A look at this week’s opponent…
The Michigan State vs. Wisconsin Badgers’ game has become a great rivalry every year. Even Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said of it this week, “I don’t know how many times I heard last year, if you didn’t care who won those games, they were really fun games to watch. From that standpoint, they’re fun. It really gets down to always you got a couple of key plays offensively that go for scores, and a huge factor, special teams has been a factor, really positively or negatively for us in every game. Playing Michigan State, you’ve got to be on the unexpected, whether it be fake opportunities in the special teams arena or blocks on their punts. So really got to be on top of our toes in every aspect.”
The Badgers are 6-2 (3-1) and rated #25 in the nation. They are having no issues scoring as their offense is getting them 27.5 points per game. They are averaging 383 yards in offense per game and only allowing 18 points per game and 315 yards.
When MSU has the ball…
Over the last three games, the Badgers are taking the ball away an average of five times per game. Spartan fans know what to expect. The Badgers are going to come after MSU. They will load the box and try to punish the Spartans for running and pummel Maxwell when passing.
Last week, the Spartans began to incorporate better the short passing game and they will need to keep doing that this week. Once again, MSU will need to use the pass to set up the run. The Badgers aren’t afraid to put their CBs on an island like Michigan State does, and MSU will have to penalize them for it. If MSU can connect early and force the Badgers to accommodate the improving MSU passing game, the Spartans can win.
Last week against Michigan, the Spartans had what I think was their best drive of the year. Earlier this week MSU QB Andrew Maxwell addressed what made that so successful. He said, “We got into the flow of the offense, the flow of the game. I thought the play calling on that drive was great. We were in the same formation. We were calling different plays. We were giving the defense different looks from the same sets. We had guys making plays. The good thing about that drive is we didn’t have a huge play. It was kind of chunks at that time. It was eight yards, 13 yards, 10 yards. That just shows what kind of offense we can be when we are executing, we have the confidence, get the ball rolling.”
If MSU is going to beat the Badgers they will have to mimic that drive. They took the game to Michigan. They attacked. They made the Wolverines the victim rather than being victimized.
Dantonio knows that his offense has been anemic. He doesn’t need the stats, he sees it. He said of the lack of explosive plays, “I would say we’re missing the explosive plays right now. We’ve been battling some injuries in the offensive line. Those hamper some different things. Le’Veon has been nicked up a little bit in and out. We’re not using the two‑tailback system for whatever reason, because we’re just trying to get the ball in Le’Veon’s hands maybe more. But I guess the answer to your question, yeah, we’re lacking it. I don’t really know any other way to put it out there. Yeah, we’re lacking the explosive plays.”
Bielema said of LeVeon Bell and the MSU offense, “First off, he’s a phenomenal running back. He’s powerful. He’s athletic. He’s fast. He’s got the ability to break tackles. He’s got the ability to make people miss. They’ve gone through some transition offensive line-wise. One of the first things I do on Sundays and Mondays is look at film. You see a lot of different numbers at their offensive line position, so you know they’re going through some transition there.”
He went on to add, “I understand that people want to come down on quarterbacks just like they want to try to come down on mine. I think for the outside world that aren’t educated, that’s very common. But their quarterback’s getting better.”
He concluded with, “It’s something that I think our defensive coaches really, really can get a grasp on is that Bell is doing as much as he can, but in those games when they weren’t really catching the ball well at wide receiver, people were able to focus and take away Bell. But now those receivers are coming along. Statistically, it may not show up as good, but they’ve gotten better, and they’ve lost some very tough games. I draw similarities to our offense all the time.”
When MSU is on defense…
Well, here is what Bielema thinks. He said of the MSU DC Pat Narduzzi, “Pat’s always been aggressive in nature. No doubt in my mind that they’ll bring pressure. Depending on the situation, depending on our personnel groupings. The good news is Joel (Stave) is a guy that’s been through some situations. Everybody has been bringing pressure on us. Got to have a great plan for him, not just prior to the snap but also during the snap itself. We saw last week where he needs to get rid of the football in certain situations. It will be fun. I know our guys will take a lot of — the guys around him will try to do their best to try to protect him as well.”
Bielema thinks the MSU DE group is loaded. He said of William Gholston, “I go back to recruiting, and Gholston, obviously, because of — I guess it would be his cousin, I guess, that played at Ohio State. I remember when he came over on an official visit — not official, unofficial — as a sophomore, and you could see him big pretty –and does all the right things, and on film just kept getting better and better. I remember when I first watched Rush on film as a high school player, his heartbeat, his intensity, had a lot of football ability as well, but just how hard he plays. And with that being said, to me, he’s a guy that’s under the radar big time about just what he — a lot of times when there’s a big play defensively, he’s directly involved with it. Gholston stands out just because of the physical presence, but you’ve got two really, really good players there. I think the part that’s (Max) Bullough on the inside too has taken a step forward too as a player that really covers up well behind everybody else.”
Michigan State must continue to stay on the attack. They have to force the Wisconsin QB to make snap decisions. He can pick you apart if you don’t. Montee Ball is a stud and their other RB James White was close to being a Spartan. I think he is a better back than Ball. They are a dynamic duo. Moving guys into the box is important, and blitzing when they don’t run will ONLY work if the Spartans get pressure.
Dantonio is well aware of the threat posed by the Badger dynamic duo. He said, “They’re both outstanding runners. I would say Melvin Gordon is of that type, too. James is a smaller back, very explosive. They use him certain ways. Montee Ball, great jump cutter, physical, vertical runner. I don’t know how many touchdowns. I’ve lost how many touchdowns he’s had, over 60 in his career. Outstanding football team, outstanding players.
As I said at the beginning of this thing, I got a lot of respect for how they’ve gone about and done business in terms of get it done on the ground, play‑action. Abberderis is an outstanding receiver. Quarterback is doing a nice job, not turning the ball over very much. Big physical offensive line. Sort of retooled, tight ends play well defensively, solid, very solid.”
The key for MSU on D is to stack the box and bring heat all the time. If you don’t see pressure on Joel Stave you know that it is a long day for the Spartans. If the Spartans are getting pressure, the Spartans can win it. Make no mistakes that the Spartans must get turnovers and stops. They may even need to score to win this game.
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.
How will MSU respond? These are great kids, but you can only be up and down emotionally so much. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows as you have heard coaches and players say time and time again this year after head scratching performances how they had great practices.
MSU is playing for so much. With such a young team, do they truly grasp that?
The Spartans are desperate to stop the bleeding. They need something good to happen to hold on to. The Badger D is playing at a high level coming into this game and we all know that the Spartans anemic offense is killing their chances of winning.
The offense has yet to play their best game. The defense has played several good games. Is this the weekend when the Spartan D runs out of gas while the offense keeps sputtering? That environment and far away concerns me. I saw some good drives last week. I also saw them go away from what was working also.
In the end, the MSU defense can’t carry the mail every single week. I think the Badgers pull away with a late touchdown and beat the Spartans 24-14. I sure hope I am wrong. We know MSU can win; it is up to them to execute and do those things.