The Badgers will open Big Ten play this week against a foe that follows them from the basketball court to the gridiron, Mark Dantonio’s No. 12- ranked Michigan State Spartans. The two teams haven’t played on a football field since Michigan State’s 16-13 overtime victory in 2012, but the Badgers look to add a win in the all-time series that stands 30-22, in favor of the Spartans.
Michigan State has played two close games thus far. In its opener against Furman, the Spartans were consistent, scoring a touchdown every quarter to win 28-13 in East Lansing. In its game last week, a Saturday matinee at No. 18 Notre Dame, the Spartans’ defense was on its heels as the Irish mounted a furious comeback in the fourth quarter, but ultimately came up short, 36-28. Michigan State is led by sophomore running back LJ Scott, who has amassed 203 rushing yards and two touchdowns in as many games. Fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor is the Spartans’ leader in the pocket and has led his team to two victories behind 431 passing yards and five touchdowns. Still, O’Connor has been susceptible to mistakes airing it out, as he has thrown an interception each game this season, so look out for the Badgers’ secondary to keep up their ball-hawking ways this Saturday.
Michigan State will need to fortify its defense as they are recovering from a blazing fourth quarter comeback by the Irish last Saturday. Seemingly having the game in hand leading 36-7, the Spartans defense lost focus, and the Irish made them pay, closing the gap to 36-28 with even a last-gasp chance to tie late in the fourth quarter. With the game on the line, the Spartans’ Raequan Williams came up huge with a sack on third and second, forcing the Irish to punt the ball—and subsequently the game—away.
Accordingly, the Spartans’ timely defense has capitalized on its opportunities this year, with two fumbles recovered and an interception against the Irish, along with an additional interception against Furman. Look for the Spartans to pressure the Wisconsin quarterback this week much like how LSU did, forcing either Bart Houston or Alex Hornibrook to make tough throws into tight coverage. Interceptions could turn what should be a close game in favor of Michigan State.
The Spartans have been hurt by penalties this year, totalling 165 yards on 13 calls against them. With both teams having threats on both sides of the ball, any penalty will prove crucial in this dogfight of a matchup.
With points being at a premium, special teams—and kicking in particular—may prove to be the separating factor. Michigan State’s kicker Michael Geiger has been a perfect, eight-of-eight, on extra points this season, but missed his lone field goal attempt against Furman. His lack of field goal attempts pales in comparison to his counterpart’s, as Gaglianone has attempted eight field goals and only missed one. Pay attention to Geiger in a game-on-the-line situation if it arises Saturday, as he has not been battle-tested thus far.
This game will be a huge addition to Michigan State’s playoff resume, as a home victory against a top-25 conference rival will be something the Spartans can point to when making their case to the committee come playoff time. East Lansing will be rocking come Saturday, and look for the Spartans to come out determined to show the nation what they’re made of.