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MADISON - After going against three Big Ten teams with a combined conference record of 0-9, it’s evident Wisconsin’s offense is going to get a challenge unlike anything it has seen this season against Michigan State.
During Thursday’s press conference, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was quite complimentary, saying this will arguably be the best defensive front and secondary the Badgers face this season.
Michigan State (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) ranks first in the conference in scoring defense (15.3 ppg), total defense (277.1 ypg) and rushing defense (100.3 ypg) and is fourth in passing defense (176.9 ypg). The only defensive category the Spartans don’t rank well in his sacks, as its six quarterback takedowns are last in the conference.
But with the Spartans having the fifth-best total defense in the country and two defensive ends — William Gholston and Marcus Rush —that can cause havoc on any play, it’s not a surprise to see that some teams change how they attack the Spartans’ defense.
“People are getting rid of the ball,” Bielema said. “Some teams it’s their quick passing game. That’s why it’s hard to sack Purdue. Even in the traditional drop-back game, Iowa is a drop back team and they were getting rid of the football. Knowing that you’re going to get pressure and that’s why they won’t let them get a chance to get it.”
Michigan State’s defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is well known for mixing pressures and sending blitzes during traditional and non-traditional blitzing situations. Against Minnesota, redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave took a number of sacks by holding on to the ball too long, costing Wisconsin pressure field position and field goal attempts.
“There’s two things you’ve got to do (to avoid pressure),” said Bielema. “You either have to protect with a maximum number of people to get the ball down the field or have a short passing game that gets out when they’re bringing pressures.”
It could be part of the reason Wisconsin has done a lot of good verse good this week to accustom the offense to pressure situations and prepare the defense for Michigan State’s power running back – Le’Veon Bell – and two-tight end sights.
“We did more on Tuesday and Wednesday probably then we’ve done all fall,” said Bielema. “That’s good carry over.”
But while most of the focus on this game has been how Wisconsin’s offense can fare against the Spartans’ defense, Saturday will mark an opportunity for Wisconsin’s defense to flex its muscles.
Ranking in the top five in the conference in total defense (third), rushing defense (third), scoring defense (fourth) and passing defense (fifth), Wisconsin is looking to hold its fourth straight team to 14 points or less.
“I think our defense wants people to know that we’re playing pretty good ball here as well,” said Bielema, who admitted that Wisconsin, more so that past years, has been relying on its defense to create field position. “I don’t think our defensive guys are into that kind of thing. They’re not really driven by what kind of awards or how many people are talking to them, but it’s kind of why I said those things in my presser. Our guys have done some good things. They deserve to get some awards.”