So, we finally got a win. Gilreath goes to the house. Brown helps put it away. Defense defends the spread. We have officially turned the corner, right?
This week is a big, scary test. After seeing the Big Ten's #2 rusher, Shonn Greene, torch our defense, the Big Ten's top back, Javon Ringer, must be giving Doeren, Levy, Casillas, and McFadden nightmares. And Hoyer isn't a world beating quarterback, but he's consistently good enough, and let's face it, he's better than Stanzi. So that's not good.
Conversely, since starting the season with a gimpy defense, we've got a new starting quarterback, a new starting tailback, a dinged up and re-shuffled offensive line, and we've lost our best offensive player for the season.
The good news is that Michigan State's defense isn't as good as Iowa's. On the other hand, it ain't bad. It held the same Iowa team that absolutely smoked us to a mere 13 points. It held a dangerous Northwestern to 20, and, ok, Ohio State smacked them around. But we're no Ohio State.
In the kicking game, the Badgers face the league leading punt returner, Jesse Johnson. Contrast him with Gilreath, who despite flashes of brilliance, is last in the league (#18) returning punts (#24 in kick off returns). The kickers are pretty similar, Welch and Swenson are both reliable -- if not world-beating -- kickers, and Nortman and Bates share a 41.9 yard punting average (middle of the conference pack).
After the depressing objective look, we can't even turn to intangibles for a little psychological boost. Sparty is +6 in turnover margin, against our -1. Bielema's Badgers are 4-6 on the road in the Big Ten and have never beaten a ranked Big Ten opponent in their house. Our last visit to East Lansing was one of the all-time low moments for the Badgers:
Let's face it, this game looks tough for us.
Is there any silver lining?
The last time the unranked Badgers played #21 MSU, we smacked 'em, 56-21 (2003). Also, we gain more yards and give up fewer yards per game (we're 4th in the Big Ten in both, they are 7th and 6th, respectively). Yeah . . . I'm reaching.
Keys to the game?
(1) Can the Badgers contain Javon Ringer?
(2) Can Hoyer force the Badgers to defend the pass?
(3) Can Chryst mix in enough effective passing plays (accurate pass followed by actual reception) to provide space for Clay and Brown to run?
(4) Can the Badgers win the turnover battle?
(5) Can the Badgers win in the kicking game?
Face it, by every objective and subjective measure, Michigan State should win this game. Every. One.
So? Ringer gets 175 yards on the ground, but Hoyer never gets going. Sherer is mediocre, but Graham makes some key grabs, and Clay and Brown (and a little Hill) combine for 160 yards.
I've just got a feeling.
A late turnover gives Wisconsin the lead, and Hoyer can't pull off the last-second victory.