Gridiron Report: Defense keys on stopping the run

Thrown into the frying pan last week against Arizona State, the football team’s newcomers leap straight into the fire Saturday when the Owls (0-1) face Wisconsin’s dominant running game in Madison. The Sun Devils, who

Thrown into the frying pan last week against Arizona State, the football team’s newcomers leap straight into the fire Saturday when the Owls (0-1) face Wisconsin’s dominant running game in Madison.

The Sun Devils, who feature a pass-heavy offense based largely on speed, picked apart an inexperienced Owls squad. Eighteen Owls appeared in their first Division I-A football game, and it showed. Arizona State coasted to a 63-16 victory.

In a 180 degree contrast of styles, Wisconsin (1-0) takes the field intent on running around and, if necessary, through its opponents. That’s why the Owls’ most glaring defensive statistic last week wasn’t the 559 yards of total offense they surrendered to ASU. It was the 300 rushing yards given up to an offense that typically makes its living through the air.

That could spell trouble for the players still getting their feet wet.

“We’re going to have to play a lot more run support [against Wisconsin],” said senior cornerback Ray Lamb. “That’s going to be another change for the inexperienced guys, but it’s good it happened this way. For the future, they’ll have experience against the passing game and now against the running game in Wisconsin, so we’re looking forward to it.”

Junior running back Brian Calhoun dismantled the Bowling Green defense, rushing for 258 yards and five touchdowns in the Badgers’ 56-42 season-opening win. Junior Booker Stanley added 106 yards and a touchdown for good measure.

All together, the Badgers ate up 388 team rushing yards and had possession for 33 minutes, 19 seconds.

Apart from the ground game, however, the Badgers did little to distinguish themselves. Junior quarterback John Stocco played well enough to win, but he attempted just 10 passes and offset his touchdown pass with an interception. The defense, meanwhile, gave up 42 points, though Falcons quarterback Omar Jacobs’ strong arm is familiar to any Temple fan who remembers last fall’s massacre. Jacobs threw for 458 yards, spurring Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez to alter some personnel in the defensive secondary.

But as long as there is a capable ballcarrier in the backfield and five big bodies along the line, coach Bobby Wallace said, the Badgers will be formidable.

“This is going to be one where you’ve got to dig into the ground and hold on,” Wallace said. “We’re an eight-man front, and that’s what we’re geared to do. Their [offensive linemen] just do such a good job.”

Wallace insisted at the weekly media luncheon that the Sun Devils did not completely have their way against his team. Having looked at film of both the Owls and the Badgers, Wallace said he found a few things to be optimistic about this Saturday.

“They lost a lot of outstanding players, lost their whole defensive front,” Wallace said. “I think all four of them are in the NFL. I know one [Erasmus James] was a first-round draft choice, and another [actually, all three] was drafted. And that showed.” #

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