As Adam neatly pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about Wisconsin's chances to knock off the Spartans and win its second straight Big Ten Championship Saturday. The worries that cost the Badgers the game in the two teams' first meeting still exist; pass protection, mental lapses in the secondary and horrendous special teams play were weaknesses then, and they still appear to be weaknesses now. Michigan State exploited each of them Oct. 22 and they could very well do the same thing Saturday.
Still, I think the edge goes to Wisconsin in the rematch for one simple reason: the best unit in the game, for either team, is the Badgers' offense. When it's at its best, it's borderline unstoppable. Obviously having two nationally acclaimed players like Montee Ball and Russell Wilson at skill positions is big reason why, but I think offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be the true difference-maker come Saturday night.
In a "rematch" setting, especially one with a familiar foe like Michigan State, both teams know exactly what to expect from opposing offenses. Mark Dantonio told ESPN's Brian Bennet he expected both teams to stick to the playcalls that got them to the big game:
"Probably the majority of what they do and we do are going to be within that system," he said. "Probably 75 percent are going to be within that system, and 25 percent are going to new things that have maybe gone on in the past five games. Maybe 10 percent or 5 percent of those are really new things."
I don't exactly disagree with Dantonio; don't expect the Badgers to switch out their power running game for a spread offense or anything silly like that. But still, I think the new things Chryst does mix in with old stuff could provide a huge advantage for the Badgers. Chryst knows from experience that his offensive line, particularly fill-in left guard Ryan Groy, will struggle in pass protection against Michigan State's active front four, so why not move the pocket outside once in awhile to put the pressure back on the defense? Little adjustments like that could go a long way towards keeping Wisconsin's offense on the field, something it didn't do a good job of Oct. 22.
Rumors about teams inquiring about interviewing Chryst for head coaching jobs seem to surface at about this time every season, and this year is no exception. He didn't call his best game in the the Badgers' first showdown with the Spartans, but if Chryst is as good as many important people in the college football world think he is, his adjustments will push the Badgers over the edge tomorrow night.
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