East Lansing, MI – The fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers are ranked Michigan State on Saturday night in East Lansing.
Wisconsin has won all six of its games this season in blowout fashion, as the smallest margin of victory has been 31 points. For the third time, the Badgers topped 50 points last weekend in a 59-7 romp over Indiana. Wisconsin is 6-0 for the first time under head coach Bret Bielema and the first time since 2004. It is just the sixth time since 1900 that the Badgers have started a season with six straight wins, and the club has won its last 13 regular season games dating back to last season.
"To play on the road in the Big Ten and win is a totally different ball game, one that we have learned," said Bielema, looking forward to this weekend's tilt. "I think our guys will embrace the opportunity, it's very unique and one where you have to play disciplined football."
Michigan State is certainly capable of challenging the Badgers, especially in front of the home crowd. The Spartans have won their last three outings, including back-to-back wins over Ohio State and in-state rival Michigan. Last weekend's 28-14 triumph over the previously unbeaten Wolverines took place at home as well where the club is now 4-0.
"I was smiling," said Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio after the win over Michigan last week. "Big win. It was a big win for our football team, our program. It was a program win."
The Spartans own a 28-21 all-time series advantage over the Badgers, which includes wins in two of the last three meetings.
The Badgers have been among the nation's most dominant and consistent offensive teams this season, as they are averaging 50.2 ppg and 523.2 total ypg. They have already scored 40 offensive touchdowns, 25 of which have come on the ground. Montee Ball has already run for 16 scores, pacing a talented backfield with 653 yards and a 6.1 ypc average. However, the true star of the offense is quarterback Russell Wilson. A Heisman contender, Wilson has completed 74.2 percent of his passes for 1,557 yards and 14 touchdowns with one interception, and he has also rushed for a pair of scores. Add standout receivers like Nick Toon (25 rec, 447 yds, six TDs) to the mix and there are plenty of weapons in the fold.
In the rout of Indiana last weekend, Wisconsin churned out 524 total yards and didn't commit a single turnover. Ball ran for 142 yards and three touchdowns, and he threw a touchdown pass to Wilson on the game's most memorable play. Speaking of Wilson, he threw for 166 yards and a score.
As tremendous as the UW offense has been thus far, the defense has been equally as impressive. The Badgers have been able to limit opponents to 9.7 ppg and 268.0 total ypg, and they have been stellar against both the run and the pass. Opposing quarterbacks have managed just three passing scores in six games with seven interceptions, and opposing runners are gaining a modest 3.5 yards per carry. Keep an eye on Chris Borland, as he has 58 tackles and 8.5 TFL to his credit thus far.
Indiana could get little going against the Badgers last week, as Wisconsin permitted just 8-of-20 passes to be completed for a mere 64 yards while registering a pair of interception. If there is a negative to point out from the performance, it is clearly that the Badgers permitted 223 rushing yards at a clip of 5.0 yards per attempt.
The Michigan State offense hasn't been nearly as potent as Wisconsin's unit, but the Spartans are still scoring 28.0 ppg to go along with 387.2 ypg. The club struggles to run the football, managing a modest 3.8 yards per carry. That puts added pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins to put up big numbers every time out, and he has played fairly well so far. The talented signal caller has completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,317 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions. B.J. Cunningham is clearly the top target on the outside, as he has 42 catches for 621 yards.
Last week against Michigan, the Spartan ground attack was surprisingly strong, accounting for 213 of the team's 333 total yards. Edwin Baker posted 167 rushing yards and a touchdown on 26 carries to lead the charge, and while Cousins didn't post big yardage numbers, he did throw two touchdowns with no interceptions.
The strength of this MSU squad is the defense, a unit that has been utterly dominant thus far. Foes are scoring just 10.8 ppg against Michigan State, which is only permitting 186.2 total ypg, a staggeringly low figure. Just 67 rushing ypg are being surrendered on a meager 2.2 yards per attempt, and opposing quarterbacks have completed fewer than 50 percent of their passes.
Michigan has a dynamic quarterback who leads a productive offense, so the Spartans deserve a great deal of credit for limiting the Wolverines to two touchdowns last week. MSU surrendered only 2.3 yards per rushing attempt, and permitted just 12-of-31 passes to be completed.