The Spartans head into Camp Randall tomorrow to play Wisconsin. Recently, these games have led to high-scoring games decided on late touchdowns. This one ... has the look of something a little different. The Badgers struggled early this season and have been picking it up of late, while Michigan State started off well but is on a 1-3 slide.
To see what to expect from Wisconsin this year, I got together with MadTown Badgers to talk Badgers football. (See my responses here.)
The Little Brother Blog: Going into the season few -- if any -- would have expected Joel Stave to play. How much has his development meant to this team?
Madtown Badgers: Well, I will say this much, count me in the few that did expect him to play. Having seen him in person for two spring games he came out of both as easily the most impressive player. Having said that, I was more surprised how little confidence this offense had with Danny O'Brien behind center.
Stave's development has been absolutely huge. Since he came in at half time of the Utah State game this offense has just looked different. They're more confident and the playbook has started to open up. I think that says a lot about a guy that was a preferred walk-on and is a starter in his redshirt freshman year.
He's not a perfect player by any stretch, but what freshman is?
TLBB: After averaging just 16.3 points per game in the first three games of the season, Wisconsin hasn't been held below 27 in its past five. What changed?
MTB: I hit a bit on that in the first answer, but to me it's all about confidence. They have more confidence in Joel #RicoStave than they did in O'Brien and they've also been willing to use his arm strength to their advantage.
The other change that most on the outside not paying attention don't know about is the change of offensive line coach. They scrapped what Mike Markuson was doing and went with an understudy of former OL coach Bob Bostad and that group has really gone back to the way we as fans expect them to perform.
Those changes and the reemergence of Montee (not Mon-TAY) Ball have sparked this offense to show it's not just about the coaches, but talented players UW has.
TLBB: Obviously Montee Ball still is a great talent, but hasn't been doing as much this season. Has the offensive line been picking up its play lately? How big do you think winning the battle between the Wisconsin O-line and MSU D-line is for the Badgers?
MTB: The one nice thing about this team is that they've won games without the best of Ball and the offensive line and I think you hit it right on the head, we need to win the battle against your defensive line, same as you need to against our defensive line.
However, I would take issue with your statement that Ball hasn't been doing as much this season. He had a historic season in 2011 and expecting him to play at that level is crazy. Having said that Ball is the leading running back in the conference and has 13 TDs already this season (Editor's Note: Ball is second in the Big Ten in rushing, behind Le'Veon Bell).
Since Big Ten play has opened up he has nearly 1,000 yards rushing and 10TD's. So, it's not as if he's a slouch by any means. After that Purdue game it's really safe to say the old style of Ball's play is back and that should scare anyone.
TLBB: Seemingly under-the-radar, Wisconsin's defense ranks third in the Big Ten overall. Who should Spartan fans watch out for up front, as MSU's offensive line has struggled?
MTB: Two names have really stuck out this season and those are David Gilbert at DE and Beau Allen at DT. Allen is a wrecking ball and has really helped in getting pressure from the middle. He's got 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.
Gilbert is back to his old form and, while Allen's numbers are good, Gilbert's are better with 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also has been great at setting the edges for the linebacking unit behind him that are the real stars of this team.
TLBB: What in your mind is the biggest X-factor in this game?
MTB: Whose wide receivers can step up. Burbridge looks more likely to be a good one for MSU, but Wisconsin has a true star in Jared Abbrederis. Beyond that they need another wide receiver to step up and it could be either Jordan Frederick or Kenzel Doe.