Coming off a 70-3 trouncing of Austin Peay, the Badgers find themselves ready to start their Big Ten schedule with a matchup agaisnt undefeated [4-0] Michigan State.
Coach Bret Bielema stated Monday that the Badgers are as healthy as they've been since the start of camp. He expects receiver Nick Toon (turf toe) back, and he's optimistic receiver David Gilreath (concussion) will be cleared to play.
John Clay and company handled Austin Peay with ease, but with a surprisingly fast and consistent offense of Michigan State ready to do battle, the Badgers might have a bit of a surprise lurking in East Lansing.
A pivitol game within the Big Ten, the Badgers must look for answers to the problems presented by the Spartan offense, as the Red and White look for a great start to the Big Ten schedule.
This game by no means is a gimme for either team, but rather a true test of skill and consistency.
Make no mistake -- this Spartans team is poised and ready to give Bret Bilema's crew a run for their money.
Scott Tolzien vs Kirk Cousins
These two guys are practically the same quarterback --
Tolzien: [176.1 RAT, 851 yds, 5 TD]
Cousins: [164.1 RAT, 863 yds, 6 TD]
As two of the most devloped Quarterbacks in the country get ready for a classic Big Ten battle, they will have to be able to predict and pick apart each others defenses. Expect both of them to do just that -- as they both contain the top two QB ratings in the Big Ten.
The key for Scott Tolzien will be getting the ball to senior Lance Kendricks in the flat, and letting him run with it. Also, handing the rock to RB "big" John Clay will eliminate a lot of the pressure on Tolzien, along with the beheamith offensive line for the Badgers.
The key for Kirk Cousins will be the reliance on his array of potential number-one recievers. None of them have stepped up to the role in particular, so Cousins will have to force the ball into someone's hands. If they can pass, they'll prove they can play a role in how the Big Ten is decided this season.
John Clay/James White vs Edwin Baker/Le'Veon Bell
As the Heisman campaigne season for John Clay continues, so does the success of the Badgers offense. Handing the footall over 30 times a game for this Wisconsin offense is essential to their successes, with an average of over 100 yards/game, again.
While John Clay is averaging an astounding 6.5 yds/carry, backup James White has burst onto the scene, averaging 7.9 yds/carry and 145 yards in the matchup against Austin Peay. This two-headed monster is no cinch at all.
If anyone in the Big Ten can be compared to John Clay, its sophomore RB Edwin Baker. Running with speed as well as some power here and there, Baker is a true force and the running back position and could exploit this Badger defense more than some might think.
Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins has 4 potential No. 1 recievers ready and willing on the offensive side of the ball. That's enough for Michigan State to get the very slight edge over this Wisconsin club that is so heavily reliant on senior WR Lance Kendricks.
With a 75% healthy Nick Toon, and reliant WR David Gilreath back in the lineup after both suffering early injuries, the Bagders will also have a wide variety of pass-catchers coming off the bench to help Scott Tolzien in the passing game.
Although the returns of Nick Toon and David Gilreath should spur a burst of enthusiasm in this Wisconsin passing game, I still believe the Badgers will primarily stick with the run on Saturday.
Expect good numbers from Kirk Cousins and company, as well as Scott Tolzien and the Badgers.
Wisconsin comes into Saturday's matchup ranked 15th in the country in team scoring defense. While Michigan State comes in at 31st.
But besides the scoring defenses of both respective teams, the Badgers are averaging 265 yds/game allowed on defense, good enough for 16th in the nation -- almost 100 yards per game less than Michigan State.
If the Badgers can stop the running game of Michigan State, expect a pressured Kirk Cousins to make a handfull of key mistakes.
Linebacker Greg Jones of Michigan State -- a highly touted NFL prospect, I might add -- will have his hands full with the Heisman-hopefull John Clay in the lineup for the Bagders, as well as backup James White who is also a breakout player for the Badgers this season.
With star linebacker Chris Borland out for the season for the Bagders, they now become as vulnerable as ever. If the Michigan State running game can produce on Saturday, putting the pressure off Kirk Cousins, the Badgers could be in for a long day.
Advantage: Michigan State
To Michigan State's credit, they have intercepted the football 6 times this season, good enough to be tied for 15th in the country.
Scott Tolzien's passing efficiency will have immense impact in the outcome of this football game. Getting the ball in the hands of current No. 1 reciever Lance Kendricks is the key. Avoiding play-maker Trenton Robinson in the seconday is a must for Scott Tolzien.
While the Badger seconday has showed us that much improvement is needed -- as proven in the slender victory over Arizona State -- the Spartans must be able to convert the short-yardage passes needed to leave with a victory.
Advantage: Michigan State
This is shaping up to be a classic Big Ten matchup. The fact that both teams come into Saturday's game as undefeateds only adds more to the tension of college football.
This game is going to come right down to the wire, and I think that both teams will have to conserve the ball, and try to limit the amount of mistakes -- as much as possible.
But -- as much as I think that this will be a close game, I also believe that this is a statement game for John Clay and the Badgers.
With this win, I think the Badgers assert themselves as an elite force to be reckoned with within the Big Ten.
A late field goal should decide this one.
Prediction: Badgers 28, Spartans 26