Dienhart: Breaking down the matchups
With the Big Ten championship game matchup set, it’s time to start looking at Wisconsin and Michigan State from a unit by unit standpoint. Who has the edge on the offensive line? Defensive line? Offensive backfield? Receiving corps? We take a look today.
MICHIGAN STATE: The unit entered the year with questions and got off to a rough start. But the group—LT Dan France; LG Joel Foreman; C Travis Jackson; RG Chris McDonald; RT Fou Fonoti–seemed to come together after the Michigan win on October 15. While the run blocking has been spotty, the line has done a good job protecting Kirk Cousins to help Michigan State forge the top passing attack in the Big Ten.
WISCONSIN: This is another formidable Badger front, but it is in flux as it heads to Indy. Star C Peter Konz is out with an ankle injury. Ryan Groy started at center vs. Illinois but switched spots during the Penn State game with left guard Travis Frederick when he misfired on a shotgun snap. Line coach Bob Bostad will keep each in those spots vs. Michigan State. The line—with Kevin Zeitler at the other guard slot and Josh Oglesby and Ricky Wagner at the tackle spots–came together vs. a strong Penn State d-line.
MICHIGAN STATE: This is one of the best fronts in the nation. Jerel Worthy is a disruptive force on the interior unlike any other tackle in the Big Ten. At 6-7, 280, end William Gholston is a physical freak who has come on to be a wrecking ball off the edge, excelling as a pass rusher and injecting a nasty attitude into the defense. Redshirt freshman Marcus Rush has been a revelation at the other end.
WISCONSIN: The Badgers have an underrated front. There isn’t a J.J. Watt-type of player, but Louis Nzegwu can bring the heat off the edge. Ts Patrick Butrym and Beau Allen is an active force on the interior who refuses to be blocked. Brendan Kelly is difficult to wedge from the hole on the edge.
EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE
MICHIGAN STATE: Kirk Cousins is a savvy leader who has developed into one of the top signal-callers in the nation. He lacks flash, dynamic athletic ability or a big arm, but the senior excels at reading defenses and has a command of the offense. Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker are a strong tandem, relying more on power than speed. But Baker faded late in the season, losing his starting job amid fumbling issues.
WISCONSIN: Is there a better quarterback-running back tandem in the nation than Russell Wilson–Montee Ball? Probably not. Wilson is the nation’s most efficient passer, while Ball leads the Big Ten in rushing and touchdowns. RB James White comes off the bench to inject speed. Bradie Ewing is an underrated fullback who makes things happen.
MICHIGAN STATE: The group is paced by B.J. Cunningham, who has the ability to stretch the field with his speed. He is school’s all-time leading receiver and has seven 100-yard receiving games; his 67 catches for 1,125 yards and nine scores lead the Spartans. Keshawn Martin is a speedy option who doubles as a dangerous return man — he ran back a punt for a score last week at Northwestern. The Spartans also have a nice collection of tight ends led by Brian Linthicum.
WISCONSIN: Nick Toon is a big target who has nine touchdown grabs this season and 17 in his career. The Badgers are 12-0 when Toon catches a scoring pass. Jared Abbrederis is an underrated target with sneaky speed who just makes big plays; witness his six touchdown catches. Abbrederis is also the top punt returner in the Big Ten. Jacob Pedersen leads all Big Ten tight ends in touchdown catches with eight.
EDGE: MICHIGAN STATE
Tom Dienhart is a senior writer for BTN.com. Find all of his work at www.btn.com/tomdienhart, follow Dienhart on twitter at @BTNTomDienhart, send a question to his weekly mailbag here, and click here to subscribe to his RSS feed.