A look at this week’s opponent…
The Wisconsin Badgers come to town looking more like a M*A*S*H unit than a football team. The Badgers top two RB’s in Corey Clement & Taiwan Deal are both questionable and not 100% should they play. OL Micah Kapoi and Jon Dietzen are both questionable as is DE Billy Hirschfeld. Out for this game are K Rafael Gaglianone (more on this later), RB Bradrick Shaw, CB Natrell Jamerson. Another key loss is LB Chris Orr who is out for the season.
The Badgers will be giving a freshman QB his first start and it’s coming on the road. We will dig into that in our segment on the MSU defense. In addition to talking about the QB starting as a freshman, Wisconsin is down their first two running backs on the depth chart and will dig into that.
The Badgers are a sound and disciplined team. They won’t beat themselves. They are tough and it is imperative that the Spartans learn from the game that Wisconsin had versus LSU earlier this year, as much as they learned from the Texas win over Notre Dame. More on that later, I promise.
Mark Dantonio summed up this friendly rivalry best this week saying, “Wisconsin is a lot like us in a lot of ways. Big game against LSU. We've had very exciting games with them. We start the Big Ten opener. All kinds of different storylines I think in this football game as we move forward. The games we've had in the past with them have been great games. We've not played them since 2012, the overtime game up there. Had the big games in 2011, two of them, championship-type game, then also the in-season game, which ended on the rocket play. A lot of history, recent history.”
When MSU has the ball…
Let’s look at the LSU game for Wisconsin to identify a key ingredient to their success. In the second half the Tigers were down to the Badgers 13-0. They had a second and seven at the Badger 20. LSU had two tight ends (one right and one left) with one RB and two wide outs split to the left.
The Badgers were in their base 3-4 with the boundary corner lined up in a traditional LB spot. The Badgers sent the SAM linebacker who was split out on the X receiver right up the A gap for a blitz and a loss of four. That same blitz worked three times last season at the Holiday Bowl versus USC. They will create ways to make pressure.
Perhaps no team the Spartans play this season will be as gap sound as the Badgers. They are an amazing display of discipline. That is why it is imperative to attack them and not let them dictate the game. LSU lost (even with better players) because they were rigid to a system and not to winning. MSU proved against Notre Dame that they were keyed on attacking and it showed. That mentality in this game will bring the same victorious results.
Spartan QB Coach Brad Salem said this week about the Badgers, “I think when you look at programs, we are very similar. Kind of cut from the same cloth as far as the same type of kids and toughness. It is two programs, that when you really think about it, have won five out of the last six Big Ten titles. Each of us has been in the championship game in three of five years. It has been competitive. I saw a stat that the point-differential is five points, so it has been a battle. It is a well-coached team. Very sound, very physical. It will be a very physical match and guys will get after each other and compete. You always kind of respect what they do. It has been a great competition for us the last couple of years; we just haven't played each other."
Part of attacking on offense is getting the ball to your playmakers. MSU has them and must utilize them. All afternoon the Badgers will remain about 83% of the time in tight man on man coverage. MSU has to get the ball to the perimeter and down the field to succeed.
Michigan State needs to get the ball in Donnie Corley’s hands. Attacking the perimeter is a big key in this battle and Dantonio knows he is a special player. He said as much. “I think Donnie is an outstanding football player. Has big-play potential. He's going to make a lot of plays for us over these next three years and 10 games.”
While we know that the Badgers are geared to stop the run with single coverage, MSU learned against Notre Dame that you can get amazing rushing yardage when you pass to run. That is the key tomorrow.
When MSU is on defense…
QB Bart Houston started the first three games for the Badgers, going 44 of 71 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He averaged 175.7 yard a game. Now the Badgers are making a change. Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook briefly played versus Akron, and he then led them on two late scoring drives in a tight game against Georgia State last week. Don’t misconstrue that Houston is injured. Should Hornibrook struggle Houston is ready to go.
LB Coach Mark Snyder said of the Badgers offense, "They are very, very tough. They are very well coached. It started with Coach Alvarez. He's going to have a guy in there who knows how to run the ball. Coach Chryst can do that. We will have our hands full. It is a very well-coached football team. Very physical, but we pride ourselves on that as well."
Dantonio talked about facing a team with a two QB scheme. He said, “Yeah, when you have teams that play two quarterbacks, I think the natural thing to do is you take and break your film up and say, Okay, he's quarterbacking these plays, he's quarterbacking these plays, is there a difference? Many times there is, sometimes there's not. You need to make that decision as you go forward and change your game plan based on who is in there and who is not.”
Snyder doesn’t think the Badgers changing QB’s matter that much because of the scheme you see from Wisconsin. Snyder elaborated, “I don't think they are going to change much. Their quarterbacks manage the game. That gives a young guy a chance to play, because all he has to do is manage the game."
Snyder said of the Wisconsin attack, "Blocking people and running really hard and really tough and they don't have any busted assignments. They're not going to beat themselves. They don't get penalties. They don't fumble the football. Paul (Chryst) isn't going to put up with interceptions. They are going to secure the football and punt if they have to. It is not a crime to punt. They are going to punt if they have to and go play defense."
MSU must trust their defensive backs and get plenty of pressure. They need to force the young QB of the Badgers to make quick decisions and thus mistakes. Pressure is the key to this game as well as turnovers.
Remember the rule of five. If MSU wins that, this game is over. For those who don't remember it, it has to do with sacks and turnovers. If the Spartans have three sacks and give up two that means they are plus one. If they then get four turnovers and give up only one that means they are plus three. That would give them a plus four for the day. They want to get to a plus five ratio at least every game. For an understanding MSU was +4 in that category last week versus Notre Dame.
K Rafael Gaglianone is going to miss the game with a bad back. He is 7/8 on field goals this year. Andrew Endicott who has not attempted a field goal in his career at Wisconsin will take his job. This is a major intangible because of the Wisconsin commitment to ball control.
MSU KR Darrell Stewart is awfully close to breaking a kick return for a score. He is such an impressive and explosive player and it is a matter of when not if he will do it.
Mark Snyder mentioned about the decision to let him bring kicks back. "Darrell is explosive. Darrell is coming. He is coming. We are working with him every day. I have told him numerous times, because he is the one that has the breakaway ability. He is the one that can make stuff happen in the return game. But, I have to be able to trust him in making good decisions back there and ball security after he gets the football."
Dantonio was asked this week about the success of his offense for the first 41 minutes and 18 seconds against Notre Dame. How does he bottle that attack mentality for 60?
“…every play is designed to be successful. Every defense is designed to be successful. It's all about execution, fundamentals when you get down to it. I think we have the capability and the athletes to do those things. There's no question in my mind.”
I simply want to see Michigan State come out with their foot on the gas and never let up until the game is over. MSU is better even if the two teams were healthy. Wisconsin isn’t.
If MSU attacks, this is not a close game. If they for some reason do what they did versus Notre Dame at the 3:42 of the third quarter, they will lose. The game is 60 minutes, not 41 minutes and 18 seconds. LSU had superior athleticism and a good OL with one of college football's best players at RB. They stayed stubborn and tried to run on Wisconsin all day and lost the game. They refused to attack the perimeter and the LSU coaches lost the game to the Badgers. That is how Wisconsin would win this game and I don't see that happening.
I think the MSU staff took huge steps attacking Notre Dame. I think they take the next step this week and continue that trend. I say 28-10 Michigan State when they break a long TD run in the 4th quarter trying to run the clock out!