Michigan State looks to overcome its persistent penalty problems as it tries to salvage its season when it visits Wisconsin in a Big Ten matchup on Saturday.
The 21st-ranked Spartans (7-3, 4-2) are coming off consecutive losses to Ohio State and Michigan, the nation’s No. 4 and No. 5 teams this week, to fall to fifth place in the Big Ten.
Michigan State committed 12 penalties in last week’s 33-23 loss to the Buckeyes, bringing the Spartans’ season totals to 99 penalties for and 853 yards—28 infractions and 250 yards more than the league’s next-guiltiest teams, Iowa and Ohio State, respectively.
The Spartans fans are frustrated with the team’s sloppiness and coach John L. Smith takes some of the responsibility for the woes.
“You have to assume it all to a degree, don’t you?” Smith said of the Spartans’ lack of discipline. “You bring a guy over, put an arm around him and try to explain how severely he hurt the football team, how that’s a selfish penalty and how we can’t allow it. And you hope the young man will respond.”
The Spartans, even penalty-ridden, are still a formidable presence in the Big Ten.
Michigan State is the top passing offense in the league. Quarterback Jeff Smoker leads the Big Ten with 2,675 passing yards, 368 attempts and 236 completions. His 15 touchdown passes are tied for third.
Michigan State has the league’s top kick returner DeAndra Cobb with 669 yards and 27.9 yards average and three returns for touchdowns this season. They also have on their roster the top punter for the league, Brandon Fields, who averages 46.2 yards per punt, and top scoring kicker, Dave Rayner, who has 94 points this season.
Michigan State, though, is the worst rushing offense in the league with 103.4 yards per game.
Even with the poor execution, Michigan State can still tie for third in the conference if it beats Wisconsin (6-4, 3-3) and visiting Penn State on Nov. 22. The Spartans may even get to share a piece of the crown at 6-2 with certain win-loss scenarios for other teams.
The Badgers have lost three straight since they peaked at No. 14 in the rankings when they beat then-No. 3 Ohio State 17-10 on Oct. 11.
“You’d better worry about the next game and that’s all,” Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said Monday. “You can’t worry about where you’ve been and where you’re going other than the game you have that week. That’s all you can do.”
“We’ll continue to compete. I can’t tell you what our record is going to be, but we’ll be competitive.”
At 6-4 the Badgers are still bowl-eligible for the ninth time in the last 11 seasons.
The Spartans lead the all-time series 25-18, though Wisconsin has won three of the last four—including a 42-24 victory at home last year.
The Badgers are the second-least penalized team in the conference with 39.3 yards per game.