Latest Team Rankings
Free Text Alerts
|ShopMobileRadio RSSRivals.com Yahoo! Sports|
|College Teams||High Schools|
June 23, 2012
Know Thy Foe continues today, and we've hit on one of the bigger games in the Badgers' 2012 schedule: a home date with the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans will come to Madison on Oct. 22, where they'll renew a series with the Badgers that has grown more heated with every recent meeting. The 2011 season saw two meetings between the teams, with the Spartans taking the first game in East Lansing, and the Badgers extracting revenge in the high-scoring Big Ten Championship Game.
It looks like one of the Badgers' marquee home games of the season, so we contacted an expert on the Spartans to give BadgerBlitz.com the inside scoop on Mark Dantonio's program. Jesse O'Brien is a reporter for The State News, Michigan State's student newspaper, and we're certainly thankful for his insight.
Know Thy Foe: Michigan State
The Spartans are obviously on the rise after two great seasons. What kind of shape are the Spartans in as they head into 2012? Obviously losing Kirk Cousins will be a big blow, but what kind of talent is left in the cupboard for Mark Dantonio to use?
Jesse O'Brien: MSU still is in very good shape heading into the 2012 season for one big reason - its defense. Pat Narduzzi has put together one of the top defensive units in the country, and although the Spartans lost some quality players to graduation or the draft, there still is a lot of talent on that starting 11. MSU returns eight starters on defense, including defensive end William Gholston and its linebacking corps of Max Bullough, Chris Norman and Denicos Allen. Offensively there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to the passing game, especially with junior Andrew Maxwell in his first year as the starting quarterback. Maxwell has more raw athletic ability than Cousins and certainly has the support of his teammates, but replacing a natural leader like Cousins is always difficult. The incumbent receiving corps also has a lot of skill, but is very inexperienced. MSU's running game remains largely intact, with only junior Edwin Baker departing.
I've already mentioned Cousins, but the Spartans appear to be losing quite a bit out of their receiver corps. How much of an effect will this have on the Spartans' offense this year? Will they shift more to the running game, or do they have the playmakers to fill the voids?
JO: As I said earlier, MSU has a very inexperienced group at the wide receiver and tight end positions. All spring, Mark Dantonio talked about finding a way to replace the numbers put up by BJ Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol. Keith Mumphery has a lot of speed and big play ability, while Tony Lippett has been impressive on both sides of the ball, but played mostly on defense last year. Bennie Fowler should be ready to do some big things after missing most of last season with a foot injury, and the addition of former Tennessee wideout DeAnthony Arnett should help to replace some of those numbers. I would imagine at least to begin the season, the Spartans will have to rely on Le'Veon Bell, Larry Caper and Nick Hill to do some heavy lifting on offense. But as Maxwell and these young receivers get accustomed to their role, they should hold their own in the Big Ten.
The Spartan defense has been very impressive recently. Should we expect the same kind of defense this year, and what is it about Dantonio and Narduzzi's defenses that have been so effective recently?
JO: Retaining Pat Narduzzi as defensive coordinator this past winter was one of the most important offseason moves this team has made. Narduzzi has crafted a national championship-calibre defensive unit, and what makes it so effective is the ability to stop the run. MSU attacks the ball aggressively, utilizing shifting linebackers and blitzing corners to make running on the Spartans a nightmare. The corners do a very good job of making it difficult for receivers to get off the line cleanly, forcing opposing offenses to use slower developing routes allowing the defensive front to get into the backfield.
What's the best-case and worst-case scenario for the Spartans this year? Are people right to expect another division title, despite the fact that the Spartans are losing a lot of talent at the skill positions?
JO: It's very unlikely that MSU will win 11 games again - that's just the truth. With games against Boise State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, at Wisconsin, and at Michigan, MSU faces another brutal schedule. That being said, thanks to the realignment of the Big Ten, a 10-2 team can still find its way into the Big Ten Championship game and the Rose Bowl. Depending on how long it takes for MSU's very green offense to find its groove, the Spartans have a very real chance to repeat as Legends division champs, but they'll have to win a crucial matchup in Ann Arbor against a hungry Michigan team to do so. If Maxwell and those young receivers can't get it going early, it won't take long for opposing defenses to figure out how to stop MSU's deep backfield, and the Spartans could fall to 7-5. Realistically, I would expect the Spartans to end up somewhere between those two; 9-3 with a non-BCS bowl berth.
The Badgers and Spartans have combined for some great games over the last few years. What should we expect to see this year in Camp Randall? What do the Spartans need to do to get a win in Camp Randall, and how much of a chance do you give them of escaping Madison with a road win?
JO: The growing MSU-Wisconsin rivalry has become one of my favorites in college sports. Last year's games at Spartan Stadium and in Indianapolis were some of the best football games I've ever had the pleasure of watching, and we can absolutely expect to see another instant classic in Madison come October. Having not seen either team play a single down yet, MSU will need to get moving quicker than it has the last few match-ups and not fall behind early. The Spartans need to find a way to stop Montee Ball and force the Badgers to beat them in the air. After last year's thrilling Big Ten Championship game you can expect the Spartans to come in looking for revenge and the Badgers looking to maintain the edge on this fierce rivalry. Suffice it to say, Oct. 22 definitely is circled in red on each team's calendar.
Thanks again to Jesse for giving us the scoop on the Spartans. For more Spartans news, you can follow Jesse on Twitter (@jesseobrien).
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.