#15 Spartans vs. #4 Wisconsin, 10/23/2011

Week 8: #15 Michigan St. (5-1, 2-0 Big 10 Legends) vs. #4 Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big 10 Leaders)

I’d like to start this post off by expressing my pleasure with the fact that Sparty beat Michigan last Saturday. Again. They made the seemingly superhuman Michigan QB Denard Robinson look less than mortal, holding him to below half of his total yardage output through the first 5 games of the season. Actually, Robinson was just beat up. Literally, to the point that he was forced to leave the game late with an injury to his sternum after a late hit at the hands of Sparty DE Marcus Rush. In between, MSU’s defense did what they could to make the game as gory as possible. Robinson’s head was almost ripped off by DE William Gholston (for which Gholston was suspended by the Big 10 for one game) and the unit committed six–yes, six–personal fouls. Michigan fans cried foul during the game, understandably. To make matters worse (for Michigan), MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi stated after the game that the Spartans tried to play “60 minutes of

Senior DT Kevin Pickelman caresses Paul Bunyan.

unnecessary roughness” against the Wolverines. MSU athletic director Mark Hollis apparently reprimanded Narduzzi, chalking his comments up to a little too much postgame passion.

Regardless of that, this is the game that every Sparty fan waits for: The Battle For The Paul Bunyan Trophy. With Michigan entering the game undefeated at 6-0 and its fanbase growing cockier and cockier with each passing second, Sparty’s defense quieted the noise by absolutely mauling Michigan’s once high-powered offense. Michigan barely mustered more than half of their total yardage output and scored almost 3 times less than their average. Surely, Robinson’s Heisman hopes have taken a huge fall. While Robinson enjoyed greatsuccess, it had come against mostly terrible teams that weren’t prepared to deal with either his passing or running ability. Forced to actually make plays moving the ball through the air, Robinson completed 9 of 23 passes for 123 yards and his backup, Devin Gardner completed 3 of 7 passes for 45 yards. While Michigan had allowed only two sacks through 5 games, MSU racked up 7 against them last Saturday. Similar to last year, he put up video game numbers before running into a MSU defense that wasn’t going to allow him to turn the game into his own personal highlight reel. On top of all that unfortunateness, Michigan and its fans will have to wait another year to see if they can wrest the Paul Bunyan Trophy from us. Moving on…

Tonight’s battle is a completely different challenge. Sparty’s defense went up against an almost playground-style offense last Saturday. Wisconsin’s is a fine-tuned machine. North Carolina State “transfer” QB Russell Wilson is having by far the best season of his collegiate career and the running game is strong, as this is usually a staple of a Wisconsin offense. Wisconsin is winning games by an average score of 50-10, and they obliterated Nebraska at home 3 weeks ago, 48-17. There have been games in the past when it looked as if Wisconsin was trying to do nothing more than run up the score, but they that hasn’t been the case this year. Their offense is enabling them to abuse the opposition early and often. The arguments against Wisconsin’s torrid offense are that besides the Nebraska game, the Badgers have played a weak schedule. While the Spartans defense is nationally ranked in the top-3 in major categories, the same argument has been used against them. Regardless of what the naysayers and nitpickers have to say, Sparty will have to for the second consecutive week do its best to slow down a high-powered offense. The task will most likely be more difficult, as Wilson is the country’s most efficient quarterback and doesn’t make many, if any mistakes. Sparty must also limit the Badgers 3rd down conversions, which is exactly what they were able to do to Michigan last week. The Wolverines converted only 3 of 15 3rd downs, having entered the game with a 61% in that department. Wisconsin sits at 60.3% and it will be a long day for Sparty and its defense if Wisconsin is close to that number tonight.

MSU’s offense will have to pull their share of the weight tonight, especially the running game. QB Kirk Cousins managed the game last week, but it was RB Edwin Baker who stole the show. After rushing for 161 yards over his previous 4 games combined, he broke out for 167 against a Michigan defense that had been solid all season. I doubt that we’ll see the same from Baker tonight against an overall better Wisconsin defense, but if he has 25-30 carries by the end of the night, it most likely means that the Spartans have won. Of course, Cousins will have to make his share of plays, and he can easily do that by feeding stud WR B.J. Cunningham the ball whenever he gets the chance. Backup RB Le”Veon Bell is a more than capable #2, and Sparty offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will surely incorporate him into the offensive gameplan as well. I suppose if there’s a weakness on this Wisconsin team, it’s their run defense, which at 42nd nationally in yards allowed per game might not even be that much of a weakness.

MSU won last year’s game againts Wisconsin 34-24, which was also played at Spartan Stadium. Unlike last year’s Badgers team, Wisconsin’s QB is not a mediocre Scott Tolzien, who completed 11 of 25 passes for 127 yards. Wilson is not only a threat to beat you with his arm, but with his feet as well. At 5’11”, 201 lbs., he’s a tough runner and has carried the ball 24 times for 182 yards and 2 scores. However, this is a different, nastier MSU defense. While they may have been excessively physical against Michigan last week, the end result was a desired one. MSU’s defensive line probably won’t manhandle the Wisconsin offensive line the way it did Michigan’s but it will take a strong effort from the front four in order to contain the Badgers potent offense down.

Key Badgers:

QB Russell Wilson: 1557 YDS, 14 TD, 1 INT, 74 CMP%, 210.93 RAT

RB Montee Ball: 107 CAR, 653 YDS, 6 TD

WR Nick Toon: 25 CAT, 447 YDS, 6 TD

Key Spartans:

QB Kirk Cousins: 1317 YDS, 8 TD, 4 INT, 66 CMP%, 140.48 RAT

RB Edwin Baker: 88 CAR, 419 YDS, 2 TD

WR B.J. Cunningham: 42 CAT, 621 YDS, 2TD

DT Jerel Worthy: 12 TKL, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 SACKS

MSU Offense (national ranking in parentheses):

Total: 387.17 ypg (66), Passing: 244.3 ypg (46), Rushing: 142.83 ypg (66), Scoring: 28 ppg (65)

Wisconsin Offense:

Total: 523.17 ypg (8), Passing: 265.7 ypg (31), Rushing: 257.5 ypg (7), Scoring: 50.17 ppg (1)

MSU Defense:

Total: 173.4 ypg (1), Passing: 119.2 ypg (1), Rushing: 67 ypg (3), Scoring: 10.8 ppg (4)

Wisconsin Defense:

Total: 264.2 ypg (7), Passing: 144.8 (3), Rushing: 123.17 (42, Scoring: 9.7 ppg (3)

I would love to see Sparty win tonight. It’s a home game on national television against the 4th-ranked team in the country. With the refs’ eyes sure to focused on their defense, Sparty will have to play remotely clean. That edge they’d been playing with seemed to give them just that: an edge. Without it and one of their best defensive players against a powerful Wisconsin offense, I’m not sure I want to put my money on Sparty being able to come close to scoring 50 points. Hell, they barely average more than half of that. The Badgers will get some revenge and in the process send a message to their doubters that they are indeed for real.

Wisconsin, 31-14.

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