When Wisconsin and Michigan State get together, the defenses tend to be the story of the game. That trend has a good chance to continue this weekend as Michigan State travels to Wisconsin to play a second straight Big Ten contender in as many weeks. After taking a bruising loss on the road against Ohio State, Mark Dantonio's program gets no favors with a trip to Madison, where points have come at a premium for visiting teams.
Wisconsin has emerged as the favorite in the Big Ten West Division, but there is not much room to take a breather. A win against Michigan State would improve Wisconsin to 2-0 against a couple of the top teams from the Big Ten East, which was supposed to be a difficult challenge for the Badgers coming into the 2019 season. With the defense leading the way and Jonathan Taylor always poised for a big run, Wisconsin hopes to keep its undefeated record going in Week 7.
Michigan State at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -10.5
When Michigan State Has the Ball
The Spartans may arrive in Madison averaging 27.8 points per game, but just how inflated is that average? Michigan State has scored 17 points combined against the only power conference teams they have played with a winning record this season (7 against Arizona State, 10 against Ohio State last week). Going up against a defense that has allowed just 29 points total in its first five games of the year suggests that Brian Lewerke and the Michigan State offense have an incredibly tough task on their hands this week.
Michigan State fumbled twice in its first four offensive snaps last week at Ohio State. Look to see if the Spartans do a better job protecting the football, because Wisconsin will be looking to knock the ball loose. The Badgers are tied for the most forced fumbles in the Big Ten this season with nine. The Badgers have also recovered six fumbles, good for second most in the Big Ten (Illinois leads the conference with eight fumble recoveries).
Keeping drives alive may be a problem for Michigan State, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten in third-down conversion percentage. Wisconsin's staunch defense has allowed just 11 third-down conversions in 69 attempts. Wisconsin is the only team in the Big Ten holding opponents under a 20 percent success rate on third-down conversions. Michigan State converted just four of its 13 third-down plays last week against the Buckeyes.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Expect Wisconsin to follow a pretty standard formula for success again this week. Handing the ball to Jonathan Taylor remains a solid play for the Wisconsin offense, and he is fully capable of racking up some big yardage early on against Michigan State. He certainly got off to a great start against Michigan a couple of weeks ago, and Wisconsin would love to see that again.
But what makes Wisconsin more of a viable contender in the Big Ten this season is the play of quarterback Jack Coan. Although he is not asked to do too much, he has been very reliable throwing the football. Coan has completed 70 percent of his passes against Big Ten opposition and has thrown seven touchdowns with just one interception this season while completing nearly 75 percent of his passes overall. Coan has yet to throw a touchdown against a Big Ten team, although he hasn't really needed to throw one either (he did run for two against the Wolverines).
Look for Wisconsin to try to get leading receiver Quintez Cephus involved. Cephus had 130 receiving yards against Michigan but had no more than 36 yards in any of the last three games. He should get more targets against the Spartans.
The bottom line is pretty simple. Michigan State needs to find a way to score points, and that has been the Spartans' kryptonite against the best defenses they have faced this season. That story won't change on Saturday, because Wisconsin has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, if not the nation. Wisconsin has given up some points to its big Ten opponents in Camp Randall Stadium this season, but both games were well in hand by the time their opponents got on the board. With the way Michigan State's offense is performing, or underperforming, expect Wisconsin to have a healthy lead by the time the Spartans make a dent on the scoreboard this weekend.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Michigan State 10
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.