Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Hughes: Expect a rematch with Michigan State

Last year, in a column I wrote about how Ohio State had usurped Minnesota as Wisconsin’s biggest rival given the level of competition over the past few years; I mentioned how much it must annoy OSU that UW frequently gets in the way of its bigger and better plans.

In other words, Wisconsin had become a consistent nuisance to Ohio State – both in basketball and football.

But if there is anyone who is a nuisance to Wisconsin, it has got to be Michigan State.


You know the story. For the second year in a row, the Spartans smeared something good, something special.

Just to add some perspective: In 2004, Wisconsin visited Spartan Stadium ranked fifth in the BCS standings. It was the second-to-last game of the season, and UW lost 49-14.

In basketball last year, Wisconsin blew a nine-point lead late in the second half and eventually lost in overtime 64-61.

When it comes to the members of this Badger team, though, whatever happened in 2004 or on the basketball court is neither here nor there.

Still, given the last two meetings with the Spartans, it would not come as a surprise if some members of the Badgers would especially relish a rematch – and victory – over MSU in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.

For starters, Montee Ball is hoping he will see Michigan State again this year.

“Of course,” Ball said, after being asked if he’d see the Spartans again. “Hopefully we do.”

That was just this past Saturday. In the hours after the Indiana game, Ball also said he thought Wisconsin owed Michigan State for last year’s 34-24 loss. Imagine what he feels the Spartans deserve now.

But when a team becomes a nuisance for another, some people – namely, fans – can become hesitant for rematches when they begin to fear that they just cannot beat this particular opponent.

Can Wisconsin defeat Michigan State? Oh, you bet.

Other than giving up two turnovers, the Wisconsin offense unlocked the Michigan State defense like nobody had ever done this season. Just look at this comparison:

On average (before Saturday’s game), MSU allowed 119 passing yards a game, and UW threw for 223. On the ground, MSU’s defense averaged 67 yards on the ground, and UW ran for 220. In total offense, the Spartans allowed, on average, 186 yards a game, while the Badgers busted that wide open with 443. MSU’s defense normally allowed no more than about 11 points a game, and UW scored 31.

The above stats for the Spartans were top-five numbers nationally in each category.

The Spartans’ offense is replete with talent, as well. And given a few of Russell Wilson’s mishaps – an unwise throw that led to his second interception and a preventable fumble early in the second half – MSU might have the conference’s calmest quarterback in Kirk Cousins, although Wilson wouldn’t be far behind.

Nevertheless, Michigan State’s offense has come nowhere near as dominant as its defense this year, as the Spartans do not come within the nation’s top 40 in passing, rushing or total offense, as well as scoring.

Wisconsin held Michigan State’s offense to below its seasonal averages in two of those four categories – total and rushing offense. Cousins did have his way through the air, but MSU’s offense did also get a nine-point boost from its defense and special teams, as well.

And not to belittle the significance of special teams’ performances, but Wisconsin’s offense clearly showed it was better than Michigan State’s defense while UW’s defense showed more poise than I thought it would against a formidable MSU offense.

Knowing that, Wisconsin can – and probably should win a rematch – should it occur Dec. 3.

The two biggest things that stood in the Badgers’ way on Saturday were, indeed, special teams and failure in pressure situations.

Special teams took points off the board on a blocked field goal attempt and put points on for Michigan State after a blocked punt resulted in a touchdown.

Perhaps more importantly, though, they were huge factors in the gigantic shift in momentum in the second quarter that had UW clawing back from for the rest of the second half.

Tight end Jacob Byrne allowed Darqueze Dennard to rush around his edge on the field goal while offensive lineman Robert Burge, as an upback on the punt, whiffed on the block that allowed the deflection. Those mistakes are correctable.

But on the other hand, it’s not very easy to just come out on top in pressure situations. Michigan State converted on eight of 16 third-down attempts as well as a fourth-down try that turned into a 35-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham.

That sounds pretty familiar to last year, when the Spartans converted nine of 18 third downs and two of three fourth downs. One of those fourth downs included a 1-yard, game-clinching touchdown pass to Cunningham.

For some reason, it is common for fans to engage in the ifs and buts after losing a game that involved multiple special teams miscues.

It is almost never worth going through the ifs and buts. Looking toward the next meeting is more rational.

Both teams appear to be on a path that will pit them against each other in the Big Ten Championship Game, and if Wisconsin can polish its special teams and play better in flex situations, then it will have the motivation and manpower to take down Michigan State on that neutral field.

Elliot is a senior majoring in journalism. Do you think the Badgers would win a rematch in Indianapolis? Let him know what you think at [email protected] or tweet @BHeraldSports.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Badger Herald

Your donation will support the student journalists of University of Wisconsin-Madison. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Badger Herald

Comments (0)

All The Badger Herald Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *