It’s put up or shut up time for the Wisconsin Badgers (4-0, No. 9 USA Today/No. 11 AP). Non-conference football games are done and that means on to the big boys of the Big Ten. The Badgers will be tested right out of the gate as they travel to East Lansing to take on a tough Michigan State Spartan squad (4-0, No. 21 USA Today/No. 24 AP) at 2:30 for both teams’ Big Ten opener.
Michigan State is much improved from a year ago as many experts considered them a Big Ten sleeper going into the year. This would be one of those games they need to win if they are going to fulfill those expectations. For the Badgers, they are trying to chase down Ohio State and Iowa for Big Ten supremacy in 2010 and they need to get off on the right foot.
The Spartans are still riding an emotional roller-coaster following their dramatic win over Notre Dame two weeks ago. Shortly after the game head coach Mark Dantonio suffered a heart attack. He will be coaching from a booth atop Spartan Stadium on Saturday against UW.
As impressive as Michigan State has been on the young season, there are some glaring holes I think the Badgers can expose. On defense, the Spartans give up 252 yards per game through the air. This does not bode well for Michigan State as Scott Tolzien comes into the game playing extremely well and he’ll get some more help this week when Nick Toon and David Gilreath return to action. A big matchup to watch will be Badger tight end Lance Kendricks against MSU middle linebacker Greg Jones. Kendricks is playing the best football of his life as he was named John Mackey Tight End of the Week for the second straight week. Jones is a returning All-American and leads the Spartans with 33 tackles. Sparty gives up just 85 yards a game on the ground, but they have not seen a rushing attack quite like Badgers. Bucky averages 484 yards per game on offense, something has to give.
The Spartans feature quite the impressive ground attack as well. The two-headed monster of sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman Le ‘Veon Bell has been giving opponents fits. Baker is averaging over 112 per game and Bell clocks in at 99 per game. They carry per-carry averages of 7.9 and 8.2, respectively. This is the game for UW’s defensive line to shine as Badger coaches have been preparing the unit for Big Ten season in the first four weeks, experimenting with different options at tackle and end. Quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn’t been too shabby either, completing 67% of his attempts to go along with six touchdowns and just two interceptions.
There are two very important statistics I think will help decide Saturday’s contest. First, third-down conversions. In a game where both offenses are coming in firing on all cylinders, getting key third-down stops will be huge. The Badgers are 2nd in the Big Ten, converting 53% of their third-downs. The Spartans are dead-last in this category, carrying a 31% success rate. Second, the officials effect. Michigan State is the most penalized team in the Big Ten while the Badgers are the least. Despite the Badgers careless ball-security issues in the earlygoing, Bret Bielema has his troops playing relatively smart football heading into the Big Ten opener.
My Prediction: Badgers 30 Michigan State 24
About the Author
Written by Chad Seely
Hey sports fans! Welcome to my Wisconsin Badgers football blog. For any Badger scores, news or questions you may have, come check out this blog! For those who don't know me, I'm a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. I graduated in May 2009 with a Broadcast Journalism degree and returned in Fall 2009 to get a Minor in Multimedia which I completed in May 2010. In the summer, you can catch me on AM1230 WSBB, splitting time as the play-by-play announcer and color commentator for the Daytona Cubs, the Advanced-A Affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.