Film Review: Here
Well we're about to play Wisconsin, again. We're not favored to win, again. It's not even expected to be close, again. Beating someone twice in a year is really damn hard. Yet, I feel optimistic about this game. Mark Dantonio can be accused of many things but backing down from a real fight is not one of them.
We do not garner the respect of the Badger fans, and despite what the Badger team is saying to the media, this is a revenge game. When QB Russell Wilson was asked why he chose Wisconsin over other schools, he replied that he felt this school gave him the best opportunity to win a national title. Then the Badgers roll into East Lansing and get beat by some SPECIAL teams play and a fluky Hail Mary pass. According to them anyway. This is a revenge game and being dishonest about that is in my opinion disrespectful.
Further, in an article from Monday from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel it was reported that in the secondary ticket market (Stubhub specifically) that thirty-seven percent of the tickets were being bought from Michigan while a scant fourteen percent were being bought from Wisconsin. This implies a couple things that may be true. First, Wisconsin fans are not snapping up tickets because they feel their Rose Bowl berth is an eventuality. Second, Wisconsin fans are staying home because they're national title hopes were torpedoed in East Lansing a few months ago. Maybe both? It doesn't really matter. They're not coming and MSU fans are because they respect their own team and Wisconsin's team. I think the role of underdog coupled with good MSU fan turnout will be a plus for MSU.
The Home Team of this game has won the last seven meetings. While this is not a typical home game for MSU the above evidence of ticket purchasing in the secondary ticket market leans towards this being an MSU favorable game. This is not the critical piece that will win MSU this game, but it will help.
An Interesting Sidebar
The matchup of this game will undoubtedly be MSU's Defense vs. Wisconsin's Offense. Interestingly, two candidates rumored to be the forerunners to replace the Zooker (no one can truly replace him) are MSU Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Wisconsin Offensive Coordinator Paul Chryst. Chryst is currently denying the rumors, but Narduzzi has remained mum on the subject.
Wisconsin's Passing Offense vs MSU Passing Defense
The Michigan State defense will face it's toughest aerial test since they played Wisconsin in October. In case you haven't heard Wilson is on pace to break the NCAA passing efficiency record. Moreover, his last interception came in the fourth quarter of the Michigan State game in October. In the Michigan State game in October Wilson threw two interceptions. In the remainder of Wisconsin's season, he threw just one pick in the other eleven games.
In the match-up round one, MSU sacked Wilson twice and hurried him an additional five times. Wilson threw two picks. You can easily say this was Wilson's worst game of the season despite the fact he was 14/21 for 223, 2 TDs and 2 picks. He also didn't have a pass hit the ground until 8:33 left in the third quarter.
How will this round be different?
Wisconsin's All-American center Peter Konz is either out or playing hobbled this weekend and backup Ryan Groy has not looked ready in relief. Further, William Gholston will be in the house this weekend. What has made our defense special this year is that Worthy + Gholston is too much for five OL to handle.
A concern in the other direction is that Dennard did a very nice job limiting Abbrederis' YAC in Round One and Dennard is coming back from injury this week. Lippett has looked decent in relief, but he is not as sure a tackler. Nick Toon was also coming back from an injury in round one and is totally healthy now.
All in all, I expect a similar performance from Wilson throwing a pick or two on Saturday and because of MSU rushing Wilson into bad throws.
Key Matchup: Jerel Worthy vs. Interior Wisconsin line
Wisconsin's Rushing Offense vs MSU Rushing Defense
The Michigan State defense will face it's toughest rushing test since getting annihilated by Nebraska in late October. I suspect after watching MSU play Nebraska that Wisconsin will wheel out some elements that worked particularly for Nebraska. Montee Ball also will probably not get his bell rung midway through the second quarter and have only five carries in the second half. James White seems to be a quality back, he's like .85 LeVeon Bell, who is of course our BEST running back. In order to slow down this rushing attack our best bet honestly is to put the clamps on Wilson and force them to run more.
MSU has held it's Big Ten opponents 75 yards below their average rushing yardage per game in 2011. That's ridiculous. However, they merely held Wisconsin 26 yards below their average in round one. Again, the return of Gholston could be critical here in couple with the loss of Konz. Ball has improved throughout the year and Wilson hardly ran at all in round one. In my opinion this will continue to be an advantage for the Badgers, the Badgers always run the ball well. Always.
How will this round be different?
It probably won't. Ball carried only five times after getting his bell rung in round one, but averaged 9.4 ypc on those runs. White 3.8 per carry which was a yard or so below his season average. Wisconsin will gash MSU's defense on the ground. MSU will need to keep the bleeding reasonable and hold Wisconsin to their season average or below.
If Worthy and Pickelman can crash the interior line, this could get ugly quick.
Key Matchup: Montee Ball vs MSU Linebackers
MSU's Passing Attack vs Wisconsin's Passing Defense
Kirk Cousins career numbers against Wisconsin are: 62.7 percent passing for 760 yards with 8 TDs and 3 picks and he's always had a positive turnover margin. If you take out the 2009 game when he wasn't even the full-time starter yet, those numbers improve to 70 percent passing for 559, 6 TDs and 2 picks. Kirk Cousins shows up ready to play against Wisconsin. Honestly, I think he knows how to get those Badgers.
From the receivers perspective, Keshawn Martin is healthier than he was during round one and I believe we only lost Dion Sims from the receiver corps. All in all, I like MSU to be better in the passing game than in October.
Key Matchup: Kirk Cousins vs the Badger secondary.
MSU's Rushing Attack vs Wisconsin's Rushing Defense
MSU's run game has really started to gel in the past few weeks. It still will not be a strength for MSU, but it's not the weakness it was even back when MSU played Wisconsin in October. Bell will do a good job poking holes in the defense for Baker to later run through when they're a little more tired. I expect MSU to do a workmanlike job running the ball, but Roushar will be ready to put the ball in Cousins very capable hands at the first sign of distress.
Key Matchup: LeVeon Bell vs Chris Borland
I promise you the following, we will not block a punt for a touchdown and block a field goal to keep three points off the board. That's straight up a ten point swing that MSU will have to generate through better offense and defense. If I'm wrong, excellent, but that second quarter was pretty much the best quarter of Special Team play I have ever seen in round one.
Statistically speaking, their punter gets better yards per punt 41-39. Although I'd suspect Sadler's net average is lower. Muma gets a touchback 22 percent of the time vs 11 for Welch. Keshawn Martin averages 12 yards a punt return to Abbrederis' 17. (Note: Don't kick to Abbrederis if avoidable). Nick Hill averages 25 yards per kick return to Abbrederis' 23. The Badgers Philip Welch is 4/5 on FG for the year vs Conroy's 14/19. Which like, 5 FGA attempted, maybe the Badgers offense really is good.
Key Matchup: Mike Sadler vs Jared Abbrebrreerderrddderis
I have been on a one-man Bielema is a crappy coach rant all year long. That doesn't change here. If he is winning though, he won't be afraid to rub our noses in it. That would suck.
Advantage: Mark Dantonio
I think these teams are pretty much even despite what the national media would say. This entire game is strength on strength. Whoever wins the point of attack between the Offensive and Defensive lines, wins. I think it is absolutely that simple and cliche. I believe the intangibles favor Michigan State, but obviously they're impossible to measure. Oustide of the special teams play, I think the blueprint for a very similar game between both teams is likely.
MSU in my opinion has the superior coach. Earlier this year, I wrote a piece asking the question if Ferentz had Mark Dantonio figured out? With a victory this weekend I might pose the same question of Dantonio and Bielema.
Prediction: See you in Pasadena