Much like the NFL preseason, the third game of the No. 11 ranked Wisconsin Badgers non-conference schedule should serve as a dress rehearsal for the Big Ten Conference season, where teams like Ohio State and Iowa already look prepped and ready to defend their Top 10 status.
Of course, the keyword in that sentence is “should,” as the current version of the 2010 Wisconsin Badgers is one of more questions than answers heading into their toughest non-Big Ten matchup against the Arizona State Sun Devils.
By Jake McCormick
Instead of heading into Saturday’s home game against the Sun Devils looking to just tighten the screws a bit before facing the usual Big Ten suspects, the Wisconsin Badgers are looking to solve some fairly significant problems on both sides of the ball.
The theme during the early goings of the 2010 season has been a pension for self-inflicted wounds, and while that may be a positive thing from the standpoint that the Badgers aren’t lacking in the talent department, it’s still unsettling for the team’s overall confidence and play execution.
One of the biggest culprits has been quarterback Scott Tolzien, who had an interception returned for a touchdown in Week 1 against UNLV in Las Vegas, and three fumbles to go with another pick against San Jose State last week.
“That was on me, I have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Tolzien said of his fumble on 4th and 1 inside the Spartan five yard line. “We didn’t improve in (the turnover) facet and that’s not going to get us where we want to go. It’s getting to the point where we can’t just keep talking about it, we have to do it, myself included.”
There is something to be said for the Badgers’ lack of weapons on both sides of the ball against the San Jose State Spartans (wide receiver Nick Toon and linebacker Chris Borland were inactive, and the versatile David Gilreath suffered a brutal hit that resulted in a short hospital visit).
But giving up over 300 yards to a far less talented team doesn’t give Badger fans a boost of confidence that they’ll be able to stop a fairly dangerous Arizona State passing attack, led by former Michigan Wolverine quarterback Steven Threet (who was at the helm of Michigan’s 27-25 victory over Wisconsin in 2008).
The bread and butter of this team has, and always will be, the rushing attack, which is currently led by Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay, who has left a trail of bodies in his wake that rivals Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body count in Commando.
With the exception of his switching-hands fumble at the goalline (chalk that up as a freshman mistake), James White has been a nice change of pace for Clay, and will continue to tally carries as he learns the ins and outs of running behind a line the size of Mt. Rushmore.
Bret Bielema and the rest of the Badgers understand what their flaws are and what needs to be done, but knowing what needs improvement and actually changing it are two entirely different things.
“We just have to get better. It’s an obvious statement, but we’re not there yet,” Tolzien said. “I have to be accountable for myself, first and foremost.”
Even if the Wisconsin Badgers continue their turnover-happy ways, the fact that they’re playing with a slight chip on their shoulders in Camp Randall against a lesser opponent in Arizona State should be enough to push Wisconsin to their third win to start the year.
But just another W won’t be enough against the Sun Devils; the Badgers need to prove they can rectify mistakes week-to-week to have any chance of surviving the always tough Big Ten schedule.
Wisconsin has a lot of ground to make up if they are going to live up to lofty pre-season expectations, and the former dress rehearsal against Arizona State has transformed into an unwanted test of the team’s resilience, chemistry, and overall ability.Follow paulmbanks