The question of precisely how good this Wisconsin football team is got a more credible answer in Tempe, Arizona, Saturday night.
For the 18th-ranked Badgers, rolling over a couple of cupcakes without surrendering a point is one thing.
Taking on a tough, Pac-12 opponent on the road is quite another.
By the time the desert heat had cooled down just a tad, head coach Gary Andersen’s crew had suffered its first defeat, losing to Arizona State (2-0), 32-30.
The Badgers did have a chance to win the game with a late field goal.
But confusion and a late spot by the officials prevented the attempt and time ran out.
Sun Devil running back/waterbug Marion Grice led the way with four rushing touchdowns in the win.
Taylor Kelly did just enough to throttle Wisconsin’s man-coverage and hogged the ball for most of the game.
ASU ran some 30 more plays than did the Badgers.
That meant it was a long night for the Wisconsin defense, especially with a 97-degree temperature at kickoff.
This was a battle of two very different philosophies.
ASU uses the spread option while Wisconsin relies heavily on the ground game.
There was little breathing room to work with for UW QB Joel Stave on several drives in this one.
He struggled to get any consistency on drives and that kept the Badger ‘D’ on the field for the majority of the game.
Stave had three balls batted down and threw behind several targets.
Counterpart Kelly had success with back shoulder throws on three impressive second half drives, each culminating in Grice scoring runs.
Stave did mount a solid drive to make it interesting.
Melvin Gordon’s second rushing touchdown with 3:53 to play certainly gave the Badgers a new lease on life.
Unfortunately, Stave got swallowed up on the two-point conversion attempt.
Kelly and company ate up enough of the clock and with no time outs it would be a tall order.
When Andersen looks at this film, he will see that Stave didn’t touch his knee when he ran for the middle of the hash marks to get a better spot.
A Sun Devil smothered the ball thinking it was a fumble and by the time the refs had a spot, the clock was at goose eggs.
The Badgers got lucky on the opening drive when a touchdown pass on fourth and two was ruled out of bounds.
The Sun Devils’ pass rush rattled Stave from the jump and a pair of drives deep in UW’s territory ended with punts from the end zone.
An ASU field goal was the only first quarter score.
The first good field position in the game the Badgers provided the perfect tonic.
Stave found tight end Jacob Pedersen in the corner for the touchdown at 7-3 lead with 13:45 left in the half.
When the next series stalled, ASU’s long snapper sent one over the punter’s head and the Badgers nudged it over the goal line for a touchdown and a 14-3 advantage just 52 seconds later.
The Sun Devils closed out the half with 10 unanswered points.
Taylor Kelly kept the Badgers at bay utilizing a couple of big plays by backfield mates D.J. Foster and the elusive Grice.
The Badger secondary paid the price for its aggressive coverage, racking up a couple of holding and pass interference penalties in each of the final two drives of the half.
After struggling with the running game (only 71 first half yards), Gordon took the first snap from scrimmage 80 yards and a touch to open the second half.
The Sun Devils were in command most of the way after that.
Purdue comes to Camp Randall next Saturday, September 21, as the Big Ten starts conference play.
Game time is TBA.