It’s almost Saturday yet again and that means more spectacular college football games are upon us. At the top of list this weekend stands Michigan State vs Wisconsin and you probably couldn’t be more excited.
Michigan State comes back home to face the Badgers who are coming off a 23-17 win over Georgia State, where redshirt freshman, Alex Hornibrook, a surprise fill in at quarterback, ended up looking somewhat impressive.
The Big Ten has done extremely well to start off this season. Ohio State is No. 2 in the nation, Michigan ranks in at No. 4, the Spartans came in at No. 8 after an impressive win over Notre Dame and Wisconsin is just outside the top 10 at No. 11. Wisconsin managed a huge win over then ranked No. 5 LSU, where was your fan base at then compared to now being 3-0?
After the LSU and Akron victories, I think its safe to assume the fans were quite optimistic about the rest of the season — even with the Spartans, Wolverines, Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, and Huskers all in a row (bye week between Michigan and Ohio State).
With Wisconsin barely squeaking by Georgia State, a now resolved quarterback controversy, and injuries to contributing players on offense in Corey Clement (ankle sprain vs Akron), tight end Troy Fumagalli (hip/leg) and running back Taiwan Deal (right leg), the hype train has quieted a bit. That being said, we'll see Clement and Deal's statuses for the game with Paul Chryst meeting with the media at 3 p.m. CST this afternoon.
There's still a hint of confidence heading into East Lansing, where the defense (despite some missteps against the Panthers) ranks 14th in the nation in total defense and its front seven has to be the among the best in the nation. On offense, we'll see what new starter Alex Hornibrook brings in his first collegiate start.
Through three games, Wisconsin's defense has only given up 247 rushing yards, 138 of those came at the hands of LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Against what seems like another dynamic running attack in Michigan State's backfield, how do you feel they will fair against guys like L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes?
This will be the key match-up for both offenses, if they can assert their will over the opposing defensive lines. The Wisconsin defensive line is underrated and eats up those blocks so the linebackers can make plays -- the top three tacklers so far (Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt) are linebackers.
To be fair, they faced Fournette in a pro-style system and contained him, though he gained six yards per carry with two runs of 30 and 19 yards helping to bolster those numbers. The past two weeks, they've faced more spread-heavy attacks. I think Michigan State could get some plays here and there, and their talent showed that with the 260 yards gained on the ground against the Fighting Irish. Wisconsin should be up to the challenge this week, and it will be fun to watch.
Even with big wins over LSU and Notre Dame for both of these teams there still seems to be some unknown surrounding the Spartans and the Badgers. What would you say to those who are still unsure if Wisconsin's early success is the real deal or not?
I think the uncertainty is warranted for certain points. LSU is a very good team, but their quarterback play cost them the game.
Let me preface that by saying Wisconsin won that game and were the better team that day, as that defense forced Brandon Harris to beat them (note: he didn't), despite some national headlines to the contrary.
I think the close Georgia State contest was their "trap game," and adjustments can be made from that. Wisconsin also hasn't done well with their third-down and red zone opportunities. Last week alone, they missed an easy 10 points in the second quarter with a fumble at the one-yard line and a missed 30-yard field goal.
For red zone offense alone, they rank 110th in the nation. They're hoping Hornibrook helps in that area, as he led the Badgers to 17 of their 23 points last week and was 5-of-7 on third downs.
On the other hand, Wisconsin entered the season underrated, with many noting their difficult schedule.
This team could be even better than last year's in terms of talent but their record probably won't show it -- despite losing their all-time winningest quarterback (Joel Stave), an all-conference wide receiver (Alex Erickson), three starters in the secondary, and an All-American at outside linebacker (Joe Schobert). The front seven remained in tact mostly, with Watt now emulating his older brother's tendencies but at outside linebacker to replace Schobert. The secondary has game experience, and is now being coached by former All-American and 10-year veteran Jim Leonhard. When I've talked with that position group, the one unprompted theme that you hear from them is "confidence" now.
Offensively, the line has solidified for the most part and is a year older and stronger after a dismal 2015. If Clement can play Saturday, he's motivated to return to his 2014 form. Their tight ends have that pass catching ability, and there's a solid group of wide receivers who have the ability to collectively be as productive as Erickson, if not exceed it.
The 2015 season was Paul Chryst's first year coaching the Badgers, he led them to a 10-3 record while holding a 6-2 conference record. They preceded to win the Holiday Bowl beating USC 23-21. The 2016 season he starts the team off 3-0. Where do you see him taking this team in the future? Is his coaching ability a sign of good things to come?
The future is bright with Chryst as head coach. Many have noted he's not necessarily a slick talker like other head coaches in the conference, but he knows Wisconsin. He played in the late 1980s at UW, he's been an assistant, an offensive coordinator, and now leads the program. The players, from what we've seen, love his approach as well. He's one of the best offensive minds in college football.
Despite some noting a less energetic exterior in recruiting, Wisconsin recorded a Top-25 class last season, according to Scout.com. That's unheard of. This year, they have limited scholarships due to class size, but they have coaches who can develop talent to make an impact.
If you could be on the field with the guys come Saturday, what advice would you have for the offense and defense?
Offensively -- establish the run and dictate time of possession. In the first quarter for its first three games, the Badgers have held the ball for over 39 minutes and outgaining its opponents 441-13 in yardage. If Wisconsin controls the line of scrimmage, and if their running backs are healthy enough to play, they have the talent to pull off a win. Against a physical Michigan State defense, that'll be quite the challenge.
Defensively -- contain the run and make Tyler O'Connor beat them. If the Badgers can pressure the relatively new starter from the edges with outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Watt, turnovers will dictate the final score. This should be one of those physical battles that will last all afternoon -- Big Ten football at its best.