Spartans Rolled by Badgers in B1G Opener

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Spartans Rolled by Badgers in B1G Opener

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EAST LANSING, Mich. — Just a week after No. 8 Michigan State’s impressive victory over Notre Dame, the Spartans returned home and dropped a rough game at Spartan Stadium to No. 11 Wisconsin by a final score of 30-6.

“Congratulations to Wisconsin. [We] knew what they were when they came into this football  game,” Spartan coach Mark Dantonio said after the game. “We talked about it this week at length that they were a very solid football team and they would make you beat them.”

Turnovers had a big influence on this game. Spartan quarterback Tyler O’Connor finished with a stat line he would like to forget, only completing 18-of-38 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

“I think he had some tough situations certainly,” said Spartan offensive coordinator Dave Warner. “I think he needs to handle the physical pressure of blitzes better. He threw off his back foot a couple times and got the ball picked. But I’m sure he’s hard on himself and wishing he would play better himself as well.”

One of the few bright spots for the Spartans in this game came early. Defensive lineman Raequan Williams forced a fumble that was picked up by Kevin Williams, giving possession to the Spartans. They would turn that into a 48-yard field goal from Michael Geiger and take a 3-0 lead.

That lead, however, would be short-lived. Wisconsin would answer right back when Badger redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook found tight end Eric Steffes in the end zone on a one-yard pass, taking the 7-3 lead. The Badgers held onto that lead for the rest of the game.

Hornibrook, who made his first career start in this game, looked as poised as ever, often completing large pass plays down field over the Spartan secondary.

“Credit to the young man starting his first game in a hostile environment,” Michigan State defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. “He threw some good balls out there today so give him credit.”

The first O’Connor interception came midway through the second quarter. Badger defensive back Sojourn Shelton, who was all over the field for Wisconsin with three tackles in the first half, intercepted a pass intended for Jamal Lyles, giving momentum to the Badgers.

Following that turnover, Wisconsin running back Corey Clement found the end zone on a one-yard run, increasing the Badger lead to 14-3.

Down 11, the Spartans were able to convert on a few third down conversions as they tried to get back into the game. The first came when O’Connor found RJ Shelton for a nice gain to move the chains. The second came as O’Connor was able to pick up 15 yards on a scramble when his pocket collapsed. The third came when O’Connor was able to find Monty Madaris for an eight-yard gain to move the chains yet again.

Despite all of these key conversions, the Spartans had to settle for another field goal. Geiger hit one from 40 yards out and the Michigan State limped into the locker room down 14-6 at half.

The Spartan defense came out with a bit of energy in the second half, forcing Wisconsin to go three and out on their first offensive possession.

With the ball at the 50 yard line and perhaps a bit of momentum on their side, another turnover came. Spartan running back LJ Scott coughed up the ball on a fumble forced by Jack Cichy. Leo Musso would scoop up the fumble and return it 66 yards to the house, increasing the Badger lead to 20-6.

“We came out with an attitude after halftime,” Spartan captain Demetrious Cox said. “Came out pumped up, got a three and out, got the ball back to the offense and then the little things, like the fumbles, swung the game the other way.”

The Spartan defensive line was unable to get pressure on Hornibrook all day long. Despite different looks and different personnel, the Spartans were unable to get to the quarterback, who would finish the day completing 16-of-26 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown.

Not only was the Spartan defensive line unable to get to the quarterback, they also had a hard time with the run. The Badger duo of Dare Ogunbowale and Corey Clement finished the day with a combined 116 yards and two scores. Ogunbowale, although he did not score, did finish the day with an impressive 6.1 yards per carry.

“We needed to get off the field on third down,” said Michigan State linebacker Shane Jones, who played in the place of an injured Riley Bullough. “Sometimes we did, sometimes we didn’t. That kept their drives going, that gave them the time of possession, and that kept our defense on the field.

If the game hadn’t already taken a turn for the worst, it was about to late in the third quarter. After Wisconsin kicker Andrew Endicott hit a 41-yard field goal to increase the Badger lead to 23-6, the Spartans had one thing on their minds: comeback. They had been on the other side of this situation just a week before in South Bend, when they saw a double-digit lead reduced to a one score game. Anything could happen.

Following yet another Michigan State stalled offensive drive, punter Jake Hartbarger lined up inside his own 10 to punt the ball away. A high snap forced Hartbarger to fall on the football on the Michigan State five yard line, where Wisconsin took over.

It only took one play for Wisconsin to put the nail in the coffin. Clement scored his second touchdown of the day on a five yard run, putting it away for the Badgers, who would go on to win 30-6.

“People have been saying a lot of good things about us lately,” Dantonio said. “Now we’re gonna take some shots.”

The Spartans will look to rebound next Saturday when they head to Memorial Stadium in Bloomington to take on Indiana. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m.