Expect to see…
Predictions for today’s Big Ten Championship Game:
1. A trick play from MSU.
There is no way Dan Roushar doesn’t open up the playbook in this one, unless it’s a blowout…so, like I said, there is no way Roushar doesn’t open up the playbook.
We have seen a variety of trick plays this season, a double-reverse to Keshawn Martin, a double-fake handoff (to Bell and Martin) where Cousins throws downfield to B.J. Cunningham, and Martin throwing a pass off a reverse. Wisconsin will be ready for those, especially the handoff to Martin in any fashion. MSU likely still will run at least one, but another trick play might be in the best interest.
One type of play I have been expecting to see is something involving both Keith Nichol and Martin. Either a double-reverse where Cousins hands off to Martin, who pitches to Nichol, who stops and throws back downfield to Martin running along the sideline or a fake handoff to Martin who takes off down the sideline, Cousins hands off to Nichol, who throws to Martin. Those plays have been screaming to happen for a long time, and if needed today, I hope to see one.
2. A lot of play-action passes from Wisconsin.
As I broke down earlier in the week, the primary goal of the MSU defense should be to slow and contain Montee Ball. If Wisconsin wants to exploit that, play action is its best bet. Having a mobile quarterback in Russell Wilson allows Wisconsin a bevvy of options with play-action, and if Ball gets rolling early, expect Wisconsin to turn to some play action and look deep to Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis. Also, a handoff to Abbrederis is inevitable.
Expect Pat Nadruzzi to dial up blitzes off the edges with Denicos Allen and Johnny Adams to try and counteract the rollout abilities of Wilson.
3. MSU will run the ball early and often.
I wrote earlier in the week that MSU will have to sustain drives and keep the clock moving, and that this involves the run game, of course. Le’Veon Bell has stepped up in the past few weeks and likely will get the start in this game. The first drive, if it’s not a three-and-out, will feature the ball being put in Bell’s hands plenty and give him that opportunity to make some plays and open up the passing game for Cousins.
4. Bret Bielema go for it on fourth down instead of kick a field goal.
If the circumstance arises, knowing what happened last time in East Lansing, Bielema will favor going for it on a fourth-and-short opposed to kicking a long field goal. The Badgers obviously spent extensive practice time in the past month and a half on its punt and field-goal formations, but the risk might get to him and make him go for it instead of kicking. This also would be a time to see a play-action pass from the Badgers.
Don’t expect the Spartans to block another punt…Wisconsin also allowed a blocked punt the following week to Ohio State and will not be giving that chance to the MSU special teams again.
5. Nick Hill breaking a big kickoff return.
The return man on the other side, Abbrederis is one of the best, but Hill has shown a burst and good vision. Beyond being sneaky and quick, Hill has proven he is dynamic this season on kick returns, but he hasn’t broken one all the way yet. Putting his offense in a position to score is his job in this game and I expect him to return at least one kick into Wisconsin territory.
6. Wisconsin blitzing Cousins.
The Spartans have only allowed 15 sacks. The young Spartans offensive line should be tested by the Badgers, because when Cousins is given time, he completes passes. Wisconsin had four sacks in the first meeting, and applied decent pressure on Cousins. The Wisconsin linebackers are pretty talented (two All-Big Ten starters in Borland and Taylor), and should be used in blitz packages. Expect that to be the goal of the Wisconsin defense throughout tonight’s game.
It also wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Badgers double team Cunningham on plays where they blitz heavy, as he is both the quick read on most plays and Cousins’ go-to receiver.
Both sides want this game badly, for different reasons.
Wisconsin wants it to show the loss to Michigan State was nothing. The Badgers thought they should have been in the national title chase at this point, but two late-game losses changed that, now their consolation is to make it to the Rose Bowl.
Michigan State is playing to prove it has taken the next step as a program and go to its first Rose Bowl since 1988. It is a huge amount of pride on the Spartans’ side to win this game and earn their way to the goals they set.
Expect this game to come down to who is the hungrier team.
If you ask me, it will be Michigan State. Spartans win 31-27.