The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers look to stay perfect on the season when they host the Michigan State Spartans on Saturday. Wisconsin comes into the game with a 5-0 mark overall, including a 2-0 record in Big Ten play, and is fresh off a 48-0 rout of Kent State last weekend. Michigan State is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play after last weekend’s 34-10 loss at No. 4 Ohio State.
The Spartans now sit a game behind the Buckeyes in the Big Ten East Division standings, while Penn State is also undefeated in league play at 2-0. Wisconsin is tied atop the Big Ten West Division with Minnesota with identical 2-0 league marks, with Nebraska just a half-game behind at 2-1.
The moneyline for this contest has the Michigan State Spartans +330 and the Wisconsin Badgers -410. Wisconsin is a 10.5-point favorite at home, with the over/under for the game being set at 40.5.
Must Stand Strong
Michigan State has a tough defense, allowing just 100.3 rushing yards per game. But Ohio State was able to ramble for 323 yards on the ground last week, though the Buckeyes had the threat of a passing game. The Spartans will certainly stack the box to try to keep Jonathan Taylor from going for big yards, with linebacker Joe Bachie (Big Ten-best 57 tackles, 3.5 sacks) a key to making that happen. When Wisconsin does try to go to the air, the Michigan State front line, led by defensive end Kenny Willekes (41 tackles, team-high 4.0 sacks), will need to bring the heat.
Offensively, the Spartans have been able to move the ball at times, but they must have balance. Michigan State had a season-low 67 yards on the ground against Ohio State, so freshman running back Elijah Collins (team-best 476 yards) needs to break out for some big runs. Quarterback Brian Lewerke has been solid this season, passing for 1,543 yards and 11 touchdowns with only two interceptions, and he has a top target in Darrell Stewart, who leads the Big Ten in both catches (41) and receiving yards (624).
Staying On The Ground
Wisconsin knows where its strength lies, and that’s with handing the ball off to Taylor and letting him run. The Badgers are 10th in the country in rushing yards per game with 254, and Taylor has already rushed for 745 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging 7.2 yards per carry. Quarterback Jack Coan has been efficient with his passing, connecting on 74.6 percent of his attempts for 939 yards and seven touchdowns, but he’s averaging just 11.1 yards per completion.
With all the focus on the Badgers’ rushing offense, the team’s defense doesn’t garner many headlines, but heading into this week, they rank No. 1 in the country in both scoring defense and total defense, allowing just 5.8 points and 178.6 yards. Wisconsin has shut out three of its five opponents and hasn’t allowed more than 15 points in any game this season. Linebacker Zack Baun comes off a three-sack game against Kent State, which gives him six for the season, which ties for sixth in the country. The Badgers already have 21 sacks through five games, after recording 19 over their 13-game schedule a season ago.
Badgers Pull Away
Wisconsin has dominated every opponent it’s faced this season, including No. 16 Michigan, which it defeated 35-14. This is the Badgers’ fifth straight home game, with only two of their final six games being in Madison, so they know they need to get a win in this one. Michigan State just hasn’t put things together consistently this season, and they’ll have a hard time moving the ball against the Badgers. I’m taking Wisconsin -10.5 to win easily.