It wasn’t the way Wisconsin probably envisioned ending the nonconference season, but the Badgers will take a win any way they can. But in order for No. 11 Wisconsin to leave East Lansing with a win over No. 8 Michigan State, the Badgers are aware they’ll need to put together a much better performance on both sides of the ball.
The conference opener has the making of another classic game between the two programs. Michigan State has got the better of Wisconsin in recent history, winning the last three regular season meetings and the last four at home, but the last three meetings have been decided by six points or less. Both teams have also been highly regarded, as this will mark the fourth time in the last five meetings that both team have been ranked.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a victory over Michigan State.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Corey Clement RB (1): The struggles of the ground game against Georgia State without Clement was eerily similar to last year, meaning the Badgers need the senior tailback against a defense allowing a total of 144 rushing yards this season. Clement is likely a game-time decision but the Badgers need his skill set to have the chance of pulling the upset with his ability between the tackles and the threat of him opening up the pass game. Expected to be a physical game, Clement’s rushing style makes him the best UW tailback to pick up the tough yards and keep drives alive. Possessions will be at a premium and being able to sustain drives will be key and that could start with Clement.
2, Vince Biegel OLB (2): Even with opposing teams steering away from him to try and prevent him from influencing games, Biegel still manages to create pressure, as he’s tied with five other players for first on the team with two tackles for loss. With Big Ten play starting, Wisconsin needs Biegel to create the necessary pressure to help create short defensive drives. He’ll have a chance to play a role in that with the Spartans allowing nine tackles for loss and two sacks through two games. Biegel has yet to register a quarterback hurry this year, but his presence in the backfield is vital for Wisconsin to slow an offense that has multiple weapons for first year starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor.
3, Alex Hornibrook QB (NR): It was expected that Hornibrook would see playing time against Georgia State but that was expected to be in mop-up time. Little did anyone expect that Hornibrook would be needed to provide a spark to a stagnant offense and win the game. Now it appears head coach Paul Chryst has named Hornibrook the starter. He will need to show the same kind of poise he’s demonstrated in two home games this year in a hostile road environment. It’s clear Hornibrook has good command of the offense and showed he’s capable of leading drives. If he plays his game, UW’s offense has a chance to be in great shape.
4, T.J. Edwards MLB (NR): The Wisconsin coaches have slowly eased Edwards back into the lineup since missing the opener, including giving him his first start of the season last week. Edwards certainly responded by registering a team-leading 11 tackles. With Michigan State likely going to lean on the run game, Edwards will be relied on to clog up the middle against the combination of L.J. Scott (203 yards) and Gerald Holmes (100 yards), a pair that each have two rushing touchdowns this season. Edwards has shown to be strong in defending the run, able to quickly diagnose plays that gives him the ability to shoot the gap and prevent big gains.
5, Ryan Ramczyk LT (5): Wisconsin’s success on offense always begins in the trenches, but the importance of solid offensive line play is critical against physical defenses. The Spartans allow only 2.5 yards per rush, meaning Ramczyk will need to consistently win his battle in order to open up running lanes. UW’s offensive line struggled to create running lanes at times against Georgia State and this week of practice will be important to fix that, considering this is the most talented and athletic defensive line UW has faced since the opener. Ramczyk will need to protect the quarterback, help create manageable third downs and help control the clock in order to keep Wisconsin’s defense fresh.
6, Jack Cichy MLB (NR): Cichy has been steady through three games by recording eight tackles in two different games, giving him a team-high 17 stops. With the Spartans having the ability to control the clock (34:13 TOP) and the effectiveness of their ground game, Cichy will need to be able to execute each play consistently. If he can, it should help Wisconsin get off the field on defense and limit opportunities for MSU’s offense.
7, Jazz Peavy WR (NR): After a rough season opener, Peavy became one of Wisconsin’s more consistent targets over the last two games by averaging five receptions and 83.5 receiving yards. That kind of play will need to continue to be able to keep the chains moving, as he’s tied with Rob Wheelwright for most third-down targets with six. The difference between the two players is Peavy has been able to consistently catch the football on third down, registering five third-down receptions for 53 yards compared to Wheelwright’s two. If Peavy can continue to get open off the line of scrimmage, he should continue to expect to see plenty of passes thrown his way in hopes of opening up the running game.
Others to Note
Michael Dieter C: Dieter will need to have good command to help out a young quarterback, making it important that his line calls are heard clearly by his teammates and deliver good snaps to avoid costly mistakes. UW needs its running game to deliver and executing at the interior spots of the line will be key.
Rafael Gaglianone K: In a series where games are usually decided by a possession or less, Wisconsin will need to take points whenever they can get them. Gaglianone (7-for-8) has been consistent this season and will need to be able to come through to make sure Wisconsin doesn’t leave empty handed.
Bart Houston QB (3): The next time Houston makes an appearance, whether it’s as a starter or in relief, the senior needs to be more consistent moving the offense, especially on the opponent’s side of the field. Question is will he get another opportunity?
Alec James DE: James has been one of Wisconsin’s most consistent defensive lineman. While he’s been able to create the necessary holes for Wisconsin’s linebackers to make plays, James has also delivered pressures and plays for himself, leading the line in sacks and tackles for loss with two. If James can win his battles, it should take pressure off the back end of the defense, giving them a better chance to make a play on the football against a quarterback who averages 22 pass attempts a game.