Wisconsin Beats ASU 20-19 Thanks to Valai's Block

jay valai

With their 20-19 win over Arizona State on Saturday, Wisconsin
improved to 3-0 on the season for the seventh-consecutive year. The win
also marked the 27th straight non-conference regular-season game
they've won dating back to 2003. At home, Badger head coach Bret Bielema
is undefeated against non-conference opponents, outscoring them by an
average of 17.9 points. While Bielema was able to keep the streak alive
with a win Saturday, it wasn't as easy as history may have predicted.

In the first half, the Badgers displayed the same lackluster tackling efforts as they did in last week's game against San Jose State.
Granted, Arizona State has faster, shiftier players compared to San
Jose State, but the Badgers made them look like Heisman candidates.

On
Arizona State's first drive, they marched down to the seven yard-line
in 13 plays, averaging more than five yards per carry. However, the
Badgers were able to hold them to a 25-yard field goal attempt, which
was missed to the right by ASU K Thomas Weber.

The Badgers were able to put together a drive of their own, but came
up with only three points after K Philip Welch hit a 49-yard field goal.
However, on the ensuing kickoff ASU returnman Omar Bolden returned the
kick 97 yards for a touchdown giving the Sun Devils a 7-3 lead after the
extra-point by Weber. This was just the beginning of Wisconsin's
display of Peewee-like tackling.

After run-stopping OLB Chris Borland left in the first quarter,
re-injuring his shoulder, Arizona State took advantage. They ran the
ball right through the front-line of the Badgers. ASU RB Deantre Lewis
was given running lanes wider than the Grand Canyon. Lewis finished the
game with 125 rushing yards, averaging an absurd 13.6 yards per carry.

Consecutive field goals by each team in the second quarter put the
score at 10-6 in favor of ASU. In their final driver before halftime,
the Badgers drove the ball down to the nine yard-line, calling their
final timeout with 30 seconds left. This decision looked to be
questionable, especially after the Badgers committed a holding penalty,
pushing them back to the 20 yard-line. However, a pass interference on
ASU moved the Badgers up to the 14 yard-line. On the next play, QB Scott
Tolzien was able to find TE Lance Kendricks
for a 14-yard touchdown, giving Wisconsin a 13-10 lead. The touchdown
gave Kendricks his second-straight game with a touchdown. With wide
receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath out for the Badgers, Kendricks
stepped up in a huge way. He finished the game with 131 yards and a
touchdown on seven catches.lance kendricks

"I was definitely ready," Kendricks said. "They put me out wide
sometimes, which we worked on in practice all week. It was a smooth
transition from the practice to the game."

If there was one thing to learn from this game it was not to assume
anything. With only enough time left to return a kickoff, many surely
assumed the game would just go into halftime with the score the same.
Trying to squib the kick, Welch failed miserably, kicking a line-drive
to ASU returnman Kyle Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks fielded the kick,
running past everyone and breaking a tackle with only one defender
between him and a touchdown. Unfortunately for Middlebrooks, that
defender was SS Shelton Johnson, a redshirt freshman. Johnson was able
to catch Middlebrooks and bring him down at the one yard-line, short of a
touchdown. Johnson's touchdown-saving play before the half proved to be
a game-saving play by game's end.

"The play of Shelton Johnson right before the half, to never give up
on that play and get him down speaks volumes," Bielema said. "If you
want a guy who is going to track someone down, that is one of our
fastest guys, so we had the right situation there."

Arizona State came out in the second half, moving the ball down the
field with ease. They kicked a 36-yard field goal to tie the game up at
13 a piece.

In the first half, John Clay would run for a big gain only to head to
the sidelines for the next three or four plays as if he was out of
shape. He only received a head-scratching eight carries in an effort to
keep him fresh for the second half. The plan worked for the Badgers as
Clay came out in the second half and absolutely dominated, finishing the
game with 125 yards. This marked his ninth-straight game with at least
100 rushing yards.

On the Badgers' second drive of the second half, the Badgers picked
up two consecutive first downs. After three consecutive runs by RB James
White, totaling 26 yards, Clay ran for a 19-yard touchdown to give the
Badgers a 20-13 lead. The touchdown finished off what was by far the
Badgers' best drive of the season.

Heading into the fourth quarter, the Wisconsin student section did
their infamous "Jump Around" dance. Anyone with a pulse in Camp Randall
had to feel the energy from the crowd. Bielema credits this as one of
the reasons the Badgers were able to come away with a victory.

"[The fans] were unbelievable today," Bielema said. "They definitely
influenced the game, made Arizona State tough to communicate at the line
of scrimmage, that was a huge part in the game."

After three-consecutive combined punts by both teams, Arizona State
got the ball back with a little under eight minutes left in the game. A
flawless nine-play drive by the Sun Devils ended in a two-yard touchdown
run by RB Cameron Marshall to bring ASU within one. What was supposed
to be a routine extra point by Weber to tie the game turned into a
miracle for the  Badgers. Coming from the left side of the line was
senior S Jay Valai, who jumped over a defender and blocked the extra
point.

"We ran the block, and I ran in and made the play," Valai said. "The
guy gave me a birthday gift. Thank god we made the play, and we won."

The blocked extra-point left Arizona State head coach Dennis Erickson nearly speechless.

"In all my career I've never seen something like that," Erickson said.

The Badgers got the ball back with 4:09 left in the game. On third
and two, the Badgers dialed up a play-action pass to Kendricks for a 17
yard first down. This set up a run by Clay, which sealed the victory for
Wisconsin.

Ironically, the Badgers' special teams, which was shaky all game, won
the game for them in the end. Although the Badgers were questionable in
certain areas, mainly special teams and their defensive front-line,
they showed up big when it mattered most.

"We have to take everything that we can from this game, the
breakdowns, the mistakes, but also the positives and the extra efforts,"
Bielema said. "We did enough good things to win the football game, but
we have to correct and move past anything that can prevent us from
winning in the future. I really just like the resolve of these guys and
the way they handle their business."

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