It’s one of the best college football games of this week, as the No. 11/No. 10 (AP/Coaches) Wisconsin Badgers take on the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans.
It’s the beginning of one of the most daunting conference stretches the Badgers have seen in recent history, and they’ll take on a Spartans squad that overwhelmed Notre Dame 36-28 last week.
It’s been a pretty, pretty, pretty good start for the Big Ten in non-conference play, especially with Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin all securing impressive wins against Power 5 teams. How are the Spartans and their fans feeling heading into conference play this weekend?
The mood in East Lansing is a mix right now. About 60 percent confidence, 25 percent, “We knew it all along,” 10 percent reservations for the conference games and 5 percent Burnt Couch Smell. We had a sloppy game against Furman, but we played three SOLID quarters against a good Notre Dame team. We do know that against teams like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State, we are going to need to play ‘till the final whistle if we want a victory. But if you were to tell MSU fans in August that there would be a zero in the loss column before Wisconsin, they would all obviously take it.
Tyler O’Connor takes over for Connor Cook, and he looks impressive. What does O’Connor bring to the table as the starting quarterback, and what does he need to continue improving upon?
O’Connor got one thing in the game against ND that he did not get against Furman: Confidence. The fifth-year senior was not confident in his progressions or his throws against Furman and he worked on that early against Notre Dame. I notice a lot greater leadership qualities in O’Connor than I saw in Cook and this team is looking to him for that. With young receivers and a line that has not had time to work together, that is key. His eyes were weak in Week 1, staring down his first target and leading to some potential interceptions. He needs to build on the throws he made in South Bend to beat the stout Badger D.
Wisconsin fans know the name of former Beaver Dam standout R.J. Shelton. How has he progressed in his time in East Lansing, and who are the other skill players UW’s defense will have to pay attention to?
Love me some RJ. He has that big-play ability that we love seeing in EL. Other than him, the obvious choice is sophomore LJ Scott. He tallied just under 100 yards and a TD on Saturday to go with his 105 yards and TD from week one. LJ has the speed and quick power of a Le’Veon Bell (though he does not have the stamina to do that 40+ times a game). Other than that, we began to see the emergence of freshman Donnie Corley Jr. He had the posterizing TD catch over a defender to put the Spartans on the board Saturday. He is a big-play threat and has the speed and hands to make a defender pay over the top.
There’s a feeling that this game will be won by whomever’s the more physical team. How have the offensive and defensive lines looked in the first two weeks?
This is the tale of two teams. Week 1 was not a great showing. While we were better on the line than Furman, we didn’t blow them up. The ND lines have been good and bad, so using that as a barometer is hard, but both lines seemed to gel well in South Bend. Malik McDowell is a disruptive force on the d-line and he is going to need to be double-teamed, or he will wreck havoc on the QB all day. The o-line is younger but they really gelled on Saturday and allowed LJ and Gerald Holmes the chance to tear up the Irish. No big worries this week on that front, ready for that smashmouth, Big Ten action.
How has Michigan State continued the success on defense without the guidance of Pat Narduzzi? If you were an offensive coordinator, how you would try to exploit the Spartans?
This is a group that prides itself on the traditions set in this program. Narduzzi may be gone but the defensive mind and toughness of Mark Dantonio is around every day. With a tough and talented front seven, you have a team that is ready to keep the quarterback moving. The one area that is weaker is in the secondary with Darien Hicks. He was not exploited on Saturday by the Irish, but a big-bodied receiver is bound to give him fits. He has a knack for face-guarding, so a quarterback that tests him deep is bound to get some good looks. It is a small weakness but it is the most glaring one we have on D.
What are your keys to the game for Michigan State?
Keys against Wisconsin lie in getting the ground game going early to keep the pressure off of O’Connor. He thrives when he has the choice to look downfield, and it is not forced. On defense it will be a blitz-heavy scheme this week (in my opinion). Keep the QB moving like we did Kizer and it helps protect the secondary. Ed Davis at LB should be back for a full game and that will allow the D to get more exotic in schemes and confuse the offense.