If facing No. 8 Michigan State University on the road wasn’t hard enough for the Badgers, Thursday’s injury report just made it harder.
No. 11 Wisconsin (3-0) will head to East Lansing to take on No. 8 Michigan State (2-0) for the teams’ Big Ten opener with Alex Hornibrook primed to make his first career college start with minimal running back depth.
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Tailbacks Corey Clement (left ankle) and redshirt sophomore Taiwan Deal (right leg) are both listed as questionable for Saturday’s contest. UW head coach Paul Chryst appeared cautiously optimistic while speaking to reporters Thursday.
“He was able to do a little bit more so I feel better,” Chryst said. “He’s done more this week than last week so I think there’s a chance.”
If Clement and Deal are unable to play, that leaves Wisconsin with just one true running back on the roster. Fifth-year senior Dare Ogunbowale. Redshirt freshman Bradrick Shaw, who flashed his potential in spurts against Akron and Georgia State, is also out with a right shoulder injury.
That doesn’t bode well for Wisconsin, given that Michigan State is ranked first in run defense in the Big Ten and eighth in the nation (72 yards per game). The University of Notre Dame exposed some weaknesses in Michigan State’s passing game last week, however, which could be a good sign for Hornibrook and the Wisconsin offense.
Freshman left guard Jon Dietzen (right leg) and kicker Rafael Gaglianone (back) are also out for Saturday. Chryst said he was unsure of the severity of Gaglianone’s injury and whether he’d miss extended time. Andrew Endicott is expected to take over place-kicking duties for the Badgers.
After a week of speculation, UW officially announced Wednesday night that Hornibrook would replace fifth-year senior Bart Houston under center. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported the news Sunday night and Hornibrook hinted at the switch during his media availability with reporters on Tuesday.
While UW defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox includes stops in the SEC and PAC-12, Saturday’s battle with the Spartans will be the first time Wilcox will coach a defense in a Big Ten conference game. He said the preparation was no different, even for the hard-nosed style the Big Ten is known for and embodied in the Wisconsin and Michigan State programs.
“It’s football,” Wilcox said. “The other team gives you the information, you need to get ready … but preparation should never change, doesn’t matter if you’re getting ready for the first game of the season, third game, fifth game, fifth game. It’s all about how you approach your work and your preparation.”
Wilcox’s defense will have to contain MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor, who won his position during a training camp battle. Through his first two games, the fifth-year senior has completed 72.7 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions and possesses mobile qualities as well.
Among his favorite targets is senior wide receiver R.J. Shelton of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Shelton leads the Spartans in receptions (eight) and has one touchdown. UW fifth-year outside linebacker Vince Biegel remembers Shelton from their high school playing days. Biegel said taking on MSU is an opportunity he and the rest of the team won’t take for granted.
“As a competitor, that’s what you want,” Biegel said. “You want to go out there and play some of the top teams, some of these top players at these programs.”
Short-handed or not, the Badgers will do just that on Saturday.
Bumbaca’s Prediction: Michigan State 20, Wisconsin 17
Let me preface this by saying I think Corey Clement will play. If he doesn’t, the Badgers are in much deeper trouble than the score I’ve offered above. Moreover, I don’t believe Clement will be 100 percent healthy. If he is healthy, I think Wisconsin will win.
That being said, there are problems in the secondary right now for the UW defense and I’m not sure one week of practice will be enough to eradicate those miscues. Combine that with a limited running game, a young quarterback, a potential hole at left guard, a placekicker who has never attempted a field goal in his college career and being on the road, and I don’t see UW pulling it off.
It will be close, but I think they will come up just short.
TV, Radio, Game Information
Where: East Lansing, Michigan. Spartan Stadium.
When: 11 a.m.
TV: Big Ten Network (Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen, Lisa Byington)
Radio: (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Patrick Herb)
Head-to-head: MSU leads, 30-22
Mark Dantonio’s record vs. UW: 7-4