Wisconsin vs. Michigan State - the games conjour up bittersweet memories for Badger fans the past two seasons. On the one hand their are the two regular season losses that likely prevented the Badgers from their shot at a first National Championship. On the other hand there's the victory over Sparty in the first ever Big Ten championship game that got us to a second straight Rose Bowl.
However you chose to look at the past, the game in front of us sees teams going in different directions yet are very similar in terms of what they could be going through. In order to sift through all that's going on we decided to reach out to fellow Bloguin site The Little Brothers Blog and get the opposing viewpoint on this game. So, make sure you check them out for all the info from the Sparty side of things!
MTB: There seemed to be this common thought that this team would just be a "plug & play" team, but how much does this team actually miss Kirk Cousins?
TLBB: Right now, a lot. I say that because of the leadership Cousins brought to the Spartans the past few seasons. In situations like this – coming off a loss and struggling – Cousins was the guy the team could turn to.
There have been plays, too, especially last week against Michigan, that Cousins would have made easily and Andrew Maxwell missed. But, leadership and experience are the things this team seems to be missing the most on offense, and those are things Cousins brought to the table.
This team also greatly misses the reliability of B.J. Cunningham and the big-play ability of Keshawn Martin -- the player I think they miss the most offensively from last year. Martin was just a touchdown waiting to happen, and his explosiveness would do wonders for this team.
MTB: His replacement Andrew Maxwell numbers seem to be o.k., but what is your assessment of his play so far? Is he capable of leading this team to a victory on his back?
TLBB: Maxwell flashes a lot of talent, but hasn’t quite put it together yet on the field. I think that is a combination of the receivers struggling with drops and the offensive line being crippled by injuries – and struggling in general. More so than most, I believe Maxwell is a pretty darn good quarterback, but because of the problems around him, he hasn’t been able to show it fully yet.
Your question is basically what I have said is the key for this MSU team this season: Maxwell has to win games for this team. Le’Veon Bell is fantastic, but teams know that … so Maxwell has to find a way to win. I think he can do so, it just hasn’t happened yet – although Indiana could be a win that you credit to Maxwell.
MTB: Le'Veon Bell has been the spark for your offense, but against strong defenses he hasn't been able to really carry this team on his back. Do you see him getting off against the Badgers D?
TLBB: While he has not put up the same numbers against good defenses, I also look to the ways those teams just stacked the box, giving him no chance. The MSU offense is built on the run, so he will get his carries, but at this point, I think offensive coordinator Dan Roushar needs to realize what I said above: Maxwell has to win games. The pass has to be built early, then open up the run in my mind for this team. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen that way.
I expect Bell to get about 20 carries for 80 yards or so. I hope for more, but that seems realistic given the way the Badgers front seven plays – especially the linebacking core.
MTB: Speaking of defense, what do you see as the area that Wisconsin can exploit, if any?
TLBB: Extended plays. The best way to beat the MSU defense is to get the quarterback out of the pocket, make the cornerbacks cover for a longer time and then throw long. Russell Wilson was the master of this against MSU.
Johnny Adams, who was so highly thought of coming into the season, has been beaten often this year when the defensive line fails to put heavy pressure on the quarterback.
So, if Jared Abbrederis can make some plays downfield, Wisconsin should find success.
MTB: It seems like the wide receivers are starting to figure it out, especially Aaron Burbridge. What do they bring to the table that may challenge UW?
TLBB: The play of Burbridge cannot be understated. He is the go-to guy already for Maxwell after just three starts. The challenge Wisconsin will face is the confidence level of the receivers, which they really have building and it has kept growing lately. They are making plays and catching the ball with consistency.
MSU fans and coaches are excited to see the combination of Burbridge and tight end Dion Sims on the field at the same time, which only happened for a short time in the Indiana win. The two can both make plays and probably are the biggest threats in the passing game in the red zone – where MSU’s offense struggles. I expect to see those two, and Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett, used to spread out the Badgers defense.
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