Camp Randall Stadium is going to be rocking on Saturday when No. 8 Wisconsin (5-0) hosts unranked Michigan State (4-2). It has been three years since these Big Ten teams played each other, with the Badgers winning the most-recent matchup in East Lansing. Will Wisconsin continue its perfect season and quest for the College Football Playoff, or will Michigan State pull off the upset and climb back into the Top 25?
Here is a preview for Saturday’s game, including betting odds and a prediction.
Defense Shining For Wisconsin
With high-powered offenses all over college football, there is a defense up in Madison that is equally as dominant. Statistically, the Badgers have the best defense in the country. Through five games, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 29 points as well as 178.6 yards per game, which includes a huge win against then-No. 11 Michigan. While the rest of their opponents have been underwhelming, the Badgers will bring an elite defense that thrives on keeping offenses guessing with multiple schemes.
When it comes to the other side of the ball, Wisconsin will once again rely on star running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor has already run for 745 yards and 12 touchdowns behind Wisconsin’s renowned offensive line, averaging over seven yards per carry. When they do pass, quarterback Jack Coan has been reliable, completing almost 75 percent of his passes, with seven touchdowns to only one interception. Coan will aim to get leading receiver Quintez Cephus involved as well. Cephus had a breakout game against Michigan and hopes to put on a similar performance against the Spartans.
For Wisconsin to win, two things will have to happen. First, the defense must continue its dominance and shut down any semblance of a running game the Spartans will have. It seems doable, with the Badgers boasting the second-best run defense in the nation as well as the No. 1 pass efficiency defense.
And speaking of efficiency, the second thing will be for Coan to hit his targets and avoid turnovers. He has done well in this regard, but will need to do so again to avoid giving Michigan State prime field position and/or scoring opportunities.
Michigan State Focused On Stopping The Run
In years past, Michigan State has had an elite secondary that shut down the passing game, affectionately known as the “No-Fly Zone.” But this year’s team is the “No-Run Zone” of sorts, where the Spartans have built their identity on stopping the run. Their dominance stopping the run started last season, when they had the nation’s best run defense, but now they will face a tough challenge in Thomas and the Badger O-line.
The Spartans are also a team that loves to run the football. Redshirt freshman running back Elijah Collins has emerged as the featured back, carrying the ball 90 times for 476 yards and three touchdowns. However, late in last week’s loss to Ohio State, Collins grabbed his hamstring in pain. He insisted that he was fine and that he was just experiencing cramping, but will coach Mark Dantonio trust Collins for 20-or-more carries? He has yet to have more than 19 in a game.
If the Spartans are forced to throw against the nation’s top defense, fifth-year senior Brian Lewerke will need to put on a show. Lewerke has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns.
If Michigan State is going to win, it must shut Taylor down. The offense, even with a healthy Collins, will likely struggle against Wisconsin’s formidable defense. So this game will really come down to the battle of lines: the MSU defensive line versus the Wisconsin offensive line. If the Spartans can get into the backfield on a consistent basis and force Coan to throw more, they will have a chance.
Betting Odds and Pick
Wisconsin is a decent favorite, listed at -10.5 for the game. Oddsmakers are also looking at both team’s stellar defenses, with the over/under placed at an anemic 39.5.
While these teams have played each other fairly evenly over their last 10 meetings, I think this game will be controlled by Wisconsin. The Badgers have the ability to dominate up front, run the football, and dictate the entire pace of the game. The Spartans defense is good enough to avoid a blowout, but I think Wisconsin wins comfortably, beating MSU 28-13 to cover the spread.