September 9, 2013

ASU aware of Wisconsin play fake potential

Alden Darby has a message for his fellow Arizona State defensive backs as they prepare to take on No. 20 Wisconsin Saturday at Sun Devil Stadium.

Don't get hypnotized by the Badgers' persistent jab.

Perennially one of the top rushing teams - currently No. 3 nationally with a 390 yard rushing average through two games - in the country, Wisconsin likes to lull opponents into a comfort zone and then, when it's least expected, throw a haymaker.

What makes it so challenging is that it looks the same as the run play for just long enough that the defender sets himself up to take the much heavier blow right on the chin.

Wisconsin's play action fakes are about as good as any team, as Darby has seen firsthand. He played as a true freshman when ASU traveled to Wisconsin in a 2010 game that saw Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien wallop the Sun Devils repeatedly with the play action pass.

"If you watch the film you'll see how hard it is," Darby said Sunday. "Wisconsin, they've played two lower division opponents but still you see how easily they'll put you to sleep with the run and then hit a home run post so we just talk to the [defensive backs], the main thing is to just do your job. If you do your job and somebody else messes up, that's not on you. I'm trying to emphasize to them how important it is to do your job."

Senior linebacker Anthony Jones knows this will be his ultimate personal test. Through three years the athletic Chandler Hamilton High product didn't see the field as much as he wanted, or perform to his own expectations, largely because of his overzealousness.

Playing that way against Wisconsin, however, could knock the Sun Devils out.

"Even when you're athletic and you have speed, often you want to get to the ball too fast," Jones said. "Sometimes you forget to read keys because you see the ball. It's not like high school anymore, you have to deal with linemen and see certain stuff, you can't just shoot to the ball. If you shoot to the ball you could mess up your assignment, it could be a pass play or something, so you have to slow down."

Knowing he was entering his last season, Jones said he spent extra time in the film room over the summer months and is confident he's on the verge of realizing his potential.

"I dedicated my offseason to this," Jones said. "I know formations like it's second nature now. When I play I'm so comfortable. I'm not worried about anything, I just play now. I feel so much better, and with that being said, I had one of my best games since I've been here (against Sacramento State)."

Sun Devil head coach Todd Graham said limiting the Badgers' excellent rushing attack is still priority No. 1.

"We're probably not going to play a better running football team," Graham said. "They're very, very good. Last year they were fourth in the country in 40-plus (yard) big plays as an offense and most of them were in the running game. They're very powerful, downhill runs. The key is their backs break a lot of tackles and they're big huge on the offensive line and very physical. It don't get any tougher than this as far as stopping the run and then you've got to make sure you don't give up the play action over the top, they're pretty good at that too.

"It's tough. We're not going to change what we're doing, we'll do what we do. It's a challenge. We've got to fit it up inside and do a good job and who wins the line of scrimmage and who wins the run game is going to - it'll come down to the same things it always does. The team that runs the football best has got the best chance to win this game. Then you factor in takeaways and holding the football. If we're 100 percent ball security, I like our chances."

Strong unimpressed

Though he had a team-high six catches for 58 yards and one touchdown in his ASU debut, sophomore junior college transfer Jaelen Strong was relatively unimpressed. He said he'd give himself a C-plus grade for the game and is a 6 on a scale of 1-10 as a route runner.

"I had a drop on the first ball thrown to me and I made a few mistakes where I could have got more yards, helped my team convert third or fourth downs," Strong said. "We punted the ball one time because of me. I ran the wrong route. I'm sure if I would have ran the right route (junior quarterback) Taylor (Kelly) could have hooked up with me and we could have got a first down. The touchdown, that [balanced] it out but I feel like it was just an okay performance."


  • Senior linebacker Chris Young practiced fully after being knocked out of Thursday's season-opening win over Sacramento State with an apparent left knee issue. Young wore a brace on the left knee but did not seem to have any physical limitation moving around.

  • The Sun Devils are extremely healthy going into their second game of the season. Only freshman safety Marcus Ball (clavicle) is injured and out. No other players practiced in a green non-contact jersey.

  • Junior college transfer Damarious Randall (groin strain) worked with the second-team at field safety and practice fully for the first time as a Sun Devil. He looks like he'll be healthy enough to play Saturday after sitting out the team's first game.

  • Redshirt freshman linebacker Carlos Mendoza (knee) practiced, mixing in with the second-team, after sitting out last week's practices to condition and rehab.

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