BCS Rankings 2011: No. 6 Wisconsin Needs to Be Careful at No. 16 Michigan State
For the second time in the past two seasons, the Michigan State Spartans are hoping to play spoiler on Wisconsin's national title aspirations. The Badgers went into East Lansing last year and were handled, despite key injuries to players like Nick Toon and Lance Kendricks.
Bret Bielema and the Badgers didn't need to use those as excuses to losing the game and instead took that loss and used it to build upon the rest of their season, which included a win against No. 1 Ohio State and a Rose Bowl appearance.
Just three weeks removed from a marquee game, Wisconsin is back in another game of the week as they go back up to Michigan State to face the Spartans in a primetime game with ESPN College GameDay in attendance.
Wisconsin is well aware of their struggles on the road when playing Michigan State and here are six reasons why...
Wisconsin Struggles to Beat Michigan State in East Lansing
Since 2002, Wisconsin is just 1-3 in East Lansing, and as a head coach, Bret Bielema has yet to win there. In contrast, Michigan State also has a world of trouble beating Wisconsin in Madison. It goes both ways, and the home team boasts a tremendous home field advantage.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, they are on Michigan State's field this Saturday night, on national television, in front of the Spartan faithful.
Many are starting to believe that the Badgers have a national title type roster, but none of that means anything to Bret Bielema or the Badgers right now. They are not oblivious to their struggles when playing Michigan State on the road.
Badger fans will not be happy if Wisconsin continues its woes in Spartan Stadium. It's time for the Badgers to escape with a win, no matter how ugly.
Michigan State's Physicality on Defense
It may have just been the bitter in-state rivalry with Michigan, but the Spartans showed their reckless abandon on defense as guys that get after the ball.
Did the Spartans defense cross the line against Michigan?
That is up for debate, but there is no doubt how physical this Spartans defense is as they were assessed six penalties for personal fouls, including two roughing the passer penalties.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi gained some unwanted criticism when he said that his unit plays "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness." Nadruzzi later said it was taken out of context, but how will the Badgers react to the very physical play of Michigan State?
If the Badgers feel like the Spartan defenders are getting away with penalties, they must be composed and not retaliate. The stakes are too high.
With the physical nature of the 11 players on Michigan State's defense, experience of playing in a big game becomes everything for the Wisconsin offense.
Michigan State Will Test the Badgers Offensive Line
The Badgers traditionally have one of the best offensive lines in the country and that is well publicized. Their front five average out to be 6'5" and an eye opening 322 pounds. They are no stranger to getting their hands dirty.
Their job was made easier with the announcement of Michigan State defensive end, William Gholston being suspended for his unnecessary play in the Spartans win over the Wolverines.
With or without Gholston, Pat Nadruzzi will test the Badger offensive line and send blitzes left-and-right. There is a reason why the Spartans are second in the Big Ten with 21 sacks. Nadruzzi has no problem blitzing anyone, whether it's linebackers, cornerbacks or safeties.
Peter Konz (C) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "I expect [the blitzes]. Throwing whatever is going to work at us. Thank God our defense does a lot of blitzing. And we saw a lot from Nebraska."
No doubt that Wisconsin is used to seeing blitzing, but none will be more challenging to pick up than Michigan State. The offensive line and backfield must communicate to pick up anyone blitzing from the secondary. It will be Russell Wilson's job to identify that and find the one-on-one matchup.
If the Badgers are able to contain the blitz, they will be in good shape. If there are miscommunications, the Badger offense could be in for a long night.
The Front Seven Must Be Aware of Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell
The Wisconsin defense has been about as solid as you can ask for and is loaded with experience at every level, but their has been some vulnerability in the rush defense. Wisconsin is a respectable 42nd in rush defense in the country, allowing under 3.5 yards per carry.
As a whole, however, they are allowing over 120 yards per game on the ground and have been victim in allowing some big plays. Last week against Indiana, the defense allowed Stephen Houston to dash his way to a 67-yard touchdown run.
Whether or not the Badger run defense looked good other than that big play, it's those types of runs that have made Badger fans skeptical of the validity of this front seven in stopping the run.
For as talented as the linebackers are, both Chris Borland and Mike Taylor have publicly stated that a couple of the big plays allowed by Wisconsin have been on those two for filling the wrong gaps. With an experienced and very good Michigan State backfield, Borland and Taylor cannot make those mental lapses and expect the defense to be successful in this game.
Be Careful, Montee Ball and James White!
Montee Ball is a touchdown machine. James White is a change-of-pace back. Together, they form one of the best running back duos in the country.
Despite nearly have three 1,000-plus-yard rushers last season, Wisconsin's running game may be better this season as both White and Ball have averaged 6 yards per carry and combined for 22 total touchdowns.
The Badgers had no trouble running on the Spartans defense last season, but it's a different year and Michigan State is ranked second in the country in rush defense, behind Alabama.
With William Gholston out, it will make the offensive line's job that much easier to create running room, but it certainly takes more than a single player to yield one of the nation's best run defenses.
Montee Ball and James White will both have to have big games on Saturday evening to keep Wisconsin's balanced offense rolling.
Watch out for the Rush!
No, I am not talking about the pass-rush. I am talking about Michigan State's defensive end, Marcus Rush. He is an undersized product at 6'2" 250 but has an incredible motor and doesn't stop until the whistle.
Whichever side Rush lines up on, Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby cannot take him lightly as he has a low point of attack and has had no trouble getting outside leverage this season en route to 21 tackles (4.5 TFL and 2.0 sacks).
With William Gholston out, Rush realizes he will have to step his game up and the Badger offensive line should know where he is lining up at all times.