State of the Spartans: Wisconsin

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The Spartans are ready at 4-0 to enter Big Ten play.  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

The Spartans are ready at 4-0 to enter Big Ten play. Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits.

With Coach Dantonio back in action (this week in the booth), the Spartans have a bit of extra confidence heading into Saturday’s showdown versus #7 Wisconsin. The Spartans are riding high after a thorough thrashing of the Northern Colorado in which Michigan State won 45-7. The 24th ranked Spartans certainly have some concerns going into the matchup with the Badgers. However, there is ample evidence that supports a Spartan upset on Saturday.


  • The defense showed great improvement during last week’s bashing of the Bears. The team allowed a mere 147 yards through the air and 266 yards overall against Northern Colorado.
  • The big question heading into the game is whether or not the defense will be able to stop quarterback Scott Tolzien. Ranked 97th in the FBS in overall pass defense, the Spartans struggle to contain the quarterback.
  • The failure of the defense to stop opposing teams’ passing attacks stems from a weak pass rush. Often, quarterbacks have all the time in the world to throw in the pocket. After all, MSU is 105th in the FBS in sacks- it has a mere four sacks this year.
  • The four interceptions in the game against Northern Colorado is certainly encouraging. However, the Spartan defense’s performance in the only game versus a respectable opponent- Notre Dame- was less than stellar.
  • The rush defense will be tested by the stunning skills of star running back John Clay. The junior has 501 yards and 6 touchdowns on the season, and averages an amazing 6.5 yards per rush.
  • So far, no one has figured out how to stop Clay. He has rushed for over 100 yards in each of his four games this season. Even the Spartans, who are 10th in the FBS in rush defense, may struggle to shut down Clay.
  • Which Kirk Cousins will we see on Saturday? Will we see the Kirk Cousins who had 290 yards and 2 TDs versus Northern Colorado or the Kirk Cousins who 186 yards with a TD against Western Michigan and 142 yards with a TD and interception against Florida Atlantic? If the Spartans want to win, it had better be the Kirk Cousins who had a good game against Northern Colorado.
  • Either way, Kirk Cousins will be facing a big challenge in the form of Wisconsin’s defense. The Badgers’ stingy D is ranked sixteenth overall in the FBS and is third in the Big Ten in overall defense.
  • The rush defense of Wisconsin and the rushing offense of Michigan State are relatively even. The Badgers’ rush defense is comparable to that of the Spartans. Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell, who have combined for 845 yards on the season, may have trouble against the Badgers’ defense. However, the double-pronged attack of Baker and Bell have stymied defenses all season.

Often, the difference in a game is turnovers. If this is the case in the bout with Wisconsin, the Spartans are in good shape. One area in which the Badgers struggle is in turnover margin. In fact, the team is eighth in the Big Ten in turnover differential per game. On the season, Michigan State is +6, good for third in the Big Ten. Hopefully, the Spartans will be able to capitalize on this on Saturday.