Beat reporter Colten Bartholomew breaks down UW's Homecoming matchup with the Spartans.
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UW has to be ready for anything with the Spartans, who are desperate for a win and have a history of pulling out trick plays, especially on special teams. Still, the way the Badgers are playing on defense, and how often the offense is giving that defense an early lead to work with, should be enough.
BADGERS 21, MICHIGAN STATE 13
THE NUMBER (UW)
74.6: UW junior quarterback Jack Coan’s completion percentage, which is tied for sixth-highest in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
THE NUMBER (MICHIGAN STATE)
281: Yards per game senior quarterback Brian Lewerke is generating per game for Michigan State. UW’s defense is surrendering 178.6 total yards per game.
KEY STAT (OFFENSE)
Rushing average: Michigan State allows just 100.3 yards per game and 3 yards per carry on the ground. UW tailback Jonathan Taylor is averaging 149.0 per game and 7.2 per carry.
KEY STAT (DEFENSE)
Pass breakups: The Badgers have broken up 30 of its opponents’ 157 pass attempts (19.1 percent). When including UW’s six interceptions, 22.9 percent of opponents’ passes have been disrupted by Badgers’ defenders.
Michigan State was keeping pace with No. 3 Ohio State until turnovers doomed its chances. Its other loss of the season, against Arizona State, continues to look better as the Sun Devils climb in the AP Top 25 poll. They’ll be motivated to get back on track and in contention in a crowded Big Ten East Division.
UW is playing its fifth consecutive home game before two road games and a bye week. The Badgers have outscored opponents 168-29 during the home stand, and seem to feed off the Camp Randall Crowd
EDGE | UW
Mark Dantonio (above) is in his 13th season at Michigan State and has finished below .500 just twice in his tenure. He’s 4-4 against UW as the coach of the Spartans, and could use a big win after losing at home to Arizona State in Week 3 and being waxed by Ohio State last Saturday.
UW coach Paul Chryst has a chance to start the year 6-0 for the second time in three years — a feat the Badgers haven’t accomplished since 1896-1898, when it did so in each season.
EDGE | PUSH
UW’s top special teams weapon this season has been kickoff specialist Zach Hintze, who has 29 touchbacks in 37 tries. Punter Anthony Lotti wasn’t used against Kent State — UW punted once late in the second half and senior Connor Allen did the honors.
Badgers punt returner Jack Dunn (above) has had issues fielding kicks the last two weeks, and UW can’t afford to give up a momentum-shifting play like that on special teams.
Michigan State’s Jake Hartbarger has the 10th-best punting average in the nation (47.6 ypp), while kicker Matt Coghlin is 11 of 17 on field goals this season.
EDGE | MICHIGAN ST.
WHEN THE SPARTANS HAVE THE BALL
Senior quarterback Brian Lewerke (above) is on his way to having a career year for the Spartans.
The three-year starter is avoiding the interceptions that plagued him a year ago, having thrown just two picks in 212 attempts thus far. He has 11 touchdowns and has shown good mobility, picking up first downs with his feet when needed. Darrell Stewart Jr. (41 catches, 624 yards, four touchdowns) is his top target.
Elijah Collins is the Spartans’ top rusher, averaging 79.3 yards per game.
The question will be how Michigan State handles UW’s pass rush. The Badgers have 21 sacks this season, two more than they had all of last year, with senior outside linebacker Zack Baun leading the way with six. The Spartans have only allowed eight sacks this season, but four of them came last week against Ohio State.
Expect UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard to continue to dial up pressure.
EDGE | UW
WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
Jonathan Taylor (above) continued putting his stamp on the UW record books with a five-touchdown performance last week against Kent State. He tied a program record for TDs in a game, and passed Melvin Gordon for third place on UW’s all-time rushing list after posting his best per-carry average (9.8 yards) of the season.
The threat of Taylor running opened things up for Jack Coan in the play-action passing game, and he tallied two touchdowns on such throws.
Things will be tougher against Michigan State’s stout front seven. Linebackers Joe Bachie and Antjuan Simmons and defensive end Kenny Willekes all have more than 40 tackles this season, with Bachie leading the team with 57.
The Spartans have forced 12 turnovers this year, including seven interceptions. However, this defense was thrashed by Ohio State last week, allowing 529 yards of total offense, 323 of which came on the ground.
EDGE | UW
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