View from the other side: Michigan State at Wisconsin

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Michigan State at Wisconsin

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor leads the nation with 16 total touchdowns.

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

TV/radio: Big Ten Network/760 AM

Records: Michigan State 4-2, 2-1 Big Ten; No. 8 Wisconsin 5-0, 2-0

Line: Wisconsin by 10

View from the other side

Colten Bartholomew covers Wisconsin for the Wisconsin State Journal. He breaks down the Badgers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan State-Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @CBartWSJ.

Question: It’s a simple one, but does MSU have a chance at slowing Jonathan Taylor?

Bartholomew: As much as anyone slows Taylor down, I’d say yes. Northwestern’s front seven did a good job of being patient and holding Wisconsin’s offensive linemen at the line of scrimmage and not allowing them to get to the second level. MSU’s front has been great at getting penetration this year, but they might need to stay engaged with blockers and allow the linebackers to make tackles for short gains as opposed to shooting a gap and potentially opening a big crease for Taylor. MSU’s in the game if Taylor’s under 150 yards.

Question: What has allowed QB Jack Coan to be so efficient?

Bartholomew: I’d say a combination of smart play-calling and Wisconsin avoiding third-and-long. Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph have used Coan’s accuracy on short throws to their advantage thus far, and Taylor’s emergence as a receiving threat helps that. Play-action passing will be key for the Badgers, and they were successful with it last week on first down.

Question: What has been the key to the early-season success on defense?

Bartholomew: They’re doing what defenses haven’t been able to do against Wisconsin’s offense — stopping the run, and creating third-and-longs. Wisconsin’s defense (leads) FBS in third-down conversion rate, so it’s getting off the field quickly. The pass rush has been the biggest improvement. Wisconsin has 21 sacks in five games after tallying just 19 all of last season.

Question: Any chance the Badgers get caught looking ahead two weeks to Ohio State?

Bartholomew: It’s possible, but I’d say unlikely. Wisconsin players expressed a lot of respect for Michigan State and the talent it has, so I think they’re aware it’s going to be a tough game. I thought there might be some sloppiness last week against Kent State because they’d be looking ahead to MSU and OSU, but it didn’t happen.

Question: The Spartans and Badgers have had their share of close games over the years. Will this be another one?

Bartholomew: I think so. Brian Lewerke is the best quarterback Wisconsin will face this year until Justin Fields, so he’ll test the secondary more than it has been thus far. I think Mark Dantonio will force the Badgers to hit at least a couple of big passes before conceding a less-than-eight-man box, so I think points will be tough to come by for both teams.

Players to watch

Jonathan Taylor, RB: The junior is second in the nation, averaging 149 rushing yards a game and leads the nation with 16 touchdowns. He scored five in last week’s win over Kent State — four on the ground and one receiving touchdown — and he’s gone over the 100-yard mark in 10 straight games, a number he’s surpassed 27 times in his career. Taylor has gained more than 200 yards in a game five times, including this season when ran for 203 against Michigan.

Jack Coan, QB: The Badgers aren’t counting on the junior to win them games. In fact, the more accurate description of his role would be to not lose games, and that’s exactly what Coan has done as one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the nation. He’s won his last seven starts and is completing 74.6 percent of his passes this season, which is tied for sixth in the nation. In the victory earlier this season over Michigan, Coan was 13-for-16 for 128 yards while leading touchdown drive on five of the Badgers’ first seven possessions.

Zack Baun, LB: The senior had three sacks in last week’s win over Kent State, giving him six for the season to rank tied for sixth in the nation. Baun is currently second in the Big Ten and tied for eighth in the nation with 1.9 tackles for loss per game, while is 9.5 total tackles for loss also ranks second in the conference. He’s got 23 tackles this season with two forced fumbles and seven quarterback hurries.

Facts and figures

Ahead of the chains: Wisconsin enters the game converting on 52.9 percent of its third downs, which ranks eighth-best in the country. The biggest reason the Badgers are putting themselves in manageable third-down situations is the fact they are averaging 7.3 yards per play on first down. Having RB Jonathan Taylor, helps as the junior is averaging 7.2 yards a carry.

Front runners: The Badgers are the only team in the FBS that hasn’t trailed in a game this season. Wisconsin has held an average lead of 26.4 points at halftime through five games this season and has outscored its opponents 135-3 in the first half. The Badgers have shut out their opponents three times in five games.

Dominant defense: On the strength of the three shutouts, the Badgers rank first in the nation in scoring defense (5.8 ppg), total defense (178.6 ypg), passing defense (131 ypg) and passing efficiency defense (78.3). The Badgers are also second in rushing defense at 47.6 yards a game and are limiting teams to 15.9 percent conversions on third down. Last season, Wisconsin had just 19 sacks, but through five games the Badgers have already piled up 21, an average of 4.2 per game.

Twitter: @mattcharboneau