TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sometimes stats tell the story. Other times, they don't.
Arizona State's season-opening victory over Sacramento State last Thursday was an example of both.
Defensively, the Sun Devils shutout the Hornets, and surrendered only 167 yards of total offense, both key figures from the 55-0 win. However, a longer examination of the stat sheet will find one noticeable absence: Carl Bradford.
After his 11.5-sack 2012 season, the expectations for the redshirt junior were sky high coming into this season, but on Thursday night, he did not register a single stat. No tackles, no sacks, and no forced fumbles, yet Bradford feels that it was nevertheless another step forward for him.
"Even though I didn’t get any stats on the board, I think I got better at the end of the day," said Bradford. "I played my assignments, was fundamentally sound, and attacked. I did pretty good all the way around."
The only blemish on the night for the defense came on the game's opening drive, a 16-play, 59-yard Hornet drive that ended in a blocked field goal. Bradford simply chalks that up to a slow start, rather than being caught overlooking an FCS team.
"We just started out a little slow. We were ready for the opponent. It was just missed assignments. As you saw, as the game progressed, we were ready for them and did good at the end of the day.”
With a comfortable win under their belts, Bradford and the defense are now preparing for the real start of their season: No. 18 Wisconsin.
The Badgers come to Tempe for Saturday's battle after two easy wins over lower-level programs. In their two wins over UMass and Tennessee Tech, the Badgers have outscored the opposition 93-0 while outgaining them 1,204 to 325.
Despite the offseason coaching change to Gary Andersen, the Wisconsin offense features the same attack as always: A massive offensive line and a stable of talented running backs.
“They are a big, physical team. They have great running backs and a good quarterback," said Bradford.
To slow them down, Bradford stresses that the Sun Devil defense must go on the offensive, while simultaneously remaining disciplined.
"We have to go out there and give it to them," Bradford said. "We need to play our key techniques and all of our assignments. Be ready to attack them, and switch over the switches. They’re not a passing team. Get ready to play base, and get ready to work our run game.”
Perhaps the game's key battle will come in the trenches, where each member of the Badgers' starting offensive line is near or above 320 pounds. On the other side, the Sun Devils' defensive front averages just under 280.
Does that size difference concern Bradford?
“No. Leverage, staying low, using hands, correct feet," Bradford says of the keys to overcome that disadvantage. "I think we’ll blow them off the ball.”
If they can win the war up front, it will help slow down the trio of lethal Badger backs. In each of their first two games, Wisconsin has had a trio of runners top 100 yards each. With such a talented group, Bradford understands that ASU can ill-afford to let them slip through into the open field.
“They are really great backs, and (jersey number) 20 (James White) and 25 (Melvin Gordon) are really good. Assignment sound and tackling. Once you get a hand on the ball carrier, tackle him, and strip the ball out to win.”
While the hefty offensive line and the talented running backs will be a daunting challenge for any defense, Bradford feels that he and his teammates will have some help: ASU fans.
Saturday marks the annual Blackout game, and while some have dismissed the new tradition as a gimmick, Bradford feels that the energy it provides gives a tangible benefit for the Sun Devils.
“It's big time. We love the fans who come out and show support. We feed off of them, the adrenaline, and the packed crowd.”
If Bradford and company can indeed blackout the Badgers, they will find themselves one step closer to fulfilling their lofty goals.