The Spartans are back on the road this week to take on another quasi-rival from across Lake Michigan. Despite some of the epic contests these two schools have played against each other during the Dantonio era, they haven’t seen each other much recently. This will be just the third meeting since the inaugural Big Ten title game, with the road team winning each of the last two matchups.
School: University of Wisconsin
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
Location: Madison, Wisconsin
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (5th season, 47-12 overall)
Record: 5-0 (2-0 in Big Ten)
Mascot: Bucky Badger
All-Time Series: Michigan State leads 30-20
From 2007-2012 these two teams played seven times, more or less alternating wins, with one two game winning streak for MSU giving them the edge 4-3 in those games. Every single one of those games was played within 10 points. In the last eight year though, the teams have played just twice, with each team winning once in the other’s building.
Another interesting note on the series, when Wisconsin is ranked and MSU is not, the Spartans have won five of seven games.
Paul Chryst has squared off with Dantonio only once since coming to Madison, winning the last game between the two teams in 2016, which was the beginning of the 2016 team’s collapse.
Starting on offense, where the Badgers are 11th in the nation in scoring, averaging 43.4 points per game.
As you might expect, Wisconsin is among the best rushing teams in the country, averaging 254 yards per game on the ground, good for 10th nationally. They aren’t quite as good in the yards per carry department, but still average 5.43 yards per rush, 21st best in the country.
Through the air it is a different story. Wisconsin is 100th in total passing at 202.8 yards per game. This is due in part to being 113th in attempts per game. When they do throw it, they are solid, checking in at 40th in yards per attempt and 24th in passer rating.
On defense, the Badgers boast the nation’s best scoring average, allowing just 5.8 points per game. They have shut out three of the five teams they have played, all non-conference opponents. The two Big Ten teams (Michigan and Northwestern) are averaging 14.5 points per game against the Badgers tough defense.
Along with being the top scoring defense, Wisconsin is number two against the run. The Badgers allow just 47.6 yards per game on the ground, and only 1.8 yards per carry. Northwestern had the best success on the ground getting 97 yards and 2.37 yards per carry.
The passing defense, well that’s also number one in the country, allowing just 131 yards through the air per game. They are also first in yards per attempt (4.2) and opponent passer rating. They have six interceptions while having allowed only three touchdowns. Michigan was the most successful team through the air against them, getting 259 yards and 6.2 yards per attempt.
Players to Watch
The man at the helm of the Badgers offense is junior quarterback Jack Coan. The numbers are pretty typical for a Wisconsin QB. He’s completing almost 75% of his passes at a clip of 8.2 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns against one interception. He is at less than 188 yards per game, but is very efficient in the 23 attempts he takes.
The real man that drives the offense is running back Jonathan Taylor, who is second in the nation in yards per game averaging 149 yards rushing. Taylor gets 7.23 yards per carry, and has found the end zone 12 times on the ground.
Taylor can also beat you out of the backfield. He has 12 catches for 114 yards and four more touchdowns as a receiver.
The junior running back is also second the nation in plays of 10+ yards.
The Badgers spread the ball around through the air, with six different players hauling in at least 10 catches this year. The leading receiver is junior Quintez Cephus, who has 17 catches for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
I probably should have mentioned above that Wisconsin is also sixth in the nation in sacks. A pair of senior linebackers lead the team in that department. Zack Baun has six sacks, and also leads the team with 9.5 tackles for loss. Chris Orr has four sacks, and the two are also among the team leaders in overall tackles along with Jack Sanborn.
Junior defensive back Eric Burrell has two interceptions on the year to lead the team.