The 6-4 Badgers, riding a month-long drought, come into this weekend’s game in desperate need of a win. If the Badgers have any hope of reaching a decent bowl game this year, they need a win this weekend in the friendly confines of Camp Randall against a tough Spartans team.
After two consecutive losses to Michigan and Ohio State the No. 24-ranked Spartans also come to Camp Randall this weekend on a losing streak. And, like the Badgers, they are trying to pick up a key win against a struggling opponent in hopes of keeping their lofty bowl goals alive.
Here are this week’s five keys to victory:
Anyone watching the game last week was dumbfounded by the poor tackling of the Badgers. The defense regularly missed tackles and took bad angles allowing the vaunted Gopher rushing attack to run roughshod over the Badgers for 336 yards and four touchdowns. The secondary did no better, missing many key tackles in the run game as well as making poor open field tackles in the passing game—allowing the Gopher receivers to pick up big yards after the catch.
While the Spartans are not the rushing team the Gophers are, their passing attack is much more lethal. It is key for the defensive secondary to wrap the receivers up and not allow them to gain extra yardage after the catch.
With the depletion of the secondary becoming more evident, Williams has seen a steady increase in his playing time in the nickel defense. The Spartans come into the game this week leading the Big Ten in passing yards per game and completion percentage. The Badgers will be counting on the secondary to hold up under a lot of pressure this week and make the Spartans beat them on the ground.
Coach Barry Alvarez needs to be mindful of the number of plays Williams is in on defense this week. Williams is a key part of the passing game and the return game, and he is having a breakout year. Should the Badgers become too dependent on him on the defensive side of the ball, it could negatively affect the rest of his game — something the team absolutely cannot afford.
Jim Sorgi owes some thanks to his offensive line this week. During Sorgi’s career day against the Gophers last weekend, the offensive line put together its best pass blocking day of the year allowing only one sack for a loss of one yard. In the nine games prior to last weekend the line had given up 27 sacks for a loss of 151 yards.
The O-line needs to be solid in all facets of the game. They need to help re-establish a running game that has been somewhat anemic over the last three games as well as prove that last week’s performance was no fluke.
Run the ball
In order for the Badgers to be successful this weekend they must establish the run. In the four Badger losses this year the team is averaging only 101 yards per game. In the team’s six wins they are averaging 220 yards per game. While the team’s ability to pass the ball is also crucial, the Badgers need to establish the run early. If the Badgers are able to force the Spartan defense, which allows only 109 yards per game on the ground, into bringing up an eighth defender to stop the run, Sorgi and company should be able to exploit the man coverage with the play-action passing game.
Protect the Ball
Michigan State head coach John L. Smith has infused his team with a desire to cause turnovers. The Spartans defense has already caused 26 turnovers; while the Badgers have already given it up 18 times. The Badgers have had trouble holding onto the ball all year, as evidenced by their -3 turnover ratio. Running backs Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley need to protect the ball going into the heart of the Spartans’ “D” and not try to do too much. On the other hand, Jim Sorgi needs to be wary of the gambling Spartan secondary. The Badgers need to take what the defense gives them and not force any plays unless absolutely necessary.