The Big Ten Title Game Preview, Part One: Wisconsin Since Michigan State

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 26: Russell Wilson #16 of the Wisconsin Badgers congatulates Montee Ball #28 after Ball ran for a touchdown against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Camp Randall Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin. Wisconsin defeated Penn State 45-7.(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Before we begin -- today has been declared "MSU Green Day" by the governor. All (and I mean ALL) Michiganders are urged to wear green today to support MSU, and the Sparty statue will have a green football jersey.

Now, where to begin. I've written previews on many an occasion for MSU basketball games against the same opponent. Writing this preview feels different, and I think it's because the stakes are much higher, so far as to say this might be the most important game Michigan State football has played in two decades. I'd do a review of key plays from the first game, but A Beautiful Day For Football has already done that wonderfully with screencaps, illustrations, Chuck Norris love, and copious Bret Bielema mocking (see here: First Quarter, Second Quarter, Third Quarter, Fourth Quarter).

What I can do though is give you observations from Wisconsin games after their MSU loss. After the jump I go into bullet point format for each Badger game, from Ohio State to Penn State.

  • OHIO STATE 33, WISCONSIN 29: AKA Hail Mary 2, Electric Bugaloo. This game also followed the narrative arc of Wisconsin's game against Michigan State, in that Wisconsin scored first off a 22-yard Montee Ball touchdown, but Ohio State scored the next 17 points. This forced Wisconsin to shift the run-pass ratio towards "pass", and while Russell Wilson was still efficient he looked merely like a very good quarterback and not a great one, throwing for 253 yards and three TDs on 20-32 passing. More importantly, this meant Ball only had 18 carries. Another thing - Braxton Miller ran for 107 yards on 19 carries. This is good because I was a bit encouraged to see Cousins run for two first downs last week -- he hasn't done that nearly enough that season. What you'll see here contrasts greatly with...
  • WISCONSIN 62, PURDUE 17 AND WISCONSIN 42, MINNESOTA 13: I group these two teams together because these games were both great displays of power by the Badgers. Montee Ball against Purdue: 20 carries, 223 yards, three touchdowns. Russell Wilson, 15 of 20, 205 yards passing + 88 yards rushing on 10 carries, three total touchdowns. Ball and James White split carries pretty evenly against Minnesota, but Ball still gained 172 yards on 23 carries, with White pitching in 95 yards on 14 carries. Wilson goes 16 for 17 for 178 yards and four touchdowns. This is the stat line Dan Persa has been striving for his college career. I won't discuss the Badger defense here, but I will say that Minnesota scored one of its two touchdowns on a kickoff return.
  • WISCONSIN 28, ILLINOIS 17 Possibly the best defensive showing against Wisconsin this year, and I say this because Wisconsin scored its four touchdowns on the only four times it started in Illinois territory. This is why the numbers for Wilson (10-13 for 90 yards and a TD) and Ball (230 yards, but on 38 rushes) seem only above average and not supernatural. Also helping Wisconsin -- four Illini turnovers, including three interceptions.
  • WISCONSIN 45, PENN STATE 7 Penn State's first drive in this game went 80 yards in eight plays for a touchdown. After that, Penn State only had two drives of more than four plays the rest of the game, both of which ended on downs. Meanwhile, Wisconsin recovered three fumbles and an interception all in Penn State territory, and there is your bloodbath. The vaunted Nittany Lion defense slowed the Badgers, but their efficiency remained the same as it ever was: Wilson still completed about 2/3 of his passes (19-29 for 186 yards, 2 TDs), and Ball averaged more than six yards a carry with four touchdowns (156 yards on 25 carries).
Paul Harvey congratulates you on knowing the rest of the story. Final thoughts and predictions will come later this evening.

Don’t forget to show support for your favorite coach by voting him as the 2011 Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year at www.coachoftheyear.com

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