The March to Madison
Spartans look to slow down Ball, get back on track against Badgers
Two-thirds of the way through a season filled with adversity, the MSU football team finds itself staring another challenge in the face this weekend.
The Spartans (4-4 overall, 1-3 Big Ten) travel to Madison, Wis., to face the Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-1) in Camp Randall Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“I think we’ve had some great games up there, obviously,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “(I’ve) got a lot of respect for what they’ve done up there. The consistency with which they performed under, the winning they’ve done — really the championships they’ve won.”
The past two matchups between MSU and Wisconsin have been heralded as instant classics, each coming down to the final few plays to determine a winner. However, unlike last year — in which both meetings showcased teams at the top of their game — this year sees MSU fighting for any bowl berth, rather than a Big Ten title.
Still, junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell said he’s not letting the frustrations of the season get to him.
“We have an opportunity to end the year on a great note,” he said. “We have a great test coming up this weekend. We get to go to play in a place that’s a hard place to win. All eyes have to be looking forward at the task at hand.”
Following last week’s 12-10 loss at Michigan, junior linebacker Denicos Allen said he saw the intensity ramp up in practice and players flying to the ball quicker.
“Everyone’s always angry after a loss, especially to your rival. But I think everyone’s a lot angrier (this week),” he said on Tuesday. “There’s a lot more energy today.”
The game features a matchup between MSU’s highly touted front seven and one of the conference’s top running backs, as senior Montee Ball tied the NCAA record for touchdowns in a season last year with 39.
However, the Spartans lead the conference in rushing defense, allowing 100.2 yards per game and only three touchdowns on the ground.
The Badgers likely will use their dual running attack with Ball and junior James White to go right at MSU’s defense, unlike the spread offense the Spartans faced in Ann Arbor last weekend.
Ball finds himself only five touchdowns away from breaking the NCAA career record for touchdowns scored, something Dantonio acknowledged in his press conference Tuesday.
(He’s a) great jump cutter, physical, vertical runner,” Dantonio said.
The senior Badger is ranked second in the nation in yards after contact with 501 — second only to MSU’s own junior running back Le’Veon Bell, who has 517 yards after contact.
However, senior defensive tackle Anthony Rashad White said he relishes the challenge of stopping one of the nation’s strongest runners.
“This is my favorite type of game right here,” he said. “Just upfront battling. I like these games instead of the little trick plays in the back and running reverses and that; I just like the straight-up challenge.”