Preview: A New Set of Tests

After enjoying the comforts of home for the first half of the season, No.4 Wisconsin plays four road games in the final six weeks, starting with No.15 Michigan State on Saturday.

MADISON - For the better part of the summer, all members of the University of Wisconsin football team heard about was the hype surrounding its conference opener against Nebraska, the excitement of the primetime atmosphere, the Cornhuskers first conference game and the first real opportunity of the season.

That's all well in true but for the upperclassmen on the fourth-ranked Badgers, the hype surrounding their first true road game of the 2011 season was the experience that really was going to tip the scales.

"The hype is higher and it's going to be tougher, just because it is a road game," junior running back Montee Ball said. "When you are on the road, there are a lot more distractions, but we embrace those kinds of things."

When Wisconsin puts its perfect 6-0 record on the line against No.15 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Badgers are bracing for things they have yet to face all season – a four-quarter game for starters.

It's a product of opponent and production, as Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) has beaten its first six opponents by an average score of 50.2-8.5. Playing only one ranked team (Nebraska) all season, Wisconsin's strength of schedule is No.113 and the second-team offense has gotten plenty of work in five games this season.

But even with Wisconsin heading into a contest against an experienced offense that put up 34 points against them last season (a season high) and the most aggressive, physical, attacking defense on its schedule, there isn't much of a worry about matching intensity.

"Our summer conditioning is crazy, but (strength coach Ben) Herbert does a lot of things throughout the year to prepare us for this," senior safety Aaron Henry said. "Some of the things he comes up with, I don't know how he does it but he does. His ability to incorporate different exercises and different lifting techniques for our body to prepare us is essential."

Just like the Badgers haven't been tested for four quarters, they haven't been tested by the atmosphere, either. If Wisconsin hasn't been enjoy the amenities of Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers have been a short bus ride away, playing their only non-home game at Soldier Field in Chicago in front of a crowd made up of 20,000-plus Badgers fans.

Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema called the game in Chicago against Northern Illinois a warm up, practicing with crowd noise and an unfamiliar environment for the first time this season, but he also put blame on his own shoulders for last season's 34-24 misstep at Spartan Stadium.

"I probably didn't stress playing on the road in the Big Ten as much as I should have going into that game, and we didn't play very well," Bielema said. "I think we left a lot of things on the field. But I do remember telling our team last year, I didn't know going into Michigan State if we had a championship team, but I knew leaving the locker room we did.

"I just don't want to have to repeat that speech. It was good for last year. I don't want to use it this year."

Since the loss at Michigan State, Wisconsin has won 13 consecutive regular-season games. All but three of those have been at Camp Randall and this trip to East Lansing marks the latest in a season that Wisconsin has played its first true road game during Bielema's six-year tenure as head coach.

"To play on the road in the Big Ten and win is a totally different ball game," Bielema said. "To win Big Ten games on the road, that's when you win championships. That's when you have an opportunity to put yourself in a bigger position."

When it comes to getting ramped up for Saturday, neither sideline is in the need for much motivation. After leading Michigan State to a share of its first conference title since 1990, coach Mark Dantonio was one of the many Spartans openly disappointed about being left out of the BCS, as Wisconsin received the league's Rose Bowl bid because the tiebreaker came down to the highest BCS ranking.

After the three-way tie put UW in Pasadena and Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, Michigan State, which did not play the Buckeyes, were relegated to the Capital One Bowl, and produced a 49-7 embarrassment to Alabama.

Not only is Michigan State upset about getting snubbed in the Rose Bowl, they are out to prove they are a different team than the one that played so poorly in Orlando. For Wisconsin, the motivation is to avenge its last Big Ten loss and consider that the conference schedule maker did the Badgers a favor for sending them back to East Lansing.

In what has developed as a budding Big Ten rivalry, Michigan State is looking to take another step towards Indianapolis and the Big Ten championship game after it beat in-state rival and previously unbeaten Michigan. Wisconsin is looking to take another step closer to the national championship, and make up for last season's loss.

A hostile environment with revenge on the line, it's just another perfect stage for players to show that Wisconsin football is for real.

"We keep hearing about (last year) any obviously it is in the back of our heads, but we just need to focus on the ‘1-0' and it's the next team in front of us trying to take where we are trying to get to," Ball said. "We're just not going to let them do that."

No.4/No.6 (AP/BCS) Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten - Leaders) vs. No.15/No.16 Michigan State (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten – Legends)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 22 at 7:06 p.m. CT

Stadium –Spartan Stadium (75,005/Natural Grass)

Television - ESPN (Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas), Sirius Ch.113

Series – Michigan State leads 28-18-0 (15-7-0 in East Lansing)

Last Meeting – Michigan State won, 34-24, on Oct. 2, 2011 in East Lansing

Series Notes:

The home team has won the each of the last six meetings between the teams. Wisconsin has not won in East Lansing since 42-24 win in 2002.

This is the second straight year both teams will be ranked at the time of the game and just the third time in series history (1999 was the only other time).

