By Adam Hoge-
(CBS) When Wisconsin and Michigan State met earlier this season, I boldly wrote that the Badgers would win by 14 points.
Sure, I was very wrong, but in my effort to explain why Wisconsin would win, I also explained exactly how Michigan State could win.
I specifically pointed out two things the Spartans had to do to win:
1) Control the football and keep it away from the Badgers’ prolific offense.
2) Dominate the line of scrimmage defensively.
And then, I wrote, the Spartans had to do even more.
Essentially, I built MSU’s winning game-plan and then exclaimed it wouldn’t work because Wisconsin was just too good.
Turns out, I was only wrong about the last part.
The Spartans won the time of possession 31:31-28:29 despite Wisconsin holding onto the football for over 10 minutes in the first quarter as it jumped out to a 14-0 lead. As soon as Michigan State took control of the ball, the Spartans grabbed the lead and forced the Badgers to stage a furious rally.
Michigan State also gave the Badger offensive line fits despite defensive end William Gholston missing the game due to suspension. The Spartans put more pressure on Russell Wilson than any other team Wisconsin faced this season and it showed as Wilson threw two of his three total interceptions against MSU and was also called for an intentional grounding in the end zone that led to safety.
But like I wrote, this wasn’t enough. The Spartans still had to do more. They also blocked a field goal and a punt — which they returned for a touchdown — and then won the game on a ridiculous Hail Mary as time expired. They even got some help from Bret Bielema who called two questionable timeouts while the Badgers were on defense, giving the Spartans time for the Hail Mary.
When the game was over, I still thought Wisconsin was the better team and felt like they would beat Michigan State if they got a second chance in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Today, I still think Wisconsin is the better team, but I’m not convinced the Badgers will win Saturday.
Lost in UW’s huge 45-7 win over Penn State last weekend was the fact that the Badgers’ kick/punt coverage was still horrible and the secondary gave up another long touchdown pass.
These are the two areas that cost Wisconsin in both of their losses and despite spending a ton of time in practice trying to correct these two issues, neither one has improved all season.
At home, where the Badgers beat their seven opponents by an average of 40 points, these concerns were easy to ignore. Away from home, where the offense is still good, but not nearly as dominant, these concerns have been glaring and in two cases, cost Wisconsin wins.
Michigan State, in particular, has taken advantage of these deficiencies the last two seasons. Last year they beat Wisconsin with a punt return for a touchdown by Keshawn Martin and by converting big plays on third and fourth down. This year, they beat Wisconsin by blocking a punt for a touchdown and by converting big plays on third and fourth down. The Spartans were 8-of-16 on third down, including a touchdown on 3rd-and-11 and were 1-of-1 on fourth down, a 34-yard touchdown run by Martin.
There’s also an issue on Wisconsin’s offensive line. Center Peter Konz is trying to return from a dislocated ankle this weekend, but that appears to be a long-shot. And the UW line just hasn’t been the same without him. Ryan Groy was a disaster at center two weeks ago and, after going back and watching the game over, it was evident he was overmatched at left guard last week against Penn State. The Spartans handled UW’s offensive line last time when Konz was playing and Gholston wasn’t. So what will happen with Konz out and Gholston in?
I also think the Spartans have more to play for in this game. They haven’t played in a Rose Bowl since 1988, the same year most of Michigan State’s seniors were born. The Badgers were in the Rose Bowl last year, and quite frankly, there still seems to be a cloud of disappointment hanging over the team and its fan base after the two heartbreaking losses earlier this season.
I’m not nearly as confident with this pick as I was last time — and obviously I was very wrong last time — but when I add it all together, I see Michigan State winning 31-28.
Adam will be in Indianapolis all weekend covering the Big Ten Championship Game. Be sure to follow him on Twitter (@AdamHogeCBS) for the latest news and analysis.
Adam is the Sports Content Producer for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.