Dennis Erickson has beaten the Wisconsin Badgers twice in the past. But the one loss they suffered at the hands of Erickson’s quarterback, Steven Threet, is the one that still haunts the Big Ten football team.
Erickson, now Arizona State’s head coach, beat the Badgers when he was coaching at Wyoming, and then again when he was at Miami. But both of those wins happened more than 20 years ago. The pain has dulled.
But the loss that Threet laid on the Badgers is still an open wound. It happened just two years ago when Threet was the signal caller for the University of Michigan Wolverines.
It was so traumatic at the time because Michigan was 1-2 coming into the game and Wisconsin was undefeated and ranked No. 9 in the nation. And the Badgers had built a 19-0 lead before letting the redshirt freshman engineer a devastating second-half comeback, that included an 89-yard run he made, to suffer a crushing 25-27 loss.
The Badgers never fully recovered from that setback and went on to post a disappointing 7-6 season record.
But tomorrow will provide a chance to heal the wound, to scratch the itch, to get one last shot at avenging the injustice. And they will get to do it in front of a full house in the ear-splitting confines of Camp Randall Stadium.
All week, the Badgers have been practicing with two alternating squads to simulate the game conditions that will result from ASU’s new hurry-up, quick-huddle offense that was installed this season by new offensive coordinator, Noel Mazzone. The Sun Devils are averaging over 85 snaps a game, providing plenty of opportunities to keep the chains moving.
The Sun Devils are averaging 47.5 points a game against early-season FCS opponents, Portland State and Northern Arizona University. That’s a big improvement over the 22.8-point average in 2008 and 22.3 in 2009.
So far, Mazzone’s offense is getting the job done.
But, while Threet took to the air often against NAU, throwing for 391 yards and three touchdowns, the Devils’ ground game had a lot to be desired. ASU rushed for just 56 yards.
The Badgers, on the other hand, are more of a typical Big Ten team. They grind it out on the ground, moving the ball with scoring drives that will typically take a dozen or more plays. The last three years, their offense has been ranked 15th, 14th, and 21st in the nation in rushing yards.
And what better weapon to have for that kind of offense than a 255 lb. running back? That’s just what they have in redshirt junior, John Clay, who is already getting early consideration as a Heisman candidate.
Put Clay behind an offensive line that averages over 320 pounds at each position, and you have the Badger Ground Machine.
Clay ran up 1,517 rushing yards last year, as he finished as the Pac-10’s leader in touchdowns, with 18, and was named the Big Ten Player of the Year as a sophomore. So far this year, he has piled up 260 yards and scored four touchdowns against UNLV and San Jose State.
But, while Clay is likely to be churning up the field, the table is set for Threet to have a strong passing performance. The Badgers came into the season with some doubts about their secondary and their pass defense has been subject to lapses, particularly as the game wears on.
Threet is completing 67 percent of his passes so far and has piled up 630 yards in the air. And he is spreading the wealth. He has connected with 13 different receivers in the two games and there are five pass catchers on the team with four or more receptions.
Junior wide receiver, Mike Willie, was a prime target for Threet in the last game with NAU, catching eight passes for 114 yards and a touchdown.
And, defensively, the edge should go to ASU, which was the Pac-10’s top defense last year and is one of the best in the country this year. The defensive line is big, mobile, and quick.
Conversely, the Badgers’ defense hasn’t yet shown the form Coach Bret Bielema was expecting this year. San Jose passed for 252 yards against the Badgers’ secondary.
Tomorrow’s game will be televised on ABC, so viewers across the nation will get to see this match-up. It’s been more than 40 years since the last time these teams played each other.
So the Badgers will get a chance for revenge on a grand scale.
Or they will have yet another open wound to nurse, courtesy of the same guy that inflicted the pain back in 2008.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)