In order for Wisconsin to have success on Saturday, the Badgers are going to have to get a fast start on offense. They can't afford to take time to find some sort of offensive rhythm against the Spartans' defense.
If Wisconsin can get off to a fast start, it will be important that the Badgers don't let up. In the Badgers past two games against the Spartans, Wisconsin has jumped to early leads but allowed the Spartans to get back in the game with huge second quarters.
Wisconsin has shown they can get off to quick starts, but have only been able to put together one complete game on the year. Wisconsin will have to be able to form a balanced attack on offense but instead of the running game opening up the passing game, it could have to be the opposite.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. It was not easy determining who would be important in helping the Badgers to a victory on Saturday.
Last Week's Rankings in Parentheses
1, Montee Ball, RB (1) - If the Badgers can get the passing game going against the Spartans' secondary it should help Ball and the running game find success. Ball admitted to getting off to a slow start against the Gophers on Saturday, recognizing that he will need to get off to a quicker start this week. Even though Ball got off to a slow start on Saturday, you would have to imagine that he will be pumped for this game and will run with a purpose. Ball is starting to look like his old self, which is a good thing considering he rushed 45 times for 252 yards (a 5.6 average) and six touchdowns in two games against the Spartans last season. If Ball can have that same kind of impact on Saturday, it will only mean good things for the Badgers' offense.
2, Joel Stave, QB (3) -Stave is going to have to take care of the football and needs to get rid of the football in a timely fashion, something he didn't go against Minnesota. The Spartans' defensive line will come after him and try and force him into mistakes. Stave will need to be able to make quick decisions with the football and be able to make the smart throw. The Spartans are going to load the box and try and make Stave beat them with his arm. But if Stave can play well early, he'll be able to help the offense get into rhythm.
3, Mike Taylor, LB (4) - Taylor was named co-defensive player of the week for the Badgers along with Devin Smith and it was well deserved. Taylor finished the game with 12 tackles and was flying around the field, which he'll have to do against Michigan State in attempt to try and slow down Le'veon Bell. If the defense can slow down Bell, they can turn the Spartans' offense into a one-dimensional attack. A year after missed tackles played a key role in Wisconsin's loss at East Lansing, including some by Taylor, the senior will have to make sure to take down Bell whenever he gets the chance.
4, Ryan Groy, LT (2) - If Ricky Wagner is unable to play for the second straight week, Groy will be making his second consecutive start at left tackle. Groy will be facing a more talented defensive line in Michigan State, and it will be important that he's prepared for the talent of William Gholston and Marcus Rush. Groy has played well over the past two weeks and should gain more confidence in his play with another week of practice at the position. Groy has been solid throughout his career whenever he's called upon, but I think fans are pleasantly surprised with how well he's picked up the left tackle position. He just seems comfortable wherever he's placed on the offensive line.
5, Jared Abbrederis, WR (NR) - If Wisconsin is going to get its running game going, Abbrederis is going to have to make his presence felt. Stave has targeted Abbrederis early in games, which in turn has helped open up things in the running game. If the Spartans' run defense can slow down the Badgers' run game, Abbrederis will need to find a way to step up and leave his mark.
6, Devin Smith, CB (NR) - The Badgers' defense has four interceptions in the last three games and should have opportunities to make plays with Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell having thrown five interceptions on the year. Smith has two interceptions this season and finishing the Minnesota game with four tackles and one pass breakup. Smith will have to continue to shut down his side of the field and try to handcuff the Spartans' offense.
7, James White, RB (NR) - White has been playing terrific as of late, and you can't give him enough praise. With Ball struggling in the first half against Minnesota, it was White who jump-started the offense. White was able to get the offense going by lining up in the new "barge" formation. The success of that formation means Michigan State will likely have practiced against it this week, which could mean other opportunities will open for Wisconsin's offense. White will receive his touches and if the last three weeks are any indication, he'll make the most of his carries.
Others to Note
Tight End Jacob Pedersen - If Abbrederis can't step up in the game, Pedersen will need to be a focal point. Pedersen only had one catch on Saturday but again did a good job of blocking in the run game. We know what Pedersen is capable of in the passing game but he has yet to show it except at Purdue.
Middle Linebacker Chris Borland - It will be important that Borland makes his presence felt on Saturday. Borland had 20 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and he broke up a pass in two games against the Spartans last year. Not a bad stat line. If Borland can fly around the field and make plays with Taylor, they should be able to slow down the Spartans' offense.
Defensive Tackle Beau Allen - In order for Borland and Taylor to be able to make plays, the defensive line will have to do their jobs by taking on blockers or collapsing the pocket. Allen has been playing well this year and has allowed the linebackers to make plays. Allen should be able to continue with help from Ethan Hemer. On the year, Allen has five tackles for loss and should continue to make plays on the inside against the Spartans.
Left Guard Robert Burge - Burge would like to forget last years game against Michigan State, and will want to come out and prove something Saturday. If he can duplicate his performance from a week ago, Wisconsin's offensive line would be great shape. Burge has the talent to help the offensive line create holes for the running backs and help protect Stave. He just needs game reps, but should gain the confidence with another week of confidence.