Wisconsin-Michigan St. Preview
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio expects to return two weeks
after a mild heart attack, but his 24th-ranked Spartans may have a
hard time delivering their coach a stress-free victory
Against No. 11 Wisconsin, Dantonio would take any kind of
Both the Spartans and Badgers hope to turn unbeaten starts into
Big Ten success as they begin conference play in East Lansing,
where Michigan State seeks its first 5-0 start in 11 years.
The 54-year-old Dantonio had surgery Sept. 19 to put a stent in
a blocked blood vessel leading to the heart, one day after leading
the Spartans (4-0) to a dramatic 34-31 overtime victory over Notre
Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell took over coaching duties
for last Saturday’s 45-7 win over Northern Colorado, but Dantonio
hopes to coach from a box above the field this weekend.
“I’m going to ease back into this much like anybody would after
any injury,” Dantonio said Tuesday. “I’m going to listen to our
doctors, but I am going to ease back into this and do something
daily with our football team.”
Dantonio saw plenty of good things from his team watching last
weekend’s blowout from home. Quarterback Kirk Cousins went 16 of 20
for 290 yards and two touchdowns, and freshman Le’Veon Bell carried
11 times for 92 yards and three TDs.
Linebacker Greg Jones was named Big Ten co-defensive player of
the week after grabbing two interceptions and forcing a fumble
against the overmatched Bears.
“Every game is hopefully a stepping stone to bigger and better
things,” running back Edwin Baker said. “We need to do everything
well against (Big Ten opponents) – run the ball, pass the ball,
Baker and Bell have combined for 845 yards and 12 touchdowns on
the ground, but the Badgers (4-0) may have an even more menacing
tandem of backs.
While junior John Clay notched his 10th consecutive game with at
least 100 yards and a touchdown during a 70-3 win over Austin Peay
last Saturday, freshman James White was even better, carrying 11
times for 145 yards and four scores.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien was also sharp against the lowly
Governors, going 15 of 17 for 217 yards and three TDs, but the
Badgers are prepared for much tougher challenges.
“We were talking about that on the sidelines,” White said. “Clay
and (senior running back) Zach Brown were telling me that it’s a
lot different when Big Ten play comes. These guys are bigger,
faster, stronger, things like that. They’re out to win the Big Ten
championship just like we are.”
This is the seventh straight year that Wisconsin has entered
conference play unbeaten, but things haven’t always gone as well in
the Big Ten.
The Badgers are 13-11 in Big Ten games over the last three
years, including 4-8 on the road. They blew an 11-point
fourth-quarter lead and lost 25-24 at Michigan State on Nov. 1,
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema is hopeful things will be different
this time around.
“I really do believe this group, especially the 70 guys that’ll
hop on the plane with us, they really do believe in what we do,”
Bielema said. “There is no wandering eyes, there’s no `Here we go
again,’ it’s just `OK, let’s just do what we do.”
Michigan State has its own history to overcome. The Spartans
were coached by Nick Saban when they last began 5-0 in 1999, and
they’ve lost 14 of 15 against ranked opponents dating back to
Dantonio doesn’t want to be the center of attention leading up
to the game.
“I think it’s very, very important that we focus on Wisconsin –
that the focus go from Mark Dantonio and that night to Wisconsin
and what we have to get done this weekend,” Dantonio said.
Stopping the run may be the most important task for Michigan
State. Clay, who ranks fifth nationally in rushing, has run for at
least 100 yards in both of his previous games against the
Tolzien, however, threw for four touchdowns in a 38-30 home win
last year over Michigan State, and he may have injured wide
receivers Nick Toon and David Gilreath back in the lineup. Tight
end Lance Kendricks has been Tolzien’s favorite target the last two
games, totaling 13 catches for 234 yards and two touchdowns.