The Michigan State defense seems to be enjoying its new role as the “bad boys” of the Big Ten following last week’s smash mouth win against Michigan.
Spartan defensive end William Gholston decided to take a few cheap shots on Michigan players. First it was an after-the-whistle sucker punch to Michigan offensive lineman Taylor Lewan. But Gholston wasn’t done there, as the defensive end dove on a clearly down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and twisted his helmet violently by the facemask, looking more like an attempt to break the quarterback’s neck than an attempt at the ball.
Then there was the quote by Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis, who decided to take a shot at the Badgers immediately following their victory against Michigan.
“Wisconsin should know we’re coming,” Lewis said to the press. “They have a good offense and that quarterback. But they should just know our defense is coming. And just like any other team, if they’re throwing the ball up, our DB’s are going to go get it, our linebackers are going to go get it and our lineman are getting after the quarterback. And they’re going to hurt him.”
I guess that lives up to Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s philosophy.
“That’s what we try to do … 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness.”
Narduzzi probably didn’t mean to refer to the Spartans as being dirty or being taught to play that way, but that is exactly what the Spartans’ defense wants you to believe. They want to intimidate their opponents before the first snap and create a buzz. They want to do anything they can to make their opponent believe (mainly the quarterback) that they are going to hit you harder than you’ve ever been hit before. They were hoping Russell Wilson was watching the punishment exacted upon Robinson last weekend, as the quarterback couldn’t even finish the game, exiting in the fourth quarter with a bruised back.
This is football. You’re going to get hit, there’s going to be hard feelings and there’s going to be personal fouls. Football is a contact sport. They say if you wanted to find the truly tough football players you’d take away the helmets and then you’d see who still wanted to play. But last weekend’s Michigan-Michigan State matchup seemed to flirt with a dangerous line between aggression and recklessness. The Spartans committed six personal foul penalties and seemed to drive Robinson to the ground long after the ball was out of the playmaker’s hands. It’s obvious the Spartans are an aggressive team, but can they afford these penalties against the premier offense in college football? Are they ready to face a Wisconsin team hungry to validate their place with the nation’s elite and avenge their only loss last season?
All of this hoopla surrounding the game gives the Badgers some unintended advantages. Besides the risk of being suspended for this week’s game, the acts Gholston committed last week almost guarantees that the officiating crew will be on their highest alert Saturday night. Nothing says “watch us closer” or “flag me” faster than the attention garnered by Gholston and the comments of Lewis. Add that to the fact that this game is in primetime on national television and you have a recipe for great officiating – hopefully.
But this isn’t the reason the Spartans defense will struggle.
So far this season the Michigan State defense has seemingly been dominant, producing the results to back up the smack. The Spartans are second in the nation defensively, allowing 186.2 yards per game (Wisconsin allows 268). On top of that, the Spartans have allowed the fewest pass yards of any team in the FBS this season. Besides a lone loss to Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. the Michigan State defense has allowed 14 points or fewer in every contest this season.
Even with these impressive stats, it’s obvious Michigan State defense will need some help to stop the Wisconsin offense, especially if they all share the opinion of Spartans defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. Worthy tweeted some preseason Twitter gold early in the summer after the announcement of the Russell Wilson’s transfer.
“This guys on espn think wilson gona change something at wisconsin. It still don’t matter cause they gotta come in to spartan stadium. Homecoming he will see how the big ten gets down.”
But Worthy isn’t the only Spartan who doesn’t (or didn’t) understand the impact of the Badgers’ new prize player. Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins commented this week on how he still sees a typical Wisconsin team, a team that runs the ball well behind a mammoth offensive line.
Even though the run game and offensive line of Wisconsin remains strong, the new kid in town under center has the Badgers and some analysts thinking about the BCS title. I hope Michigan State understands Russell Wilson is NOT Denard Robinson. Robinson is hardly a typical quarterback because he’s more of a runner than a passer (note his 53.9 percent completion percentage).
It’s not a hard game plan to beat Michigan; all you need to do is take away the run game from Robinson and make him pass. The Badgers did the same thing to upset Ohio State last year against Terrelle Pryor’s noodle arm. And what about the competition this Spartan defense has faced this year? Besides facing the Wolverines at home the Spartans have lost the only other tough game they have played, a 31-13 beat down at Notre Dame.
Besides Russell Wilson, what else is new and improved about Wisconsin heading into the biggest game thus far of the season? There’s the perfect balance of the Wisconsin offense, as the Badgers have gained a total of 1,594 yards in the air and 1,545 on the ground. There’s the defense, which is currently allowing the third fewest points in the FBS. Top that off with a four year starter at quarterback and the Badgers have all they need to pull off the biggest road win since beating Iowa just a year ago.
I understand this is Wisconsin’s first real road game, perhaps their first big test of the season (five of six games were in the dominant confines of Camp Randall), but Wisconsin is just too balanced on offense to be stopped. If you recall the agonizing defeat last year against Michigan State, it wasn’t the Michigan State defense that won the game, but it was the Wisconsin defense that let the game slip away.
Obviously football is a team effort, but against Michigan State one year ago the Badgers allowed Kirk Cousins to complete 20-29 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns along with two interceptions. The Spartans also seemed to control the game throughout, as they successfully converted two fourth downs, including the game winning touchdown pass with 2:43 remaining in the game.
So what can you take from all of this? Talk is cheap and actions speak louder than words. Michigan State has only faced two real opponents so far, and none of these games were as convincing as Wisconsin’s beat down on Nebraska. Look for the Badgers to get after Cousins early and the Wisconsin offense to beat up the brash Michigan State D as Wisconsin nabs its first win at Michigan State since 2002.
Nick is a senior majoring in history and English. What do you think about Michigan State’s pregame chatter? Tell him about it at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know what you think.