Wisconsin vs. Michigan State: 6 Reasons Spartans Defense Can't Handle Badger O
The Badgers were flat-out beat in East Lansing last year and it was a definite wake-up call for Bielema's squad as they carried it with them the rest of the way en route to a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl appearance.
Rest assured, Bret Bielema will have this Badger team healthy and prepared this season. While the Badger head man always emphasizes one game at a time, he was definitely thinking ahead to this weekend's matchup against Michigan State as he sat his star receiver, Nick Toon, against Indiana.
Bielema told reporters that Toon could have played, but the foot wasn't 100 percent. Wisconsin was never in danger against Indiana, so why play your star receiver and run the risk of Toon not being healthy again going up against a talented Spartans team?
It's a new year and this Badger team is stronger than last year's, especially on offense. Here are 10 reasons why the Spartans defense will not be able to keep the Badgers off the scoreboard...
Russell Wilson Is an Upgrade from Scott Tolzien
Don't get me wrong, Scott Tolzien was a very good quarterback in his two years as a starter and even won the Johnny Unitas Award his senior season. He will be remembered for a long time as one of the better Badger signal callers, but the incoming transfer of Russell Wilson has cushioned the blow to such a steady position over the past couple of seasons.
Tolzien was a heavy game manager and had rarely ever had to use his arm to win games for Wisconsin. On the other hand, Wilson has been heavily relied on throughout his career at NC State to win games with his arm.
Although Wilson does not need to be that sole hero anymore, it is reassuring for Badger fans to know they have such a talented quarterback behind center that will have the time to make his reads behind a gigantic and skilled offensive line.
With Wisconsin's ability to win games by passing, it will be hard for Michigan State to solely key on the run like they did last year when John Clay told reporters that the Spartans were stacking seven in the box routinely.
Russell Wilson has also used his legs at times this year. However, he is not looking to run to the extent of a Denard Robinson; Wilson is looking to pass, but has no problem tucking and running it if there is a lane open.
This sets up a dilemma for the Spartans defense: key on Wilson and let your linebackers go one-on-one with the always dangerous Badger tight ends or don't key on Wilson and expect him to find room to run if the pocket breaks down.
Pick your poison. Nebraska's defensive line is arguably more talented than Michigan State's and look what happened. Anytime players like Jared Crick were able to get into the backfield, Wilson was able to use his legs and extend the play.
Montee Ball & James White Will Not Be Stopped
Wisconsin had no problem running the ball against State last season, even with seven in the box. With a quarterback capable of using his arm to win a game, there will be plenty of opportunities for Montee Ball and James White to find running room.
The running game will benefit tremendously with Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis blocking on the outside, halting any chance of the State corners to help support the run. Those two receivers are two of the better run blocking receivers in the country and this will produce some big plays for dynamic Ball & White in the second and third levels.
One of Michigan State's better defensive lineman, Marcus Rush, will also find it tough to support the run. Going up against Josh Oglesby and/or Ricky Wagner, he will not be able to get inside leverage and will attempt to get in the backfield by going to the tackle's outside shoulder. This should produce some holes and give Bradie Ewing (FB) the opportunity to move the State outside linebackers out of the way and spring the running backs into the secondary.
Wisconsin averaged over five yards per carry last season against Michigan State. The running game looks to be even stronger this year, especially with opposing defensive backs finding it difficult to come up and support the run.
Michigan State clearly showed trouble containing James White last year as he scored two touchdowns and averaged close to 10 yards per carry. This time around, MSU will have to deal with White and a running back in Montee Ball who has a nose for the end zone as he has accumulated an amazing 18 total touchdowns this season and 33 total touchdowns in the past 12 games.
Both backs have also become dangerous pass threats out of the backfield and it will be interesting to see how the MSU linebackers are able to keep tabs on play-actions, running plays and backs coming out of the backfield.
Paul Chryst Will Keep Michigan State Guessing
There is no doubt that Wisconsin is able to spread the field out a bit more with Russell Wilson under center. With Wilson at the helm, defenses have to be more attentive to the Wisconsin passing attack as the Badgers are now consistently able to win games through the air.
With this offense littered with talent at the skill positions, teams cannot key on the run as Chryst's play-calling will pick apart a secondary and linebackers and if they key on the pass, Chryst has no problem going back to Wisconsin's staple ground attack.
Because of that, play-actions have become an integral part to the Wisconsin offense and keeps defenses on their heels. They have to respect the run, but also have to keep a keen eye on the Badger receivers and a possible Russell Wilson naked bootleg in the red zone (as we saw against Nebraska).
With his two running backs becoming viable passing threats, Chryst will certainly test the discipline of the Michigan State linebackers.
Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis' Physical Presence
Despite reports from ESPN that he wouldn't play, Nick Toon confirmed on Wednesday night that he has practiced this week and is good to go for Saturday's night showdown against Michigan State. His playing status last week was a precautionary step after slight discomfort in his surgically repaired foot.
With Toon on the field, the MSU defenders will not be able to contain the big-play threat. Though his career production does not rival that of a Michael Floyd, his physical presence certainly does.
Now that Toon is healthy in his final season as a Badger, he is displaying ball skills and production of a Mike Floyd. With no corner rivaling the size of Nick Toon, I expect him to make a difference in this game with or without targets.
He had a reigning all-american defensive back in Alfonzo Dennard on him when Wisconsin blew out Nebraska. What will make this time around any different?
In contrast to last season in East Lansing, Toon is healthy this time around and ready to make another statement on the big stage that he is among the best wide receivers in the country.
Jared Abbrederis is not the athlete Nick Toon is, but he has silently put together a great season as the team's number two, sometimes number three option. He has a high motor and is at his best in the run game where he has perfected run blocking as a receiver.
If Michigan State puts two sets of eyes on Nick Toon, Chryst and Wilson will have not hesitation or trouble looking Abbrederis' way.
Jacob Pedersen Is the Most Complete Tight End the Badgers Have Had
Bret Bielema has not been shy to say that Jacob Pedersen quite possibly could be the most complete tight end the Badgers have had when he leaves Madison. That is high the praise coming from a coach that has seen the likes of Travis Beckum, Garrett Graham, Owen Daniels and Lance Kendricks come through the program–all are now on NFL rosters.
Pedersen played in every game in 2010 and started four times with Lance Kendricks, now on the St. Louis Rams. Despite sitting the fourth quarter in many of the Badgers' games this season, Pedersen has been able to put up five receiving touchdowns on a spectacular 14 yards per catch.
Michigan State is not shy about blitzing, and Russell Wilson is certainly not shy about getting the ball out of his hands quick. If Pedersen can engage the defender and sell the block and pop off, there is no doubt that the middle of the field will be wide open.
The Wisconsin Offensive Line Will Control the Line of Scrimmage
Life was made easier for the Badger offensive line following the announcement from the Big Ten that Michigan State defensive end, William Gholston, will be serving a one-game suspension.
The offensive line is one of the biggest at any level as they average 6-foot-5 332 pounds across the board. They all have been very public about their respect and pride they take in protecting Russell Wilson.
The offensive line has heard all about the Michigan State defensive. They've heard about the physicality, the speed, the swagger. This offensive line is no stranger to going up against defensive stars as they've head to deal with the likes of Ryan Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Heyward, and Jared Crick over the past two seasons.
There's a reason the Badgers were able to average over five yards per carry last season vs. Michigan State. Again, I don't expect anything different other than better quarterback play from the Badgers.