1, Joel Stave on third down
The Spartans come into the game 109th in the nation in points scored per game, but 11th in points allowed per game. That latter statistic is built on a rushing defense that is 12th in the nation, allowing just 100.25 yards per game. Even with a resurgent Badgers offensive line, there will be plenty of third down opportunities for Wisconsin QB Joel Stave. For the season, the Badgers have converted on third down at a poor rate, 33 percent. UW improved in Big Ten play to 20 of 49 in 3rd down conversions, but most of those (12 of 21) were running plays. In passing plays, Joel Stave is 7 of 27 in Big Ten play, including a mere 1 of 7 against the best defense in that group, Nebraska. For the Badgers to consistently move the ball, win field position and score some points, Stave must improve on third down passing attempts.
2, Containing Le'Veon Bell
If the star trio of Badgers linebackers can contain MSU's big playmaker, UW's chances improve greatly. Bell averages 4.4 yards per carry. Good but not great. Limiting Bell from gaining first downs will force the Spartans mediocre QB Andrew Maxwell into uncomfortable passing situations. Against the best defenses faced by the Spartans Maxwell's QB rating has been poor: Boise St: 96.9, Notre Dame: 86.0, Iowa: 80.0 with an improved 114.0 against Ohio St. Maxwell has also thrown five interceptions. Keying on Bell will make the Spartans vulnerable.
If Maxwell needs a quick hitter he will look to sophomore wide out Aaron Burbridge. Burbridge moved ahead of Bennie Fowler as the No.1 Spartans receiver. Badgers corner back Marcus Cromartie will be called on for sure tackling more than once in this game.
4, Badger Kicking
Freshman punter Drew Meyer has had a good first season for the Badgers and in a field position type of game that will be telling. More importantly, Badgers coaches seem to have finally determined that Kyle French is the No.1 place kicker, further helping field position and improving chances for a crucial field goal. French may not yet be average on a Big Ten scale, but he is an improvement over his predecessor.
MSU head coach Mark Dantonio has kept quiet about starters potentially sitting out action. Tight end Dion Sims (a potential playmaker), offensive lineman Dan France, Jack Allen and Blake Treadwell and fullback Lawrence Thomas are all coming off of injuries. In contrast UW appears mostly healthy, with left tackle Ricky Wagner the main concern. This would appear to give UW an edge.
Joel Stave improves just enough on third downs to keep a solid, though not spectacular, rushing attack moving. Field position will be crucial. The UW defense will prove stifling for a very challenged Spartan offense. Final score, UW 21, MSU 10.