Badgers, Spartans set for physical showdown
The Spartans beat Wisconsin last October, handing the Badgers their only loss of the regular season, but when the two teams finished tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title, Michigan State was left out of the BCS picture. Instead, Wisconsin won the tiebreaker and went to the Rose Bowl despite its head-to-head defeat against the Spartans.
A year later, 15th-ranked Michigan State won’t have to worry much about this game being overlooked. The Spartans and fourth-ranked Badgers are two of only three teams with unbeaten Big Ten records, and they’ll play Saturday night in what could be a preview of the conference’s first title game later this year.
Michigan State is second in the nation in total defense after shutting down Denard Robinson in a win over Michigan. Wisconsin is first in scoring offense, averaging over 50 points a game.
“For a defense, to get to go up against who everyone is talking about — the best offense in the country — that’s great for us. We want that,” Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson said. “If we can do that every week, that’s what you want — the big stage.”
The ESPN College GameDay crew will be in town for what will be only the 11th night game in the history of Spartan Stadium. The question is whether Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) can repeat last season’s win over the Badgers. If ever there were a night to celebrate smash-mouth football, this could be it. Behind a massive offensive line, Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0) has scored at least 48 points in all but one game, but the Badgers haven’t faced a defensive front like Michigan State’s. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is an NFL prospect, and the Spartans punished Robinson last weekend, knocking him out of the game in Michigan State’s 28-14 victory.
This will be Wisconsin’s first true road game of the season. The Badgers have been away from home only once, against Northern Illinois at Soldier Field with plenty of Wisconsin fans on hand in Chicago.
The Badgers have protected quarterback Russell Wilson well all season, but coach Bret Bielema made sure to give him a quick rundown on the challenge ahead against Michigan State.
“I hit Russell up on Sunday. I said, ‘Buddy, now, these guys, they play hard. This is big-boy football,’” Bielema said. “You’re doing him an injustice if you don’t realize what’s coming at him. Now, after he watched a couple of games on film, I think he realized what was coming, and I can see the smile in him, just that he’s excited to play it.”
Michigan State will be without defensive lineman William Gholston, who was suspended for one game after he was shown on video taking a swing at a Michigan lineman last weekend.
Wisconsin lost to Michigan State 34-24 last year but went on to an outstanding season. When the Badgers, Buckeyes and Spartans finished deadlocked atop the league, the BCS standings broke the tie, sending Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State snapped up a Sugar Bowl bid and Michigan State settled for the Capital One Bowl.
There won’t be a tie for the Big Ten title this year. Now that the league has 12 teams, there will be a championship game, and it could include both Michigan State and Wisconsin, since the teams are in different divisions. The Spartans are in the middle of a brutal October schedule. They already beat Ohio State and Michigan, and after hosting the Badgers, they’ll play at division rival Nebraska next week.
Although Michigan State always points to the Michigan game as a priority, the Spartans have to refocus on what’s becoming an interesting rivalry with Wisconsin.
“They get their guys to play hard. We’ve had pretty good games with them,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “We both have goals. We both have similar experiences last year in terms of the end result, in terms of our record. So maybe those things are comparable, as well.”
Wisconsin and Michigan State might both be even better than last year, making this matchup as attractive for its quality as it is for its stylistic intrigue.
“People like to say that we’re physical and we’re aggressive,” Wisconsin center Peter Konz said. “I like playing a team that prides themselves on some of the same things that we do because it’s fun to see at the end of the day: How did you do? Who was better? Maybe no one was better. Maybe it was a great battle, and that’s what people love.”