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Badger Bits: Arizona State

<b>Jay Valai's block preserved the Badgers' 20-19 lead against Arizona State.</b>

Jay Valai's block preserved the Badgers' 20-19 lead against Arizona State.

Sept. 18, 2010

MADISON, Wis. -- A pair of plays on special teams kept Wisconsin in front, while Lance Kendricks nearly duplicated his Champs Sports Bowl performance  as the Badgers topped Arizona State, 20-19.

Special teams defines game
It looked like the game was headed for a tie.

Arizona State had just marched down the field 77 yards on nine plays in 3:34. Cameron Marshall had rushed up the middle for a two-yard score to cut the lead to 20-19 with 4:09 left in the fourth quarter.

Kicker Thomas Weber was 107-for-111 on extra points in his career, including a perfect 13-for-13 in 2010. The Badgers hadn’t blocked an extra point since Roderick Rogers did it at Northwestern on Nov. 8, 2005. The outcome of the play seemed inevitable. Thankfully for Wisconsin, they still had to play it out.

Crashing in from the left side of the formation, senior safety and captain Jay Valai dove, extended his arms and was able to deflect the kick, keeping the Badgers in the lead and enabling the team to reach a 3-0 start for the seventh straight season.

“I just put my head down and looked for the ball,” he said after the game. “As soon as the ball was snapped, I said ‘Okay, I have to make the play.’ I ran full speed and did a full out dive and it happened.

“Thank god we made the play, and we won,” he added. “I jumped over somebody’s leg and made the play on the outside left side. I’m just thinking ‘I have to make this play.’ I’ve seen J.J. [Watt] make it a couple of times, so I knew I could make it.”

His teammates echoed the importance of the play.

“We gave up a touchdown and everyone could have hung their head low,” fellow safety Aaron Henry said. “But Coach [Dave] Doeren dialed it up and [Valai] stepped in to make the play.”

It was another special teams play at the end of the first half that allowed the Badgers to enter the locker room with a 13-10 lead.

Arizona State had already run back one kickoff for a touchdown in the first quarter as Omar Bolden took it 97 yards to give the Sun Devils a 7-3 lead. With 10 seconds left in the second quarter, it looked like history was going to repeat itself.

After a 10-yard touchdown reception by Badger tight end Lance Kendricks, ASU’s Kyle Middlebrooks fielded the ensuing kick at the four-yard line. He raced up the right sideline and looked as though he was going to score. But coming from the far side, junior safety Shelton Johnson hustled all the way, tracked him down and made the tackle at the UW one-yard line, preserving the halftime lead as the clock had expired.

“I was just running trying to get to the ball,” Johnson said after the game. “Dez [Southward] slowed him up enough that I could get to him and make the play. I was thinking, ‘No, don’t let this happen again.’ That would have been really deflating going into halftime. I was just hoping I got to him, and thankfully I did.”

Johnson also acknowledged the importance of the play.

“I just really didn’t want him to score,” he said. “I just tried to get to the ball as fast as I could. This is an example of how every play is important. My play was big, but I don’t know if it was the most important.”

Kendricks copies Champs Sports Bowl performance
For most of the country, last season’s Champs Sports Bowl was Lance Kendricks’ coming-out party. On Saturday against Arizona State, Kendricks had nearly the exact same performance.

In the Badgers’ 20-14 win over Miami in December, Kendricks caught seven passes for 128 yards. Against ASU, Kendricks caught seven passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. The similarities don’t end there though. Just like against the Hurricanes, all seven of his catches on Saturday went for first downs. In an eerie coincidence to cap things off, in each game he rushed one time for negative four yards.

Starting wide receiver Nick Toon was out of the game with a turf toe injury, so Kendricks knew he was going to be a focal point of the passing game.

“I was definitely ready,” he said. “They put me split out wide sometimes, which we worked on in practice all week, so it went pretty smooth. It was a smooth transition from practice to the game.”

Kendricks scored his second touchdown of the season late in the first half, giving the Badgers a 13-10 lead. Despite being interfered with, Kendricks hauled in the 10-yard pass on an out-route to put UW up with 10 seconds left in the first half.

“I saw Scott [Tolzien] put a little velocity on it and throw it behind, so I set up the defensive back, and then turned around real quick to get it,” Kendricks said.

He came through again in the fourth quarter, keeping Wisconsin’s game-ending drive alive with a clutch catch. Facing a third-and-two with less than two minutes to play, Tolzien used a play-action fake to freeze the defense before throwing to a wide open Kendricks for a big 17-yard pickup. Two plays later, John Clay rushed for 10 yards to get a first down and from there the Badgers were able to take a knee and run out the clock.

Kendricks said his third-down catch was nothing new.

“I was confident,” he said. “It had been successful before in practice. No problem, I was ready.”

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