Michigan State will face its’ toughest opponent thus far in the season, as the Wisconsin Badgers visit East Lansing this weekend. This game will feature two ranked opponents that both cruised to easy victories last weekend: #24 Michigan State beat Northern Colorado 45-7, while #11 Wisconsin scored a school record 70 points in a victory over Austin Peay. The Spartans are off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2007 and a victory against the Badgers would solidify them as a true Big Ten contender. This is also somewhat of a revenge game for the Spartans, after last year’s embarrassing beat down by the Badgers. The score made it look like a close game (38-30), but in reality, Wisconsin dominated the game from start to finish. As always, I will be looking for the Spartans to do 3 things that should, and will lead them to victory.
First, MSU must clean up the penalties. They had eleven for 121 yards last week against Northern Colorado and several of them gave the Bears another set of downs on offense. Of course this is not a big problem when you are playing an FCS school, but when the big boys come to town, this will not cut it. You cannot give good teams like Wisconsin extra downs, because they will make you pay for these costly mental mistakes. Second, the Spartans must continue to force turnovers. They are 14th in the nation right now in turnover margin at plus 5 and there is a direct correlation between forcing turnovers and winning games. MSU had 4 last week, in which the Spartans turned them into 24 points. If Michigan State can win this battle against a team that is ranked 66th overall in turnover margin, then the Spartans should have a great chance at the upset.
Third, MSU must win the line of scrimmage. Against the Badgers last year, the Spartans were pushed around up front, as they looked totally outmanned against the bigger and stronger offensive line of Wisconsin. As a result, the Badgers were able to dictate the game and basically do whatever they wanted on the offensive side of the ball. MSU must come out this year and beat Wisconsin to the punch and get after them early and often. Finally, Michigan State must take advantage of playing at home this weekend. Spartan Stadium is one of the loudest and rowdiest places to play, in which MSU must get the crowd involved early. This may mean scoring the first touchdown of the game or getting a big stop on defense, but whatever it is; MSU must use this 12th man to their advantage.
When Michigan State has the ball: The Spartans are averaging 231 rushing yards a game and 464 yards of total offense. Their bread and butter has been running the ball and I look for them to continue to pound the pigskin. Running backs Le’Veon Bell, averaging 8.2 yards per carry and Edwin Baker, averaging 7.9 yards per carry, have combined for 12 touchdowns, while leading the 17th ranked rush offense in the nation. It will get tougher this week though, as they will be facing a defense that is ranked 15th overall and 15th in rush defense. Wisconsin always has an athletic and strong front seven and this year is no different. If they are able to stop the Spartan run game, Kirk Cousins must continue to build on the success he had last week, in which he was accurate in taking shots down the field. I look for Cousins to still hookup with his usual receivers, Cunningham, Martin and Dell, but also get TE Charlie Gantt involved, as he is averaging 22 yards per reception.
When Wisconsin has the ball: Just like the Spartans, Wisconsin will look to run the ball first, and they have just the weapon for this in reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay. He is averaging 125 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry, which is good for 9th in the country. He also already has 6 rushing touchdowns and will look to add to this total this week. The Spartan defense must be able to stop him in order to win this game. Last year against MSU, Clay ran for 142 yards, which allowed the Badgers to open up the passing game and throw for 4 touchdowns. Wisconsin also returns its’ quarterback and top two wide receivers from a year ago. QB Scott Tolzien is a great game manager for the Badgers, in which he is very efficient with the ball. I look for him and WR Lance Kendricks to try exploiting a Spartans’ defense that is ranked 97th against the pass, giving up 252 yards per game.
Michigan State only lost by eight points last year, despite committing 4 turnovers and getting outplayed in most phases of the game. The difference, that game was at Wisconsin. I also forgot to mention, rumor has it that a certain head ball coach will be returning to the sideline this week. Emotions will be running high in East Lansing…
Prediction: MSU 24 Wisconsin 21
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Written by David Lesmeister