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Conversations with the Enemy: Talking Wisconsin with Bucky's 5th Quarter

Hola.  Adam Hoge, author of SBN's Wisconsin blog, Bucky's 5th Quarter, traded a few questions with me about Saturday's game.  My answers to his questions will be posted on his site tomorrow.

Below, I'm in bold:

So far, Wisconsin has played two close games with mediocre-to-average 1-A teams, and blown out an overmatched FCS opponent.  Generally, how do you feel about the team's overall performance so far?  Any pleasant surprises, or disappointments?
I haven’t been overly impressed with the wins thus far, but I have been impressed with certain elements of those wins. For instance, Wisconsin shut down NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish and Fresno State running back Ryan Mathews. Both have looked like stars since playing the Badgers. There have been problems (i.e. the secondary against Fresno State and the six fumbles against Wofford), but Wisconsin might have three blowout wins if it weren’t for some circumstances out of their control. Some awful calls against Northern Illinois made a blowout turn into a close game on the scoreboard and no one really knew how sick the Badgers actually were against Fresno State until after the game when it was easier to find out which players weren’t sick. It’s hard to get a real gauge on the talent level, but Barry Alvarez called this a "sneak good team" this week and I would agree.

MSU fans' last memories of John Clay consist of broken tackles and runs deep into our secondary.  But his three fumbles last week are obviously on everyone's mind.  How integral is his improvement to the success of your team?
I still can’t really figure out why that happened. Wisconsin hasn’t had fumbling problems since P.J. Hill’s freshman season and even that wasn’t that bad. It’s not a problem until it happens again and I don’t think it will. Last week was a reality check for Clay who got his first start in a Badger uniform and apparently took it for granted. Brown will get the start Saturday, but Clay will most likely get the bulk of the carries. I am more concerned about him finding holes to run through rather than him holding onto the football.

(More, after the jump.)

Unlike in previous seasons, MSU needs to gain lots and lots of yards through the air to be successful, and we have the receivers and tight ends to do it.  How does the Badger secondary look this year?  Are there any areas of concern?
The cornerbacks look awful. Surprisingly, the front seven looks great and free safety Chris Maragos has been all over the field. Unfortunately he can’t cover three wide receivers at one time and apparently UW’s cornerbacks don’t even have the ability to cover one receiver at a time. Sophomore Aaron Henry, who was supposed to be the conference’s best corner, looks confused out there and Antonio Fenelus, Niles Brinkley and Devin Smith couldn’t cover a 90 year-old man playing wideout. If defensive ends O’Brien Schofield and J.J. Watt don’t have career days, Cousins might throw for four touchdowns.

MSU has had difficulty with non-traditional offensive sets in the last two games: CMU had tons of success with the spread-option, and Notre Dame scored two touchdowns from the Wildcat formation.  However, we tend to think of Wisconsin as running a more plain-vanilla offensive scheme.  Do you think that the Badgers will essentially play it straight, and hope Scott Tolzien continues to impress, or do you think that Bielema might mix it up a bit?
Tolzien should have another solid game. He has shown the ability to make smart decisions and his accuracy under pressure has been very impressive. But Bielema insists he will use quarterback Curt Phillips if the flow of the game calls for it. Phillips can run – he led the team with 92 rushing yards last week – and if Michigan State has been struggling against spread offenses and wildcat formations, you will probably see the UW offense mix it up a little bit with Phillips at quarterback.

Finally, your prediction for Saturday, please:
I’ve been saying it since June and there’s been nothing to indicate I’m wrong yet. While I’m astounded that the running backs are off to a slow start, this Badger team is better than most think. It’s certainly better than that crap team that should have beat the Spartans in East Lansing last season and I think MSU is worse without Javon Ringer. I like the Badgers in a comfortable win at home. Wisconsin 33, Michigan State 24.

Thanks, Adam.  I hope your team gets swine flu, again!