For the inside scoop on the Spartans there is no better place to go than The Only Colors. So we asked TOC contributor Pete Rossman a few questions about Saturday's game at Michigan State. My answers to his questions can be found here.
B5Q: There's no question that Mark Dantonio's health is the biggest storyline entering Saturday's game. How much input will he have from the coaching box? Will he still be making the big decisions that all head coaches make during a game?
TOC: The amount of input he will have hasn't really been speculated on by the press this week. He's not the main play caller for the offense or defense; both the coordinators cover those duties. However, I still assume that when the time comes to make a critical play call much like the fake field goal two weeks ago, he'll be the one to do it. I assume he'll also make all the 4th down and field goal decisions as well. I'd expect at least one trick play call for the Spartan offense on Saturday, and for the hell of it, I predict a flea flicker.
B5Q: Badger fans still feel like Bret Bielema lost the game at Michigan State in 2008. His sideline infraction that cost UW 15-yards and his decision to call a timeout that helped set up the game-winning field goal for the Spartans are still bitter memories in Wisconsin. I'm curious how MSU fans view that game. Do they feel like Bielema handed them one?
TOC: I can't speak for everyone, but his curious decisions definitely helped MSU win that game. However, plenty of blame can be spread around for that comeback. The defense wasn't able to hold an 11 point lead with less than nine minutes left, and two penalties on 3rd and 1 during Wisconsin's final real drive killed any shot they had of running out the clock. If Bielema handed Michigan State the game -- and believe me, did he ever with two of the nuttiest reactions I've seen a Big Ten coach have this side of John L. Smith -- it was only because the players gave him the opportunity.
B5Q: It appears Wisconsin and Michigan State are very similar in nature. That's probably most evident in the running game where both teams run multiple backs out there throughout the game. Explain why Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell are so good and will they be able to have success against a UW defense that is pretty stout against the run?
TOC: Their success starts with the offensive line, which has greatly improved its run blocking this year. Edwin Baker was an Army All-American in high school, so his success isn't surprising. At 5'9" he's a shorter back, but he's well-built at 208 pounds. One of his main assets is that he changes gears quite quickly. On his 56-yard TD run against Notre Dame he found his blockers, followed them to the second level, and blew by the secondary to the end zone. Le'Veon Bell has really been a revelation this year, as he was a two-star recruit who enrolled early, and my word has he been impressive.
With Bell, there's two things I notice. The first is that his lower body is impressively fluid, as his feet constantly keep moving no matter who's in front of him. The other is his ability to take a hit. Manti Te'o came at him full speed and he was able to shrug him off. When a back can do that, that's a pretty good indication that he'll make it in the Big Ten. As for Wisconsin's rush defense, I don't think the Spartans will be as successful on the ground as they've been in past weeks, but I still like MSU's chances to do a good bit of damage with Bell and Baker.
B5Q: We know Greg Jones is really good, but can the Spartans' defense stop John Clay, James White and Montee Ball?
TOC: Uh, possibly? The Spartans did hold Clay to about 4.5 yards a carry last year. That's not a great number, but considering how good he is, that's not horrible either. Michigan State has been quite stout against the run this season; they rank 10th in the FBS in yards allowed. However, that's because teams lean heavily on the pass when they play MSU, and the Spartans haven't faced a back of John Clay's caliber yet. I'm a little worried about White and Bell being able to spell Clay enough so he's fresh, but I think the defense should be able to get a few stops on them. Truth be told, I'm more concerned about Lance Kendricks getting open in the middle of the field. State's linebackers aren't the best in coverage, and a good tight end could do some serious damage.
B5Q: Prediction time. Give me a score and a quick summary of how you think this one will play out.
TOC: These offenses are mirror images of one another - two run-first teams with efficient quarterbacks who can throw to multiple talented receivers. I'm not sure how many screens or short passes Wisconsin's thrown so far this season, but I wouldn't be surprised to see more than usual. That's how every team has attacked MSU this season, and it's shown - they rank 1st in the FBS in passes attempted against.
As for MSU's defense, I assume they'll try to run the ball first, which will cause a few three and outs. However, I do expect the run to set up a few big plays, with either Baker or Bell busting one for at least 30 yards. I expect Kirk Cousins will revert to the steady, patient quarterback seen last week against Northern Colorado. This will be a close game. If MSU's red zone defense can force field goals, I'll consider that a victory. However, I think Wisconsin's offense is slightly better at this point in the season, and I think the Badgers win a close game, 28-24.