Preview: Ring Around the Defense

After winning its first game in over a month, Wisconsin has little time to celebrate, as the Badgers head to East Lansing to take on the best running back in the nation in Michigan State's Javon Ringer.

MADISON – Four weeks of frustration seemingly went out the window after the Badgers, stuck in reverse in a four-game losing streak, put together their first compete game in over a month, resulting in a 10-point home victory against Illinois.

While the jubilation and excitement were there over the weekend, Wisconsin quickly realized that its next opponent was going to be its toughest conference road game of the season.

Fresh off its first victory over Michigan since 2001, No.22 Michigan State and its explosive offense look to keep Wisconsin's winning streak at one when the two teams matchup in East Lansing this Saturday.

Stuck in its longest losing streak in 12 years, Wisconsin (4-4 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) got decent production from its offense, as the first-team offense scored its first offensive touchdown in 10 quarters and scored the game's last 17 points to pull away from the Fighting Illini.

Defensively, however, is where the Badgers won the football game, limiting Illinois to a season-low 309 total offensive yards (175 below its average) and forced three interceptions, retuning the picks for 98 yards.

Needless to say, the positives were back on Wisconsin's sideline.

"Winning," said safety Jay Valai. "That's the biggest positive right there. Four weeks of struggling like that, it is a blessing to win the game and getting back to playing aggressive defense. That was a big portion of it."

On offense, junior quarterback Dustin Sherer, who struggled mightily against Iowa in his first career start, settled into the starting role and proved to be a solid game manager, accounting for all three of UW's touchdowns and, more importantly, did not throw an interception, the first time since the Fresno State game that UW did not throw a pick.

"I just have to manage the football game," Sherer said. "I don't need to be a big player. We have enough weapons in our offense. I just need to get the ball on time to the guys, manage the football game and not make mistakes. That's the biggest thing."

Offensively, the Badgers are going to be without their All-American tight end for the remainder of the season, as senior Travis Beckum broke his left fibula in the second half Saturday. Beckum immediately had surgery Saturday night and is expected to be able to do some running by January, in time for the NFL combine, but his career for UW is over.

While the loss of Wisconsin's 6-4 tight end may appear to be a daunting task to overcome, the Badgers, other than the running back position, have plenty of depth and experience at the tight end position with juniors Garrett Graham and Mickey Turner and sophomore Lance Kendricks all having seen time this season.

When Beckum was out of the lineup for the first two games of the season, Kendricks stepped in, catching four passes for 124 yards, providing another tight-end weapon for the Badgers.

"Travis is a great player, a guy that makes plays for us, our go-to guy a lot of times, fun to throw the ball to but you know, he didn't play in the first two games and Lance Kendricks came in and did a great job," Sherer said. "People have to step up, play their role and I think guys will do that. I think we'll be all right. We just have to hit them in stride and make big plays."

While the Badgers are hoping for some big plays from their receiver core, senior running back Javon Ringer has been making big plays for Michigan State (7-2 overall, 4-1) all season long.

In their 35-21 victory at Michigan last Saturday, ending their six-game losing streak versus the Wolverines and an eight-game slide in Ann Arbor, Ringer rushed 37 times for 194 yards and two touchdowns, helping Michigan State improve to 7-2 for the first time since 2003.

In nine games this season, Ringer is averaging 33.3 carries a game and has a nation-best 1,373 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns.

"He's just a strong runner. He's a low guy, makes good cuts and is powerful and fast," senior linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "That's all you really need in a good runner. He's going to be another challenger for us. He's a tough back to take down, strong runner, physical guy. We just have to do the opposite of what we did against Iowa, run down hill and make plays and force the issue."

While Ringer continues to get his yards, senior quarterback Brian Hoyer turned Michigan State into a two-prong attack against the Wolverines, finishing with 282 yards on 17-for-29 passing and three touchdown passes, tying a season high, as he earned his first Big Ten offensive player of the week award.

While the Spartan offense has been one a one-track mind over the last couple weeks, Hoyer's emergence with the passing game as given the Badgers another issue to look at.

"I think you have to always play run first," senior Mike Newkirk said about defending the Spartan offense. "My dad always said, ‘If a team can't run the ball, they aren't going to win.' If you make a team have to pass, you are doing a good job. If we force them into the pass, that is still something that we are going to have to play and defend.

"We should be excited," Newkirk added. "If you are a guy like that (Ringer), you get excited when you get to play other guys like that because it brings out the best at you. That's when sports is at its best, when you have guys like that on the same field."

Wisconsin (4-4, 1-4) vs. No.22 Michigan State (7-2, 4-1)

Date/Time - Saturday, November 1 at 11:00 a.m. CT

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

Television - ESPN2 (Pam Ward and Ray Bentley)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas)

Series – Michigan State leads 26-20

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 37-34, on Sept. 29, 2007 in Madison

Notes:

This will be the 47th meeting between Wisconsin and Michigan State with the Spartans leading the all-time series in East Lansing 13-7. UW has won five of the last seven meetings, including two of the last three at Spartan Stadium. This will be UW's first trip to East Lansing since Nov. 13, 2004 when MSU handed the No.4 Badgers their first loss of the season, 49-14.

The winning team has scored at least 37 points in each of the last five meetings (the two teams have combined to average 69.4 points per game in those contests).

The last time the two teams met with Michigan State ranked and UW unranked was in 2003 when the Badgers defeated No. 21 MSU, 56-21.

Prior to UW's three-point win last season, the average margin of victory in the previous eight meetings between the two schools was 23.4 pts.

Wisconsin held a nearly six-minute advantage over Illinois in time of possession (32:55-27:05). After leading the country in TOP last year, UW ranks second in the Big Ten in time of possession in conference games (32:01).

Prediction

Make no mistake about it, these Badgers have found some of the swagger they once had on the flight home from Fresno State. Wisconsin delivered its best defensive effort of the season in holding the Juice and the Illinois offense to only 309 total yards and forcing three turnovers while the offense managed the game. Playing devil's advocate, the second and third interceptions were courtesy of marginal efforts from freshman wide receiver Fred Sykes and many felt the Badgers easily could have lost their fifth in a row.

Doesn't matter now, the win is in the bank and earning interest.

The real question for this game is who is going to be more focused? Wisconsin seemed just happy to get any type of win, as many players acted like they won the national championship after Saturday's game. Don't believe it? David Gilreath said it felt like they won the crystal football after beating a 4-3 football team.

Michigan State was focused on beating Michigan so much that you have to wonder if Ohio State's 45-7 thrashing of the Spartans had anything to do with it. Now that Sparty has the bad-Wolverine mojo off its back, are they poised for an emotional let down?

The odds makers are hinting at it (as MSU is just a 4.5 favorite) but I think otherwise. If someone could page P.J. Hill and tell him to report to the Wisconsin offense, that would be fantastic. The junior is averaging just 76.6 yards per game and only had nine yards on three carries last week after Bielema said he was ‘supposedly' healthy and ready to go.

Hold onto the positives though, as Hill rushed 34 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan State last season.

I am still not sold on Wisconsin and the Spartans are having their best season this decade. I have a feeling that Javon Ringer is going to have a solid day against Wisconsin for the second-straight season and that the Badgers will drop back to earth on Saturday.

Michigan State 35, Wisconsin 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 6-2

Against the Spread: 6-2


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