Michigan State-Wisconsin: Spartans' Keys To Victory vs. No. 11 Badgers
This weekend opens up the Big Ten season, one of the pivotal matchups coming from East Lansing, MI, where the 24th-ranked Spartans will play host to the 11th-ranked Badgers.
This game may go a long way in determining the Big Ten championship, so it will be crucial for both teams to get off on the right foot in conference play.
MSU will have four keys to victory to be able to upset Wisconsin at home.
First, Michigan State needs to be able to throw the ball. You may be thinking, "What are you talking about? MSU's running game is their bread and butter." But that's exactly it.
Wisconsin will be keying in on State's running game. Michigan State's second leading rusher, Le'Veon Bell, is no longer a secret. Edwin Baker will also be on the Badgers' minds with his 7.9 yards/carry average.
With these numbers, you better believe that Wisconsin will be packing 7-8 men in the box on most downs. This is where Kirk Cousins needs to be able to exploit the Badgers with a vertical passing game to leading receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keyshawn Martin.
The second key to victory will be their ability to contain John Clay. John Clay has been one of the best backs in all of college football the last year or two, and Greg Jones and company need to find a way to stop him.
MSU's defense is certainly front heavy. This linebacking corp is one of the best in the Big Ten, with an above average defensive line to accompany it.
The problem won't be the front seven, the problem is the secondary. If John Clay is able to get into the secondary, it could be goodnight for the Spartans. The front seven of MSU needs to do an exceptional job of tackling John Clay on the first try, because once those legs get moving, they are hard to stop, especially for a mediocre secondary.
The third key to success also lies on the defensive side of the ball. If MSU can get a good pass rush on Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, it will go a long way in the outcome of the game.
Scott Tolzien has been putting up great numbers (albeit against weak competition) this season. He has racked up 863 yards with a 164.1 passer rating.
The defensive line of the Spartans need to be in Tolzien's face, and have him on his back for most of the game. This will help two things: MSU's secondary, as well as rattling Tolzien in what will already be a hostile environment.
Making Tolzien get rid of the ball is what the Spartans need to do. If he is allowed to sit in the pocket and open up a vertical passing game, the Badgers will be nearly unstoppable.
Constant pressure on a quarterback will wear him down throughout a game. It causes him to have to make quick decisions while worrying about getting hit. Pressure is going to be a huge part of the Michigan State defensive game plan.
Last but not least, MSU needs to have one big play on special teams. This game should be a close one, and a lot of times in these close games, one or two plays can decide it.
Obviously MSU already knows this, and so does Notre Dame. But if MSU can get a big return from the blazing fast Keyshawn Martin, or even a great game out of inexperienced kicker Dan Conroy, it could be a huge help on the way to a victory.
If MSU is able to execute these four strategies, I think they'll be able to pull the upset and help themselves in a big way in the Big Ten standings.
Prediction: Michigan State 23, Wisconsin 21
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