Protecting A Large Reputation

The Michigan State Spartans were hoping that its aggressive defense would break through the Badger's offensive line in Camp Randall on Saturday. Thanks to a solid performance by the offensive line ,the Badgers were able to hold the line just enough to win the game 37-34.

MADISON - The disproportionate matchup between the aggressive attack of the speedy Spartan defense and the mass of the Badger offensive line was rarely dull. When the Spartans chased Badger quarterback with their feisty pass rush it was exciting, but the Wisconsin men in the trenches played well.

"They have a good defensive front seven and they brought a lot of things against us as far as blitzes go," said Badger center Marcus Coleman. "We handled them pretty well. I thought as a group we did a good job of picking that stuff up."

The Spartan's defense had just two sacks for 20 yards, eight tackles for a loss for 35 yards and one forced a fumble. Running back P.J. Hill continually ran through holes and Donovan completed several big passes. The offensive line gave their stars the opportunities to make big plays.

What the Badgers feared was the reputation of the Spartan defensive pressure. As one of the best in the country, the Spartan defense rank first nationally with 21 sacks and fifth in tackles for a loss with 41 for 149 yards. That's how you measure a defense's ability to get penetration into the backfield.

Wisconsin's strength - controlling the clock - is the exact opposite of the Spartans. They rank fourth nationally in time of possession with nearly 34 minutes per game and had the same amount against the Spartans. The Badgers showed they could continue a long drive.

"We always look to the pound the ball," said Coleman. "At the end of the game, we're usually gonna be winning that [category]."

Unfortunately, the Badger's line has had a problem with letting defenses collapse the pocket for a loss of yards. They rank 62nd nationally in sacks allowed, which is substandard for a veteran line whose average size is 6'6" 313 pounds. Their weakness is the speed rushers who use their quickness – instead of power moves – to get around the edges.

The main concern for the Badger's offensive line was Spartan defensive end Jonal Saint-Dic. The fifth-year senior ranks second nationally with six sacks and fourth nationally in tackles for loss (eight for 48 yards). As one of the best defensive weapons in the country, he had the Badgers justifiably concerned. "He's a really talented player that offensive lineman need to be concerned with," Coleman said about Saint-Dic.

Saint-Dic continued his streak of remarkable performances. The 6'1" 255 speedster had four tackles, one sack and the forced fumble. The 11-yard sack and forced fumble was huge loss for the Badgers early in the game. Right tackle Eric Vanden Huevel was responsible for Saint-Dic on the play.

"It was just something that I gotta pick up," said Vanden Huevel. "It was a tough game, he definitely got the better of me."

The Spartan's strategy was to repeatedly attack Donovan. The Spartans hit him on multiple occasions, even on passes that he somehow completed to receivers. Donovan had a difficult time keeping his rhythm while being hit so frequently.

"I thought Donovan got hit a little too much," said Vanden Huevel. "On pass protection plays, I'd look back and he'd be down on the ground. We gotta do a better job of keeping him standing up."

The pursuit of Donovan by the Spartans gave Hill more opportunities because he saw fewer men in the box. The Spartans were putting so much strategy and effort into getting to Donovan that Hill rushed for 155 yards and had two touchdowns.

"Our front five just found him holes and P.J. will also make things happen when they aren't there as well," said Coleman.

Not only was Hill able to run well on the smaller Spartan defense, but the Badger's deep passing attack flourished as well. Badger receivers had five passes of more than 21 yards. Overall, they posted 247 yards in the air and two touchdowns.

"Our offense came out and produced a lot in the air," said Coleman. "I thought we prepared well all week and we kinda showed that [Saturday]."

Donovan consistenly was being hit if he held the ball for more than a three-step drop. He constantly got pressured but made his decisions quickly. The Badger offensive line gave him just enough time to find streaming receivers downfield. The credit has to go to the line for holding off the Spartans just long enough to complete those passes.

Michigan State brought the house and most of the time, they weren't able to disrupt the play, even though Donovan took a lot of shots. Michigan State had the highlight plays, but Wisconsin got the victory and won most of the battles. The Badger's linemen are used to being noticed only when something goes wrong.

"We make one bad play, like a sack or a [tackle for a loss], and everybody remembers that play," Coleman said. "Even if you play a great game people wanna criticize. That's fine, as long as you know what you did."

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