#25 Wisconsin faces a stiff test with the Michigan State defense

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Unbeaten in their last 21 home games are the Wisconsin Badgers who feel they are back on track as one of the Big Ten’s elite teams after dominating wins overs Purdue and Minnesota.

What the Boilermakers and Gophers do not have, but the visiting Michigan State Spartans do is a legitimate defense.

If Michigan State had a business card, it would say “DEFENSE” in big bold letters and nothing else because it’s all they really need to keep a game close. But will their defense be enough to pull the ever-so rare upset at Camp Randall?


Michigan State Spartans (4-4, 1-3) Analysis:
In a 12-10 loss to Michigan, the Spartans defense gave up zero touchdowns and held down play-maker Denard Robinson better than anyone not named Alabama. Denard may be having a bad year, but the Spartans defense is not. They rank fifth in the nation in total defense while giving up only 277.13 yards per game. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi loves to use blitz schemes and he has the guys to do it with defensive ends William Gholston and Marcus Rush. Linebacker Max Bullough (recently named a Butkus Award Semifinalist) is also having a good year and knows how to find opposing team’s backfields.

The defense can be great, but it all goes for naught if the offense can’t do anything. That’s been exactly the case as Michigan State’s three conference losses are by a combined six points. A makeshift offensive line has been the biggest issue with this team. Considering running back Le’Veon Bell ranks 14th nationally with 123 rushing yards per game is almost unfathomable if you’ve seen this line. First-year starter Andrew Maxwell receives a lot of the blame as the quarterback, but inexperienced wide-receivers is also a significant problem. Offensively, the Spartans are still reeling from the losses of Kirk Cousins, B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin who all went to the NFL.

Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1) Analysis: In conference play, the Badgers are averaging 33.5 points per game, a big jump from when they mustered a total of 23 points against Oregon State and Utah State during non-conference play. The offensive resurgence can be credited to a much-improved offensive line and  strong-willed running backs Montee Ball and James White. Ball and White are the only duo all season to have 150+ rushing yards in one game. At quarterback, the Badgers have had plenty ups and downs, but have settled on redshirt freshman Joel Stave as their weekly starter.

The Spartans may have one of the best defenses in the nation, but Wisconsin’s squad isn’t too bad either. They rank 18th nationally while giving up 315.63 yards per game and have forced five turnovers in their last three games. They’re led by a trio of linebackers in Mike Taylor, Chris Borland and Ethan Armstrong who can all go double-digit tackles in any game. In the secondary, cover corner Devin Smith is emerging as a player to watch.

Prediction: Michigan State 19 Wisconsin 17

This may be a shocker for some, but I think the Spartans’ defense is talented enough to limit the Badgers running game. I’m not saying UW won’t be successful, but they won’t be running for over 300 yards or anything. With that said, I’m not ready to trust Joel Stave in the passing game because his decision making has been bad and he’s not very accurate at this point in his college career. I think it will be a struggle to score points, but Michigan State has by far the better field goal kicker in Dan Conroy who has made at least one kick in every game this season, including three 50 yard conversions. Give me the Spartans with a late game-winning field goal from Conroy and a win in front of a hostile crowd in Madison.

TV Coverage: ABC/ESPN2 at 2:30 PM CT with Mike Patrick (play-by-play), Ed Cunningham (analyst) and Jeannine Edward on the sidelines.

Betting Lines: Wisconsin favored by 6 points and over/under set at 41 points.

2012 Record straight up: 7-1

2012 Record against the spread: 3-4

2012 Record in over/under: 5-2

*No betting line for Badgers match-up with Northern Iowa

Are you in agreement with me and think the Spartans have what it takes to pull the upset at Camp Randall? Let me know by commenting below.

Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice and pretend to be a Golf expert from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best. If social media is not your thing, shoot him an email at grays@uwalumni.com.

Pictures:

Montee Ball and James White (zimbio.com)

William Gholston (saturdayedge.com)

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