The Badgers finally managed a blowout of a non-conference opponent and avoided another letdown against a FCS opponent. On the flip side, Michigan State has lost to a directional Michigan school (never a proud moment, no matter how good Dan LeFevour is) and makeshift rival Notre Dame. The Badgers would be well advised to come out hard to try and dig Michigan State into an early hole.
2. Resist the Jones
A reach at a pun? Absolutely, but this might be the biggest key for the Badgers this week. Greg Jones has been an anchor for the Michigan State front seven. Wisconsin will have to find a way to run around him. While John Clay can bruise with the best of them, Jones is a sure tackler and you can be sure he's not intimidated. As for the other backs, head coach Bret Bielema and company would be smart to use the ball between the tackles and tight ends a little more than they have so far this season. Other than Jones, the Michigan State defense has looked very beatable.
3. The Blair White project
After last week's run fest, no one could really say if the defensive backs for Wisconsin really got any better from their drubbing at the hands of the Fresno State receivers. The Badgers face another good trio, led by 6-2, 200-pound wide out Blair White. White proved a challenge last year, racking up 162 receiving yards against the Badger secondary. While QB Kirk Cousins doesn't have the experience that Hoyer had, he can definitely throw the ball, and the Badgers need to improve the pass defense. The best way to a quick fix would be to limit White's receptions.
To say the Badgers offensive line has played poorly is a little unfair. They have only given up two sacks (with the pocket passer in there for most of the snaps no less) and the run game has come along since the Northern Illinois game (against a team that was finally able to solve the Ralph Bolden riddle). But the fact is, against heavy pressure from the Fresno State defense, the Badgers let Scott Tolzien get hurried a bit too much (especially Josh Oglesby) and the line hasn't worn out defenses like it has in years past. With the line finally close to 100 percent, now is the time to regain the dominance.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan State has only amassed 127 yards per game on the ground against some pretty lackluster defenses. On top of that, Cousins and Keith Nichol have had a decent amount of pressure come their way, leading to plays like the interception in the closing minutes that lost the game against Notre Dame.
5. Set the tone
The first game of the Big Ten season is always important. The Badgers need to make a statement that they are over last year's fourth quarter let downs and inability to comeback from early mistakes. It's a new team with better quarterback play. With the easier schedule, it is within possibility that the Badgers can make a run at the top of the conference. It all starts here. Where do you want your season to go?
It should be another close game. Michigan State has shown that if anything is strong, it's their passing game. The Badgers have shown they can stop the run, but have let up way too many big plays through the air. On the other side of the ball, the Badgers offense looks balanced and will try to keep Michigan State guessing. Garrett Graham plays a big role in the passing game and the running game and John Clay bounces back, holding on to the ball and rushing for over 100 yards. The Badgers don't let it get into Brett Swenson's hands (or foot) with the game on the line this time.
Final Score: Wisconsin 31, Michigan State 27