Instanalysis: Michigan State, Wisconsin Brings Old School Big Ten Style With Modern Spin


Substance over style, defense over offense, steak over sizzle: that’s long been the characteristics defining Big Ten football. Even as air raid attacks and quick tempo spreads gained popularity over the last decade, Jim Tressel’s so conservative it would make Pat Buchanan look like Hugo Chavez style reigned supreme.

Offensive guru Al Borges facilitated explosive dual threat quarterback Denard Robinson’s brand of football en route to a perfect Michigan start, perhaps indicating a slight shift in the Midwest. Michigan State pushed back that shift with the kind of roughneck ferocity the Big Ten’s known for. In the process, Mark Dantonio’s squad made an emphatic statement that the Big Ten remains a haven for an old school mentality. Sparty worked the body defensively, giving no quarter to the Big Brother Wolverines. Edwin Baker delivered the uppercut via the rush. It was traditional Big Ten football at its finest.

The Spartans’ ineffectiveness on the ground — they came in ranked No. 79 nationally — was holding MSU back. Last season’s co-Big Ten champion had a decisive thunder-and-lightning combination in Le’Veon Bell and Baker, and with quarterback Kirk Cousins had an unlikely potent trio. Cousins wasn’t at his best today, completing just 13 of 24 attempts. But he did score a pair of touchdowns and made no mistakes, something is more celebrated counterpart Robinson struggled through.

And Robinson was mistake prone largely because Sparty forced him to be. Green-black-and-gold swarmed the Wolverine quarterback on every snap. Coming into Saturday’s contest one of the nation’s top rushers, MSU proved its defense is for real but holding him to 41 yards on 18 attempts. Stereotypes of the Big Ten are hulking lugs smashing into one another at the point of attack. There was plenty of that in East Lansing to be sure, but MSU’s defense is as fast as it is physical.

MSU is now the leader of the Legends, but a week from now gets a chance to be legendary against the leader of Leaders. Get all that?

Wisconsin isn’t new school in the sense Michigan is, though Russell Wilson is a capable rusher. The Badgers aren’t new school by employing a Big 12-friendly spread offense, even if Wilson can air it out. Montee Ball’s style is as old school as they come in an overpowering, through the tackles rush. The UW defense personifies the traditional Big Ten mindset of bully the opposition with frustration.

Really, UW is old school Big Ten football, but with a twist. The cloud of dust is still there, but it sure ain’t in three yards — more like 30. The Badgers’ style vastly contrasts the Spartans’. Only one can define the conference for the 2011 season.