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September 13, 2010

First look: Wisconsin

Together they weigh 1,600 pounds. The size of moose. The weight of a full-grown steer. Or, in this case, a heavy group of Badgers.

When Arizona State travels to Madison, Wisc., to take on No. 11 Wisconsin Saturday, they will be met by one of the most well-built offensive lines in the nation. Anchored by 6-foot-7, 335 pound junior tackle Josh Oglesby, each member of the experienced unit -- all five are returning starters from a season ago -- is at least 6 feet 4, 313 pounds.

A test for the Sun Devil defense? More like a pressure-cooking SAT exam.

"Whoever is in their [offensive] front is well over 300 pounds, so they are big and great players," ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. "They play smash mouth football and they're going to come after you."

What makes the mammoth Wisconsin line even tougher is the bruising back running behind it. Junior John Clay, big enough to play on most offensive lines, has already rushed for 260 yards and four touchdowns this season. Listed at 255 pounds, Clay looks closer to 270, and his terrorizing north-south running style makes his seem even bigger than that.

Erickson compares Clay to former Stanford running back Toby Gerhart, a 2009 Heisman finalist who rushed for 125 yards against the Sun Devils last season.

Like he said before that game, Erickson has put the focus on gang tackling when facing Clay and Wisconsin's powerful rushing attack Saturday.

"You have to have a lot of guys around the football," Erickson said. "When he gets going north and south up the field on you, then you have some issues. Hopefully we can be solid in there and stay in our gaps. We have to get people to him and keep him corralled."

ASU has allowed just 58 yards per game on the ground en route to a 2-0 start, but this will be big-league ball compared to the Triple-A threat provided by Portland State and Northern Arizona.

Erickson said during his weekly press conference Monday that the Sun Devils will have to be able to neutralize the Badgers' rushing attack without stacking too many players in the box. Otherwise, the experience of senior quarterback Scott Tolzien has the ability to make ASU pay.

"He throws a lot of play-action pass," Erickson said of Tolzien, "so if you sneak up too much on the run they can then burn you deep."

Georgia on the mind?

ASU's trip between the hedges to face Georgia last season will help ASU with the sure-to-be rowdy environment provided by Camp Randall Stadium, a venue that will house more than 80,000 frenzied Badger fans Saturday.

"Their fans are unbelievable and it's an event," Erickson said. "It will be packed and we are looking forward to going there. We are going to have to work on some things in terms of the noise but our players are looking forward to going down there and playing."

Rating the pass rush

Though the Sun Devil defense has managed only three sacks so far this season, Erickson said he isn't overly concerned with his team's pass rush. He credited the lack of sacks in Saturday's game to NAU quarterback Michael Herrick's ability to get rid of the ball quickly.

"We got a lot of hurries and we put a lot of pressure on both quarterbacks and forced them to make some bad throws," Erickson said. "We got a little more pressure when we played James Brooks inside on our nickel defense. That is where he got his sack in the game on Saturday.

"It's hard to get pressure as sure as sacks are concerned. We pressured them with blitzes. I would like to get better with it, but I am happy with where we are."


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