September 30, 2010

Michigan State style bears resemblance to UW

When he looks across the line of scrimmage on Saturday, linebacker Mike Taylor may need to do a double take just to be sure he's at Spartan Stadium and not on the Badgers' practice field.

Beginning behind center and extending to the backfield, the Michigan State offense bears a striking similarity to the one the UW linebacker faces during the week. Last year, that worked to Taylor's advantage, as he led Wisconsin in tackles with eight, including a sack, while also grabbing his first career interception.

"It's like kind of like the same offense," Taylor said. "When they're similar like that, you've got a little more experience with it.

"This week, we practiced more against our offense than the scout team to kind of get us ready for the physical play, the running play and the play action."

Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien rank sixth and seventh in the Big Ten in passing yards per game, separated by a mere three yards. On the ground, running back John Clay ranks third in the conference with 125.2 yards per game, just ahead of the Spartans' duo of Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell, who rank fourth and fifth.

Averaging 233.2 yards through the air and 231.5 on the ground, the Spartans have the most balanced, and potent, attack the Badgers will have faced this season. Fortunately for Wisconsin, its defense ranks fourth and fifth in the Big Ten in stopping the run and pass, respectively.

With such a balanced Spartan attack, the key for Wisconsin -- regardless of how Michigan State is moving the ball -- is simple.

"We need to be consistent, that's the biggest thing," said defensive backs coach Chris Ash. "That's been the biggest issue with us for all four games, just being consistent. If we do that, then we'll go out and give ourselves a chance to win."

One area in which Ash sees a need for greater consistency, especially against Big Ten competition, is tackling.

In particular, while he appreciates the confident, hard-hitting nature of his safeties, he'd like to see them do a better job of wrapping up when necessary.

"Every week we go, our tackling is important," Ash said. "It might be more so this week just because they're bigger backs and the way we have to tackle them is a bit different. But every week our tackling has to improve."

With the Spartans' size, the Badgers on Saturday will deal for the first time this season with something similar to what opponents face in trying to bring down guys like Clay and tight end Lance Kendricks.

While the similarities may make understanding the Michigan State attack easier, it doesn't do anything to lessen the talent and balance possessed by the Spartans. Just as opposing teams have to do with their offense, the Badgers will need to defend equally against the run and the pass.

"They're pretty balanced and they're going to keep us in check," Taylor said. "We've got to focus on what we do, be our best selves, do our job and hopefully that'll take care of it.

"They're a complete team. They can throw the ball, they can run the ball. It's going to be a challenge. We've got to focus, play our football and hopefully rise up to the challenge."

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