UW Health Sports Medicine 

Pre-Snap Reads: Michigan State

Some Michigan State fans might have a flashback to 6-foot, 254-pound Todd Jeffery Duckett when they once again cast their eyes on the 6-1, 255-pound John Clay. There are similarities in running style. Duckett, a consensus prep All-American out of Kalamazoo, rushed for 3,379 yards (sixth best in school history) and 29 touchdowns during his MSU career (1999-2001). Duckett, who ran for 186 yards against the Badgers in 2001, went on to be a first-round draft choice (18th pick overall) of the Atlanta Falcons and bounced to Washington, Detroit, and Seattle.

T.J.Duckett was the second-best running back in his own family. Older brother Tico Duckett finished his Spartan career (1989-92) with 4,212 yards, third-best behind Lorenzo White (4,887) and Javon Ringer (4,398). Clay must like the sight of green. In 2008, he rushed for 111 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and one touchdown at Michigan State (P.J. Hill added 106 rushing yards). Last season, Clay had 32 carries for 142 yards and a score against Sparty.

Michigan State and Wisconsin are blessed with depth in three-deep tailback rotations. Whereas the Badgers have been getting considerable production from Clay (125.2 yards per game), James White (67.2) and Montee Ball (46.2), the Spartans have developed a nice one-two punch with 5-9, 208-pound sophomore Edwin Baker (112.2) and 6-2, 230-pound freshman Le'Veon Bell (99.0). Rounding out the rotation is 5-11, 220-pound sophomore Larry Caper, who has missed two games with a hand injury.

Caper, who led the team in rushing last season, had 38 yards in last week's game against Northern Colorado. Bell, who leads the Big Ten with seven rushing touchdowns (one ahead of Clay) has been a pleasant surprise. Especially since so little was expected out of the Ohio native (Reynoldsburg, Groveport Madison). One recruiting service had Bell ranked No. 219 nationally out of the available RBs coming out of high school.

The Spartans have opened the season by rushing for more than 200 yards in each of their first four games, the first time that has happened since 1968 (when Duffy Daugherty was the coach and Tommy Love was the tailback). Bell is one of the reasons why MSU can play smash-mouth with Bucky.  

Last Saturday, the Spartans had four interceptions, the most by a Mark Dantonio-coached MSU team. Through four games, they have six picks, matching their number from last season. With 11 takeaways (just three shy of the 2009 total) and six giveaways (four lost fumbles), Michigan State is a plus-5 in turnover margin, third-best in the Big Ten behind Ohio State (plus-10) and Northwestern (plus-7). By contrast, the Badgers are tied for eighth with Purdue. Both are a minus-1. Wisconsin has the fewest takeaways (one fumble recovery and two interceptions) of anybody in the conference.

What accounts for the dropoff? One factor has been the loss of playmakers like O'Brien Schofield, who had three forced fumbles and hurried quarterbacks into mistakes, and Chris Maragos, who had four interceptions. Another factor has been the loss of Chris Borland, who had four quarterback hurries against the Spartans last season while playing in Wisconsin's nickel scheme. "As he does more and more things, people are going to be aware of No. 44,'' UW coach Bret Bielema said afterward. Sad (in Borland's absence now) but true.  A year ago, the Badgers scored 21 points off four Michigan State turnovers. Two years ago, in East Lansing, neither the UW's Dustin Sherer, nor MSU's Brian Hoyer threw a pick.

Saturday's matchup will mark only the third time that Wisconsin and Michigan State have been both nationally-ranked coming into their game. That bodes well for the Badgers, who won both times: 40-10 in 1999, and 6-0 in 1954.

The Badgers have scored touchdowns on their opening drives in three of four games. Under Bielema, they are 31-4 when they score first. One of the losses was at Michigan State in 2008.

UW fullback Brady Ewing on scoring two touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving) against Austin Peay:  "Anytime you can help the team get some points on the board, it's special. We opened up the playbook a little bit more last week. It will be interesting to see what defenses do. Each week, I will kind of morph into different roles depending on the kind of defense and the type of team we're playing. But it's exciting just to be an option out there."