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Wisconsin/Michigan State preview

I apologize for not doing a preview and review for the Georgia State game. My computer was getting fixed, so I was without it for nearly a week. It is probably a good thing because I would have picked a Wisconsin blowout. The Badgers were sleepwalking last week and had to come back in the fourth quarter to defeat the Panthers 23-17 at Camp Randall Stadium. Beginning with this week, the schedule gets much tougher, as the Badgers visit Michigan State tomorrow. Against Georgia State, redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook relieved Bart Houston and led the Badgers to 17 points in four drives to help lead Wisconsin to victory. Hornibrook was named the starter this week and will make his first career start against the vaunted Spartans defense. Wisconsin will be without running back Bradrick Shaw, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen and kicker Rafael Gaglianone. Star running back Corey Clement missed the game last week and is questionable for tomorrow’s game, but I believe he will be good to go. Last week, Michigan State jumped out to a 36-7 lead in South Bend last week against Notre Dame before holding on for a 36-28 win. The last time these two teams met in East Lansing was 2011 when Keith Nichol caught a Hail Mary for the Spartans to beat Wisconsin 37-31. I will set the over/under at five times during the game that the Big Ten Network shows the replay of that play.

When Wisconsin runs the ball...

Michigan State has held its first two opponents to a total of 144 yards on 58 carries for just an average of 2.48 yards per carry. If Dietzen were healthy, I would consider this close to a push. However, without him, the Badgers could struggle on the ground. Both LSU and Akron have allowed less than three yards per carry so far this year, but the Badgers were able to run a bit on both teams. Despite Wisconsin rushing for 187 yards against Georgia State, the Badgers needed 49 carries to get those 187 yards. In the previous two games, Georgia State allowed nearly 400 yards per game on the ground and the Badgers did not even reach half that. Wisconsin was without Dietzen against the Panthers and will be once again tomorrow. The return of Clement will help, but Hornibrook will need to make some plays through the air so the Spartans can’t load the box.

Edge: Michigan State

When Wisconsin passes the ball...

Hornibrook gets the nod tomorrow and will make his first start as Wisconsin visits East Lansing. He has looked impressive in his first two games, going 13-of-17 for 183 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He has led the Badgers to five touchdown drives in his nine drives as the quarterback. However, the competition gets much tougher tomorrow. Notre Dame star quarterback DeShone Kizer threw for 344 yards, but most of those were when the Spartans had a big lead and the Fighting Irish were throwing in an effort to come back. Kizer completed just 54 percent of his passes, and Notre Dame has more weapons than Wisconsin has. It will be a challenge to move the football, but Hornibrook is both accurate and smart with the football. His interception this year came last week when his pass bounced off George Rushing’s hands and into the hands of a Georgia State defender. Troy Fumagalli, Rob Wheelwright and Jazz Peavy will all need to have solid games in order to move the ball through the air. I believe starting Hornibrook is the right call, but this is a tough spot to put him in.

Edge: Michigan State

When Michigan State runs the ball...

This will be one of the more intriguing matchups of the game. Michigan State’s L.J. Scott is one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, and the Spartans are coming off a 260-yard rushing performance against Notre Dame last week. However, the Badgers strength is their front seven. In Wisconsin’s first three games, opponents have rushed for an average of 3.34 yards per carry. Akron busted off a 38-yard run, which inflated the Zips rushing total and LSU has the best running back in college football in Leonard Fournette. Wisconsin will need to slow down Michigan State’s rushing attack to have any chance of pulling this one out. The Badgers will need to force the Spartans into some third down and longs so the Badgers can unleash their great pass rush. It should be a great matchup in the trenches.

Edge: Push

When Michigan State passes the ball...

I have no idea what to make of the Wisconsin pass defense. The Badgers secondary played great against the tremendous pass attack from Akron, but then Georgia State came in and shredded Wisconsin’s secondary. Against the Panthers, the Badgers secondary played sloppy, missing tackles and taking bad angles. Maybe the step up in competition will bring out the best in this unit. To negate Wisconsin’s pass rush, Georgia State killed Wisconsin with quick passes, especially on slants. That is something to watch out for. Michigan State’s Tyler O’Connor is coming off an impressive game against the Fighting Irish, completing 19 of 26 passes for 241 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The key will be which Wisconsin secondary shows up. If it is the one against Akron, it should be a great game. If it is the one that showed up against Georgia State, it could get ugly for the Badgers.

Edge: Michigan State

Special Teams

If Wisconsin was at full strength in this area, I would say Wisconsin has the edge, but Gaglianone is out, as is kick returner Natrell Jamerson once again. Wisconsin will have to rely on Andrew Endicott, who has never attempted a field goal in a college game, to kick field goals and extra points. On the other side, Michigan State’s Michael Geiger has only attempted one field goal this season and missed it. He struggled last year, only hitting on 63 percent of his kicks, but did hit the game-winner in Columbus against the Buckeyes. Darrell Stewart Jr. is averaging 26 yards per return on his kick returns. Jake Hartbarger is averaging 40 yards per punt for the Spartans. One way to neutralize Stewart is to not let him return it, and Wisconsin’s P.J. Rosowski is one of the best in the country at touchbacks. Of his 17 kickoffs so far this season, 12 have been touchbacks.

Edge: Push

Overview

Wisconsin is playing its first road game of the season against No. 8 Michigan State with a freshman starting at quarterback. Even when fully healthy, this would be a tough task against the defending Big Ten champions. I believe the defense will keep the Badgers in the game, but in the end, Michigan State makes a few big plays plays to help the Spartans to victory.

Prediction: Michigan State 20, Wisconsin 10