GAME NOTES: A pair of undefeated and ranked Big Ten clubs come together in East Lansing this weekend, as the No.11 Wisconsin Badgers square off against the No.24 Michigan State Spartans in the league opener for both programs.
In their final tuneup before the start of Big Ten play, the Badgers were dominant, tallying a 70-3 victory last weekend over Austin Peay, a FCS program.
"During the course of the week, what we really preached to the kids was to play the game the way it needs to get played," stated head coach Bret Bielema. "It doesn't matter what your opponent is. Respect all, fear none."
The 70 points set a new school record, eclipsing the previous mark of 69 set in a triumph of New Mexico State in 1962. The win helped Wisconsin move into Big Ten play without a blemish for the seventh consecutive year. Things though, are about to get a whole lot tougher following a less than impressive non-conference schedule.
As for the Spartans, they too posted a convincing victory over a FCS opponent in their final warm-up before the Big Ten schedule, taking a 45-7 decision over Northern Colorado last weekend. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell ran the show in place of head coach Mark Dantonio, who was recovering from a mild heart attack.
"Let's begin with certainly a win is a win," said Treadwell. "Certainly excited as a Spartan fan to be 4-0. There's no question about that. Our hats off to our boss, Coach Mark Dantonio. We are hoping that he was able to watch the game, in I don't know if I can use the word peace or not."
The Spartans, who are gunning for their first 5-0 start since 1999, won't likely have Dantonio on the sideline this weekend, though he should be more involved.
"I would expect to be in the box on Saturday," said Dantonio at a press conference on Tuesday. "I just think walking around out there for three hours might be a little bit tiring. But that would be my initial plan at this point."
With regard to the all-time series, MSU holds a 27-21 edge over Wisconsin, although the Badgers posted a 38-30 victory in Madison last season.
The Badgers scored a TD each of their first nine possessions, didn't commit a turnover for the second straight game and had only one penalty in dominant performance against APSU last weekend. Furthermore, the Badgers totaled 618 yards of offense, including 346 on the ground, in the rout.
Freshman RB James White got a chance to showcase his stuff with the game well out of reach, as he toted 11 times for 145 yards and four TDs.
"James is a very gifted football player with great speed and, again, because he's not out there every down, he comes in with those fresh legs and it really benefits everybody," said Bielema.
The reason why White doesn't get more carries is Wisconsin has one of the top backs in the nation in John Clay. The bruising runner had 118 yards and a TD on 15 carries last weekend, extending his streak to 10 straight games with at least 100 yards on the ground. He now has 501 yards and six scores on the season, pacing a Wisconsin ground attack that is managing a healthy 257.5 ypg.
QB Scott Tolzien hasn't had to air it out too much with the success on the ground, but when given the chance, he has been extremely accurate, converting 76.2 percent of his pass attempts. Just like most of the starters, Tolzien enjoyed a big game last weekend, passing for 217 yards and three TDs on 15- of-17 throws. Lance Kendricks was his main target with six receptions for 103 yards and a score, and his 299 receiving yards for the season are more than double any other player on the roster.
Wisconsin's defense also turned in a terrific effort last weekend, holding APSU to just 157 total yards. The unit gave up just 42 yards on the ground, and the Badgers have been stout versus the run this year, permitting just 94.5 ypg and one TD. The defense however, could stand to make a few more big plays, as the unit has just three takeaways and eight sacks to its credit.
Louis Nzegwu, who wasn't much of a factor last weekend, currently leads the defense with 17 stops and two sacks, to go with four TFLs. He has played a big part on third downs, helping Wisconsin limit opponents to just a 27 percent conversion rate in such situations.
Much like Wisconsin, MSU likes to get the job done on the ground and the team enters the weekend averaging 231.5 rushing ypg. The Spartans gained 201 of their 532 total yards on the ground last weekend, averaging 5.4 yards per carry in the win over Northern Colorado.
"It was phenomenal," said sophomore TB Edwin Baker on the team going over 200 rushing yards once gain. "We have to keep that going, keep that motor going. We need to stay hungry and keep doing our job."
Baker had 59 yards and a score on 11 carries in the win, while Le'Veon Bell led the charge with 92 yards and three TDs on 11 totes. The duo have been tremendous for MSU thus far, averaging over eight yards per carry, while combining for 845 rushing yards and 12 TDs.
Kirk Cousins has benefited from the ground game's success and he has completed 67.0 percent of his pass attempts, with six scores and two INTs. Last weekend, Cousins was nearly flawless, as he hit on 16-of-20 throws for 290 yards and two scores.
MSU's defense was stout last weekend as well, with the unit holding Northern Colorado to only 266 total yards. The Spartans came up with four INTs, while limiting Northern Colorado to just a 9-of-28 effort on passes. It was certainly a nice effort from a unit that has struggled against the pass, allowing 252.5 ypg and eight scores through the air thus far. MSU, though, has been tough against the run, permitting 85.2 ypg and one TD on the ground, and this group will certainly be challenged by Wisconsin's attack.
All-American candidate Greg Jones currently leads the Spartans in tackles with 33 and he also came up with a team-high two INTs last weekend. Add in a sack and three forced fumbles for the season and Jones has proven he can make big plays.
This is a big test for both clubs, as neither has faced a ranked opponent up to this point. Go with the Badgers, as they appear to have more experience and a little better running game as well as defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 27