How Michigan State can beat the Badgers (again)
The Spartans had plenty go their way in the first meeting, from special teams plays to facemask deflections, this edition of Wisconsin-Michigan State will require these three things for the Spartans to be victorious:
1. Contain Montee Ball.
Simply put, you cannot stop Ball, he is too dynamic, but to slow and contain him is something the Spartan defense can do and MUST do. He racked up 115 yards on 18 carries in the first meeting, while missing a series in the second quarter, and often ran right through arm-tackle attempts. If I am Pat Narduzzi, I set my sights on slowing Ball. With Peter Konz likely out, Jerel Worthy should be able to lead a strong push up the middle — where Wisconsin most likes to run Ball.
Make Russell Wilson beat you, he showed in the first meeting that he can be pressured into making bad throws — when kept in the pocket, outside the pocket he can make too many plays with his legs. I say you make Wilson beat you Saturday. The Michigan State defense, while ranked No. 1 against the run, is particularly strong against the pass when the front seven get after the quarterback and give the secondary chances to make plays. Again, with Konz likely out, and Will Gholston playing this time for MSU, pressure should be constant from a team that racked up 38 sacks. There can be no double team on Worthy, or Gholston, from the offensive line and they should be free to get in the backfield. Which leads me to my next key…
2. Force turnovers.
Michigan State is among the top 10 nationally with 16 interceptions and two of those came from Wilson on Oct. 22 — two of his three interceptions thrown. The thing that stands out about the Spartans secondary is the playmaking ability. Johnny Adams, Isaiah Lewis, Trenton Robinson and Darqueze Dennard are ballhawks in the defensive backfield. They are quick, athletic and they cover well. If MSU can slow down Ball early and force Wisconsin to throw, it will give the secondary chances to make big plays and get the ball back into the hands of Kirk Cousins.
3. Control time of possession (offensive efficiency).
The best recipe for success against Wisconsin is sustaining drives that result in points. This breaks down to three factors:
— Convert third downs. In the first meeting, Cousins was 10-of-14 on third down, with eight completions resulting in a first down. As a whole, MSU was 8-of-16 on third down. Sustaining drives and keeping the ball out of Wisconsin’s hands cannot be stressed enough.
— Getting the running game going. Simple enough, run plays keep the clock moving. Le’Veon Bell has been running well in a few consecutive games, and the offense will need him to rack up yards rushing and wear down the Wisconsin defense — as well as set up play-action and the passing game.
— Play calling. Frankly, offensive coordinator Dan Roushar will have to be on his game Saturday as he was in the first meeting. Plays like a third-down five-yard curl route for Dion Sims (completed for the first down) are essential. Putting Cousins in a position to complete passes and keep the clock ticking is Roushar’s responsibility.