Place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
After losing three of its last four games, Michigan State’s postseason bowl hopes are fading fast as the Spartans prepare to face surging Wisconsin on Saturday.
The Spartans’ four Big Ten games have been decided by a combined 10 points, but they’re 1-3 in conference play after struggling to generate any consistent offense. Michigan State’s woes could continue against a Wisconsin defense that’s allowed only five rushing touchdowns and 17.8 points per game.
The Badgers have won three straight, including last Saturday’s 38-13 victory against Minnesota when tailbacks Montee Ball and James White both rushed for more than 100 yards. Michigan State’s impressive defense will look to slow down Wisconsin, which has averaged 34.2 points in its last five games.
Michigan State Spartans (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten): The Spartans rank 11th in the conference in scoring offense with 19.6 points per game, but their defense keeps them in most games. Max Bullough has 68 tackles and was named one of 12 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the country.
The Spartans have allowed only nine offensive touchdowns, and they’re ranked fifth in the nation in total defense at 277 yards per game. On offense, Le’Veon Bell ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing with 123 yards per game, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell has a 7-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and is completing only 55 percent of his passes.
One of his favorite targets, tight end Dion Sims, could be back at full strength against the Badgers after suffering an ankle injury two weeks ago.
Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1): The Badgers have rushed for 804 yards over their last two games against Purdue and Minnesota, but Michigan State’s stout run defense should provide a challenge. Ball needs five touchdowns to break the all-time NCAA record of 78 set by Travis Prentice of Miami (Ohio). Left tackle Ricky Wagner (right knee) is questionable, but the Badgers’ offensive line didn’t miss a beat when he was out last week.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave is mostly a game manager at this point in his career, but he’ll need to secure the ball against Michigan State’s blitzing defense. The Spartans’ struggling offense faces another stiff test against Wisconsin, which ranks 18th in the country in total defense. Linebacker Mike Taylor averages a team-high 10.5 tackles.
1. The last six games in the series have been decided by a combined 31 points, with all six games decided by 10 points or less.
2. Wisconsin has won 21 consecutive home games, the second-longest active streak in the country behind LSU (22). The Badgers have also won 12 consecutive games against Big Ten opponents.
3. This will likely be the final meeting between the two teams until 2017 since the Big Ten schedule rotates between divisions each year.