October 31, 2008

UW-Michigan State breakdown

MADISON, Wis. - The Wisconsin football team played one of their best games a week ago against Illinois and it translated into an impressive 27-17 win. This week, the team hopes to carry its momentum to Spartan Stadium while Michigan State hopes to improve its conference standing position.

The following is a breakdown of Saturday's match-up:

When Wisconsin has the ball:

Last week, without the usual services of P.J. Hill the Badgers were able to develop a running game that, in turn, opened space in the secondary for the passing game. In order to beat a tough MSU squad on the road, UW will have to do much the same offensively as they did against Illinois.

"Our philosophy here is we want to keep fresh backs in there," Hill said. "We won't get worn out so much and we'll be able to just contribute throughout the whole game. I'm going to go over there and when I get my carries, I got to make something out of it."

On the season, Michigan State has allowed 138.2 yards per game on the ground. UW will have to begin the game and exert their presence on the ground to loosen the Spartan secondary that allows over 208 passing yards per game.

Obviously losing Travis Beckum to a season ending injury will make an impact on the offense, but UW had already developed depth throughout the position when both Beckum and Garrett Graham were injured at the beginning of the season.

This time, Graham will be on the field and players such as Lance Kendricks, Mickey Turner and Jake Byrne will have to fill the large void.

"That's the thing," first-year tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said earlier this week. "Both Travis and Garrett had been out for periods. Within that, those guys get a lot of reps during practice, they get a lot of reps that add up.

"I think in a lot of respects, they feel confident about what they have to do."

Also, up front on the offensive line, both Kraig Urbik and Gabe Carimi will return from their respective injuries. In the end, UW has to establish the run and get the MSU defense to cheat up so the play-action pass is there. Dustin Sherer needs ample protection in the pocket and cannot turn the ball over if UW hopes to win.

Advantage: UW

When Michigan State has the ball:

Over the course of the season, the Badger defense has not done particularly well against the top-notch running backs in the program. In two of the four losses, Chris Wells (168 yards) and Shonn Greene (217 yards, four touchdowns), ran all over the Badger defense.

This week, UW gets the conference's leading rusher in Javon Ringer. Two weeks ago, many would believe that Ringer would walk all over UW's defense like Wells and Greene had, but after a scintillating defensive performance left arguably the Big Ten's most potent offense nearly 200 yards shy of their average, the Badgers enter the game with renewed confidence.

"Obviously with a guy like Javon Ringer, everybody wants to know about," safety Chris Maragos said. "(He's) a guy that presents a great combination of size and speed and creates a tough task. Obviously he's a special player, a special back and you know he's going to be a tough guy.

"I think our guys will be ready for him."

Short and sweet, Ringers numbers are ridiculous, 300 carries for 1,373 yards and 16 touchdowns. That is good for 4.6 yards per carry and over 150 yards per game. Clearly, he is the focal point of the Spartans offense.

But, quarterback Brian Hoyer is also putting together a nice season in his teams first nine games. He has thrown for 1,623 yards and nine touchdowns to go with only four interceptions.

In order for UW to reclaim its first winning record since taking the field against Penn State Oct. 11, the Badgers have to contain Ringer and make sure tackles. No arm tackles will be good enough to slow MSU's explosive running back.

"It's going to be fun. It's going to be an opportunity for us," senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "It's good he gets the ball 30, 35 times a game. That means we get 30, 35 opportunities to hit him. It's on us to try to wear him down throughout the game by tackling well."

UW also has to pressure Hoyer and stay assignment sound on the play-action pass. If, and a big if at that, the Badger defense can contain Ringer and get to Hoyer, it will have a chance to steal a win at Spartan Stadium.

Advantage: MSU

Special teams:

UW kicker Philip Welch has provided a welcome surprise for many Badger fans. He has been so consistent that he was named one of 20 semi-finalists for the Lou Groza award for the nations top kicker. But in order to defeat MSU, the Badgers need Welch to be lining up for extra points, and not field goals.

On the other side, Spartans kicker Brett Swenson has been equally solid for MSU. In nine games, he has connected on 15-of-19 field goal attempts, including a perfect 5-for-5 from 40-49 yards out.

As far as punting, UW punter Brad Nortman is coming off his best collegiate game and seems to have broken out of his mid-season slump. UW simply cannot allow MSU to take over in favorable field position many times if they hope to have a chance and that falls heavily on the Badger offense and punter.

Advantage: Push

Prediction: UW arrives in East Lansing, Mich. with a load of confidence after their best defensive performance of the season. With that said, they ride that momentum to a 31-21 upset win over the Spartans.

Ringer will get his yards and finish with 135 yards and a touchdown, but the Badger defense will pressure Hoyer and force him to throw two interceptions. Offensively, P.J. Hill scores two touchdowns and Nick Toon records a receiving touchdown of his own.

Lea's record: 5-3

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