Posted by Adam Jacobi
WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: Montee Ball handles a heavy workload. It was plainly apparent in the first game Wisconsin and Michigan State played this year that backup tailback James White was ineffective when Ball was out after (sigh) "getting his bell rung." Ball appeared to lose consciousness on a first-quarter hit, missed roughly two quarters of action, and almost certainly had no business risking further head injury by coming back in the game. We can admit that, right? At any rate, Ball did come back in and led the Badgers back to tie the game, and that probably wouldn't have happened with White staying in at running back. So Ball's going to need to stay healthy and get at least 30 carries this week -- or at the very least Wisconsin's going to need to use White in more unconventional ways -- or the Badger offense is going to be in trouble of sputtering again.
MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: Wisconsin's defense is the same one we saw in October. Wisconsin's defense is not bad, and we've seen the Badgers effectively neutralize many an opponent en route to a lopsided victory this season. But Michigan State took it to them in a big way in the teams' first encounter in October, and it's not exactly an accident that MSU scored 37 points on Wisconsin. Kirk Cousins was able to throw the ball at will against a Badger defense that spent a lot more time chasing than covering ground. Michigan State can't just run the exact same gameplan as the first game; Wisconsin's going to have gameplanned around that. But the end aim has to be the same: a Badger defense on its heels, and MSU receivers running free.
X-FACTOR: Wisconsin center Peter Konz's left ankle. Continuity is crucial for the success of an offensive line, and Wisconsin's has stayed relatively healthy through the courst of the season. Unfortunately, Konz went out with a dislocated left ankle in the Badgers' 42-13 romp over Minnesota on November 13, and while he's eager to get back on the field, there's no guarantee that's going to happen -- he's still not out of a walking boot, much less practicing, and the coaches aren't going to play Konz without practice. The interior of the line has struggled at times in Konz's absence, with Travis Frederick and Ryan Groy having to switch spots between left guard and center at one point because of Groy's difficulties getting a clean snap off. The Badgers did rush for 264 yards on Penn State, but Montee Ball was held under four yards per carry in the first half, and Wisconsin's probably not going to have the luxury of waiting a whole half for Ball to start breaking big runs.