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December 1, 2011
It's a down thing
MADISON - If you were to walk into a building only to realize the office you needed to visit resided on the third floor you'd simply take the stairs or elevator to get there.
You probably wouldn't even think twice about it.
Completing the analogy, if you're a football coach about to play the same team - - and a team you lost to earlier in the season - - and you notice you struggled on third down you're not just going to gloss over the struggles your team had on first and second down.
In short, you're not going to get to the third floor by jumping there. Just like you're not going to stop a team's 50 percent success rate on third down by focusing on just those 16 particular plays.
"It's first down," UW sophomore linebacker Chris Borland said. "When they're in second and five it makes it third and two versus a second and eight making it third and five.
"It's things like that."
Michigan State - - to its credit - - was especially productive on third down when it beat Wisconsin midway through the season. Not only did it convert eight of its 16 chances, it did so by averaging 7.37 yards per play.
Obviously if it's third and 10 that would benefit the Badgers. Seven yards isn't going to be enough to move the chains in that scenario. Unfortunately for the same Badgers, that wasn't the case.
Michigan State also averaged just less than seven yards per play on first down against UW. It also averaged better than three yards on second down. So the third down opportunities the Spartans did encounter were on average third and less than one.
"We did give up so many yards on first and second down," UW junior strong safety Shelton Johnson said. "It made third down really, really easy. Third and medium, third and four to five is almost automatic especially for an offense like theirs.
"We've just got to play better on first and second downs."
MSU had eight first down conversions on third down throughout the course of it's thrilling 37-31 win over Wisconsin. More surprisingly, though, is the fact Michigan State logged nine first downs on either first or second down.
The Spartans did more damage on first and second down than it did during their proverbial money down.
On first down alone the Wisconsin defense gave up plays of 14, 24, 25, 32 and 34 yards. Kirk Cousins 34-yard strike to B.J. Cunningham went for a touchdown.
For Wisconsin to clinch a spot in its second-straight Rose Bowl it will need to do better on first and second down.
There shouldn't be any second thoughts about it.
"They do a good job of putting themselves in position to where a lot of their third downs come when it's short yardage," UW senior free safety Aaron Henry said. "It's going to take our guys up front to win on first and second.
"When third down does come we'll need to get off the field."