Wisconsin Beats ASU 20-19 Thanks to Valai’s Block

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With their 20-19 win over Arizona State on Saturday, Wisconsin improved to 3-0 on the season for the seventh-consecutive year. The win also marked the 27th straight non-conference regular-season game they’ve won dating back to 2003. At home, Badger head coach Bret Bielema is undefeated against non-conference opponents, outscoring them by an average of 17.9 points. While Bielema was able to keep the streak alive with a win Saturday, it wasn’t as easy as history may have predicted.

In the first half, the Badgers displayed the same lackluster tackling efforts as they did in last week’s game against San Jose State. Granted, Arizona State has faster, shiftier players compared to San Jose State, but the Badgers made them look like Heisman candidates.

By: Justin Mertes-Mistretta

After a 49-yard field goal from K Philip Welch, ASU returnman Omar Bolden returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. The score gave the Sun Devils a 7-3 lead. This was just the beginning of Wisconsin’s display of Peewee-like tackling.

After run-stopping OLB Chris Borland left in the first quarter, re-injuring his shoulder, Arizona State ran the ball right through the front-line of the Badgers. ASU RB Deantre Lewis was given running lanes wider than the Grand Canyon. Lewis finished with 125 rushing yards, averaging an absurd 13.6 yards per carry.

Consecutive field goals by each team in the second quarter put the score at 10-6 in favor of ASU. In their final drive before halftime, the Badgers drove the ball down in the red zone, where QB Scott Tolzien was able to find TE Lance Kendricks for a 14-yard touchdown, which gave Wisconsin a 13-10 lead. The touchdown gave Kendricks his second-straight game with a touchdown. With wide receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath out for the Badgers, Kendricks stepped up in a huge way. He finished the game with 131 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.lance kendricks

“I was definitely ready,” Kendricks said. “They put me out wide sometimes, which we worked on in practice all week. It was a smooth transition from the practice to the game.”

If there was one thing to learn from this game it was not to assume anything. With only enough time left to return a kickoff, many surely assumed the game would just go into halftime with the score the same. Trying to squib the kick, Welch failed miserably, kicking a line-drive to ASU returnman Kyle Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks fielded the kick, running past everyone and breaking a tackle with only one defender between him and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, that defender was SS Shelton Johnson, a redshirt freshman. Johnson was able to catch Middlebrooks and bring him down at the one yard-line, short of a touchdown.

“The play of Shelton Johnson right before the half, to never give up on that play and get him down speaks volumes,” Bielema said. “If you want a guy who is going to track someone down, that is one of our fastest guys, so we had the right situation there.”

In the first half, John Clay would run for a big gain only to head to the sidelines for the next three or four plays as if he was out of shape. He only received a head-scratching eight carries in an effort to keep him fresh for the second half. The plan worked for the Badgers as Clay came out in the second half and absolutely dominated, finishing the game with 125 yards. This marked his ninth-straight game with at least 100 rushing yards.

On the Badgers’ second drive of the second half, the Badgers picked up two consecutive first downs. After three consecutive runs by RB James White, totaling 26 yards, Clay ran for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Badgers a 20-13 lead. The touchdown finished off what was by far the Badgers’ best drive of the season.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Wisconsin student section did their infamous “Jump Around” dance. Anyone with a pulse in Camp Randall had to feel the energy from the crowd. Bielema credits this as one of the reasons the Badgers were able to come away with a victory.

“[The fans] were unbelievable today,” Bielema said. “They definitely influenced the game, made Arizona State tough to communicate at the line of scrimmage, that was a huge part in the game.”

After three-consecutive combined punts by both teams, Arizona State got the ball back with a little under eight minutes left in the game. A flawless nine-play drive by the Sun Devils ended in a two-yard touchdown run by RB Cameron Marshall to bring ASU within one. What was supposed to be a routine extra point by Weber to tie the game turned into a miracle for the  Badgers. Coming from the left side of the line was senior S Jay Valai, who jumped over a defender and blocked the extra point.

“We ran the block, and I ran in and made the play,” Valai said. “The guy gave me a birthday gift. Thank god we made the play, and we won.”

The Badgers were able to pick up a key first down from the feet of Clay to seal the victory. After the game, ASU head coach Dennis Erickson couldn’t believe that his team lost on a blocked extra-point.

“In all my career I’ve never seen something like that,” Erickson said.

Ironically, the Badgers’ special teams, which was shaky all game, won the game for them in the end. The Badgers, albeit not flawless Saturday, came up big when it mattered most.

“We have to take everything that we can from this game, the breakdowns, the mistakes, but also the positives and the extra efforts,” Bielema said. “We did enough good things to win the football game, but we have to correct and move past anything that can prevent us from winning in the future. I really just like the resolve of these guys and the way they handle their business.”

Justin Mertes-Mistretta is a senior editor for the Sports Bank.net mainly covering the NFL, NBA playoffs, college basketball (Ohio State), and fantasy football. Follow him on twitter at MertesMist_tsb or become a fan of his blog here.

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