arizona State's biggest question mark this season was at wide receiver. They lost their top two wide receivers from last year to graduation, so younger players like Jaelen Strong and Kevin Ozier have had to step up, and so far they have. Arizona State's top three wide receivers combined for 11 catches, 131 yards and two touchdowns against Sacramento State. How well they attack Wisconsin's secondary will play a large role in how well the Sun Devils perform this Saturday.

The Sun Devils have a few good options out of the backfield, too. Marion Grice is the lead option at running back- he rushed for 59 yards on 14 carries last week, and scored a touchdown as well. Grice also rushed for 679 yards on 103 carries last season, and scored 11 touchdowns in the process. He'll also get involved in the passing game as well- he had 41 catches for 425 yards and eight receiving touchdowns last year, and caught four passes for 65 yards and one score last week.

I profiled Arizona State's defense earlier this week, but their biggest playmaker is defensive tackle Will Sutton, who terrorized the Pac-12 last year and was named the conference's defensive player of the year. Sutton racked up 23.5 tackles for loss last season, in large part because of how aggressive the Sun Devils are on defense. They blitz a lot of guys from a lot of places, and it allows Sutton to rack up stats in a way not many other defensive linemen can.

Other than Sutton, the key players to watch are Carl Bradford and Chris Young, who play as Arizona State's "Devil" and "Spur" linebackers. Bradford is a hybrid defensive end and linebacker, while Young needs to play like a nickel back on occasion. The pair combined for 35.5 tackles for loss last season, and they'll look to cause havoc on Saturday.

Matchup to watch: Arizona State's receivers vs. Wisconsin's secondary

This is the big matchup for this week. I have a feeling that the Badgers will be able to move the ball against Arizona State's defensive front, which was surprisingly weak against the run last season for how many plays they made in the backfield. But the Badgers will have to keep a potent air attack in check on Saturday if they want to head back to Madison with a win, and a young secondary is about to get its first real test.

The pick: Arizona State 31 Wisconsin 28

The Badges are a four-point underdog this week, but I think I'd be going out on too big of a limb if I predicted that they'll win in Tempe this week. I like their new 3-4 defense a lot, but we haven't really see them get tested yet. If they win they'll ride a big wave of momentum in to the Big Ten season, but I think the Sun Devils will come out ahead in the end. They're strong at places that will test Wisconsin's inexperienced players, and I'll go ahead and say that [db]Kyle French]/db] misses a game-tying field goal as time expires. This should be a great game- and the winner will have a big statement on their resume.

The point after:

DelVaughn Alexander, who coached Wisconsin's wide receivers from 2007-2011, is working in the same capacity at Arizona State. Graham kept him on staff after taking over as head coach last seson.

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

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