It has been four years since Wisconsin has played Big Ten rival Michigan State and five years since they have traveled to East Lansing to do it.
Despite consistently producing winning seasons, each earning three Big Ten titles in the last six seasons, the two football programs have not had to opportunity to play each other in quite some time.
Their last meeting in East Lansing was not a pleasant one for Wisconsin fans. The undefeated Wisconsin football team, under the leadership of Bret Bielema with key playmakers such as Russell Wilson and Montee Ball, lost in the most disappointing way for any football fan—a last second Hail Mary play. The pass from Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Keith Nichols would give Michigan State the win, knocking off the 6-0 Wisconsin Badgers 37-31.
Five years later, Wisconsin travels back to East Lansing territory to take on the same head coach Mark Dantonio and his number 8 ranked Spartan team.
“You see some of the same qualities from his earlier teams,” Chryst said of Michigan State’s football program. “Tough, play smart, physical, playmakers on both sides of the ball and that shows up in the special teams.”
Big Ten football is always high energy for the players. It is why they decided to play for Wisconsin. Opening their Big Ten schedule with such a well-known opponent and historic rivalry gives Saturday’s game even more meaning for some players.
“Obviously I saw the Big Ten championship game a couple years back , and I think in the past 10 years, the record is 5-5 between the two teams, so obviously they are two very similar teams offensively. They both kind of run smashmouth football,” outside linebacker T.J. Watt said. “This is the game I came to Wisconsin to play against a big team like this. It’s going to be a fist fight, and I can’t wait for Saturday.”
Inside linebacker Jack Cichy also said of the rivalry that it does add a heightened sense of energy to practice this week. While the mentality and schemes haven’t necessarily changed, there is increased excitement to kick off Big Ten play on the road in East Lansing.
“Both programs are kind of power football programs,” Cichy said. “In my mind we play the game how it should be played. We play physical downhill football, and we know what each team is going to bring. They’re going to bring the physicality and we are too. It’s going to be a full four quarter game.”
Wisconsin will have to take that ‘four quarter’ mentality to the rest of their season. Wisconsin will play nine straight Big Ten games including two on the road against Michigan State and Michigan. Players and coaches have expressed that while the schedule is undoubtedly a difficult one, it gives the team a chance to showcase who they are and what is Wisconsin football. For that, they are nothing but excited.
“Everything’s got to ramp up even more,” wide receiver Jazz Peavy said of the team’s mentality going into the rest of the season. “We’ve got to take everything up a notch because it’s big time now. Everything is really going to start counting and mattering, so we have to make sure we prepare every day like we did the first week. We can’t take steps back.”