Badgers getting in Toon for Spartans

Wisconsin hasn’t been tested very much this season, but a visit to the site of its last Big Ten defeat is about to change that dramatically.

The fourth-ranked Badgers hope to be better prepared Saturday night when they attempt to beat No. 15 Michigan State in East Lansing for the first time in nine years.

Most sports books monitored by SportsOptions have installed the Badgers as eight-point road favorites, with the total set at 49.

Wisconsin (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) is off to its best start since winning its first nine games in 2004. This run includes leading the nation with an average of 50.2 points while the Badgers’ 523.2 yards per game of offense ranks eighth.

Nearly all of that damage, however, has been done in Madison, where the Badgers have played all but one game – a 49-7 victory over Northern Illinois in Chicago in front of a pro-Wisconsin crowd.

That home dominance continued with last week’s 59-7 romp of Indiana.

Going on the road to face Michigan State (5-1, 2-0) before a visit to Ohio State next week will present a much different environment.

Wisconsin’s last trip to East Lansing ended in a 34-24 defeat on Oct. 2, 2010, and the team is unbeaten in nine conference games since.

Coach Bret Bielema took the blame for the Badgers not being properly prepared for that game, and said it won’t happen again this year as they try to end a three-game slide at Spartan Stadium since a win there in October 2002.

“That’s my fault,” he said. “I probably didn’t stress playing on the road in the Big Ten as much as I should have going into that game. And we didn’t play very well. I think we left a lot of things on the field. But I do remember telling our team last year, I didn’t know, going into Michigan State, if we had a championship team. But I knew leaving the locker room we did. I just don’t want to have to repeat that speech. That was good for last year, I don’t want to use it this year.”

The Badgers are trying to prove they’re worthy of being a BCS title contender, and the defense is doing its best to back that up by yielding 9.7 points per game. The Spartans are right behind at 10.8 per contest and boast a punishing defense with a growing reputation for intimidation.

The Spartans are No. 2 in total defense, and have 21 sacks and eight interceptions while limiting opposing quarterbacks to an 84.4 rating.

“I think it’s a classic matchup when you look at them offensively and us defensively right now,” Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said.

MSU’s defense has been spectacular while yielding an average of 180.0 yards during a three-game winning streak, which includes getting seven sacks in a 28-14 win over then-No. 11 Michigan last Saturday.

“I like Michigan State’s approach,” Bielema said of the conference rival’s physical defensive play. “I mean, to me, when I was a defensive coordinator, the one thing you could do is you can mentally or physically challenge a quarterback. And that’s exactly what they’re obviously doing on film, and some even kind of say it in the papers. So it’s awareness. It’s out there.”

It’ll be important for Wisconsin to protect Russell Wilson, a Heisman Trophy contender and the Big Ten leader with 1,557 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and only one interception.

This is his first meeting with Michigan State.

“I think the experience is vital, to be honest with you,” Wilson said. “I think going into a hostile crowd like that, you just have to stay calm and keep your composure.”

Wisconsin’s Montee Ball is among the top rushers in the nation, ranking second with 16 TDs while his 653 rushing yards are near the top of the conference. He’s totaled 293 yards with seven touchdowns on 44 carries over the last two games.

Michigan State’s confidence is building after beating Michigan for a fourth straight year, and keeping the team loose is a priority for Dantonio.

“I don’t think you can play tight, I think you’ve got to have fun,” he said. “I think you’ve got to be excited, emotional, but you’ve got to keep the ability to execute, and you’ve got to have an attention to detail.”

Kirk Cousins is completing 65.9 percent of his passes for 1,317 yards with eight touchdowns and four INTs. The senior’s efficiency was on display against the Badgers last year, when he went 20 of 29 for 269 yards with three TDs and two picks.

Edwin Baker is coming off his best performance of the season, rushing for 167 yards and a touchdown on 26 attempts. He ran for 87 yards on 18 carries in the last meeting with Wisconsin.

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