In the last eight games between the two teams they have combined to score 65.3 points per game. The winning team has scored at least 34 points in seven of those games.

For the fifth time in the last six meetings, Wisconsin will enter its game against Michigan State with an undefeated record. The Spartans are 2-2 in those games, with wins in 2004 and 2010, and losses in 2007 and 2009.

For the fifth time, ESPN College GameDay is in East Lansing for the showdown between the Spartans and the Badgers. The show last visited the campus of Michigan State in 2005 when MSU took on Penn State in the last game of the regular season. ESPN CollegeDay also made appearances in East Lansing in 1997 and 1999 for the Michigan game, and in 2004 for the Notre Dame game.

Wisconsin Notes:

Wilson is averaging 12.2 yards per pass attempt. That is tops in the country, 1.5 yards better than Baylor's Robert Griffi n III. The FBS record is 11.1 yards per attempt set by BYU Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer in 1989.

Ball has at least two rushing TDs in each of the six games this season. That is the longest FBS streak since Michael Bush had at least two in nine-straight games for Louisville in 2005.

The Badgers lead the country in scoring offense, averaging 50.2 points per game. Last year, UW averaged a school-record 41.5 points per game.

Wisconsin has converted 29 of its 33 red zone attempts into touchdowns, leading the country with a .879 TD percentage in the red zone. Overall, UW is tied for fourth in the country in red-zone scoring (32-of-33, .970). On third-and-goal, Wilson is 4-of-4 for 15 yards and four TDs (461.5 pass efficiency).

The Badgers lead the country in third-down percentage, converting 44 of their 73 third-down attempts (60.3 percent). UW has also converted four of its five fourth-down attempts, resulting in just 16 punts for punter Brad Nortman. That is tied for the fourth-fewest punts of any team in the country.

UW is third in the country in scoring defense, allowing just an average of 9.7 points per game. Wisconsin has allowed fewer than 10.0 points per game just twice in school history (1951 and 1958).

Michigan State Notes:

Michigan State is currently riding an 11-game home winning streak, the longest for the Spartans since it won 12 straight from 1964-66. MSU's longest home winning streak in school history is 23 games (1904-07).

Michigan State leads the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision in pass defense (119.2 yards per game) and pass efficiency defense (84.4 rating), and also ranks among the NCAA FBS Top 10 in total defense (second at 186.2 ypg.), rushing defense (third 67.0 ypg.), scoring defense (fourth 10.8 ppg.) and sacks (eighth with 3.5 per game).

The Spartans have held their opponents to under 100 yards rushing for three straight games (21 by Central Michigan, 35 by Ohio State and 82 by Michigan). During its current three-game winning streak, the Spartans are allowing just 46.0 rushing yards per game.

Michigan State has been a strong fi rst-half team, outscoring its opponents, 96-34. In the second quarter alone, MSU has outscored its opponents by 45 points, 58-13.

Michigan State defensive line coach Ted Gill served as (Wisconsin head coach) Bret Bielema's position coach at Iowa from 1990-92. Bielema spent the 1994 season as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, working for Coach Gill.


Thanks to the Spartans, the bulletin board in the Wisconsin locker room is getting filled up with all sorts of interesting nuggets. Comments about how Russell Wilson hasn't played a defense like their defense, how the Spartans are going to try and hurt Wilson and play 60 minutes of ‘unnecessary roughness' have made their way into the visiting locker room, adding a little more spice to an already fun week of preparation.

"We pass it around a little bit," Ball said. "All it does is motivate us more, so we appreciate the stuff they are saying. It just gets our blood flowing."

In order to prepare for the natural grass, Ball said the skill positions have worked on the soccer field adjacent to Camp Randall, working on the cuts and get a feel for the new surface. Throw in the fact that the team has already played on natural grass at Soldier Field, the field debate is a non issue. Wisconsin has also been pumping in the crowd noise during practice all week, irritating its neighbors and getting the team familiar to what is expected to be a rowdy environment.

"Michigan State was the loudest stadium we played in, and I embrace that," Ball said. "I love when the fans are against us, and the crowd noise out there (Camp Randall) helps us stay focused."

All the press clippings and notes suggest Wisconsin isn't worried of being a 7.5-point favorite. The Spartans have won four straight Homecoming games and 11 of their past 15, the home team has won the past six games and the last time Wisconsin brought a No.4 ranking to East Lansing, Michigan State won 49-14 in 2004.

When the stats don't say is that Wisconsin is a different team with Russell Wilson a quarterback, an offense that masters the play action, has an aggressive running game, doesn't beat itself and simply picks a part the competition. Yes, Michigan State has put up some outstanding defensive numbers but its 2011 schedule so far says one thing, they have yet to be challenged by a top-notch offense. Wisconsin seems to have that ‘it' factor. Michigan State seems to have that ‘thug' factor.

No bulletin board material needed from Wisconsin. Just a good old fashioned grind-them-out victory would be fine.

Wisconsin 34, Michigan State 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 6-0

Against the Spread: 5-1

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