Bret Bielema and the Badgers face a stiff road test at Michigan State Saturday night.
Sam Zastrow (+91): Wisconsin 31, Michigan State 13
Adam Hoge (+93): Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 20
Jake Harris (+93): Wisconsin 31, Michigan State 20
Louis Bien (+93): Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 27
John Veldhuis (+100): Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 17
Chuck Schwartz (+101): Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 17
Phil Mitten (+122): Wisconsin 30, Michigan State 24
Adam Tupitza (+130): Wisconsin 28, Michigan State 24
With Halloween on the horizon and temperatures in Madison expected to dip into the 30s tonight, a true road game for the Badgers is long overdue. While Wisconsin has been consistently dominant at Camp Randall Stadium during Bret Bielema's tenure as head coach, the story has not been the same on the road. The team's record away from Madison was just 4-8 over the course of the 2007 and 2008 seasons.
Things began to change during last season's Big Ten championship run, as the Badgers picked up gutty wins at Iowa and at Michigan on their way to an 11-1 regular-season record. The success has been partially the result of a new philosophy from Bielema, who now encourages his players to embrace the experience of playing in a hostile environment, rather than pretending the conditions are the same.
Still, Wisconsin has not won at Michigan State since 2002, and each of the team's last three losses there were uniquely disappointing for various reasons. It doesn't help that Michigan State looks like a solid team this season and that Saturday's game will be played at night.
The most anticipated matchup in this one is the Badgers' first-ranked scoring offense against the Spartans' third-ranked scoring defense. Something has to give when an offense averaging 50.2 points per game meets a defense allowing just 10.8 points per game.
Wisconsin secured a slight advantage earlier this week when the Big Ten suspended Spartans linebacker William Gholston for the game in response to his display of unsportsmanlike conduct in last week's win over Michigan. Gholston's absence will hurt Michigan State's pass rush as the Spartans attempt to overcome the Badgers' stout offensive line and get to quarterback Russell Wilson. Still, MSU gives up just 67 rushing yards per game, which means Wilson will need to be sharp if Montee Ball and James White can't get it going on the ground.
If the battle between Wisconsin's offense and Michigan State's defense ends in a draw, expect the reverse matchup to give the Badgers the overall edge. Quarterback Kirk Cousins leads a Michigan State offense that has looked pedestrian thus far. His 7.61 yards per attempt are his lowest in a season since 2008, and his quarterback rating of 140.5 is his lowest ever for a season. He has four interceptions to go with his eight touchdowns, despite facing just one ranked team over the first six games of the season.
A rebuilt offensive line has contributed to the Spartans ranking 67th in the country in rushing yards per game. Wisconsin's defense has quietly allowed just 9.7 points per game, good for third in the nation. David Gilbert remains out at defensive end and Patrick Butrym will be limited due to an ankle injury, but the Badgers' linebackers have been solid and the secondary is strong with Antonio Fenelus playing as well as any corner in the league.
Wisconsin gave up a punt return for a touchdown last time these teams met, and punter Brad Nortman is determined to avoid any line drive kicks this time around. The Badgers have their own dynamic return man in Jared Abbrederis, who ran a punt back for a score last week against Indiana. There remain concerns for UW on special teams, however. Kicker Philip Welch has attempted just one field goal all year, which could be an issue if this game is close. Alec Lerner has struggled on kickoffs, and White's kick returns leave much to be desired.
Who has the edge?
Defense: Michigan State
Special Teams: Michigan State
Wisconsin's last loss to a Big Ten team was at Michigan State on October 2, 2010.
Michigan State either wins - or loses big. The Spartans have won 16 of their last 19 games, but their three losses were by a combined 91 points.