MADISON, Wis. — Michigan State traveled to Madison on Saturday to take on the No. 8-ranked Wisconsin Badgers in an inter-divisional Big Ten game.
What seemed to be a strong defensive match-up between two of the best defenses in the country ended up being a one-sided slaughter as Wisconsin easily took care of an unenthused and unmotivated Michigan State in a 38-0 victory.
After both teams’ opening drives went three-and-out, Wisconsin was able to put the first points on the board via a Jonathan Taylor 1-yard run that was preceded by a fourth down 27-yard reception by tight end Jake Ferguson.
And after this, the flood gates opened as Wisconsin had touchdowns of 19, 66 and 34 yards en route to the win.
As Zack Baun picked off Lewerke for a 34 yard pick-six, it was evident that the game was sealed.
But that isn’t where it all began.
The Spartans were unable to answer the Badgers on their next drive in the first quarter, going three-and-out again and ending their drive with a punt from Jake Hartbarger to Wisconsin’s 25-yard line.
The Badgers marched down the field again on the next drive, running most of their offense through Taylor. The drive was capped off by a spectacular 19-yard touchdown reception by Quintez Cephus on the first play of the second quarter, giving Wisconsin a 14-0 after Collin Larsh’s PAT.
The Spartans were able to get a first down, their first of the game, on their third drive after a couple Lewerke runs and a reception by CJ Hayes, but were unable to make anything happen after that.
Hartbarger was forced to punt for the third time in three drives as Michigan State’s offensive woes seemed to continue.
Wisconsin’s offense took up 7:34 of game time on the ensuing drive, going 52 yards before settling for a field goal, 17-0.
Michigan State was unable to get a first down yet again, but Wisconsin was also forced into a three-and-out, giving the Spartans one final drive of the first half.
On their final drive of the first half, the Spartans were anemic again and unable to get a second first down in the first half, finishing with only one total first down compared to Wisconsin’s 13.
After the first 30 minutes of playing time, Michigan State had possession for 6:34 and were only able to put up 38 total yards of offense.
The Spartans opened the second half with the ball, and two plays was enough for them to get their second first down of the game.
A stuffed run by Elijah Collins and a botched snap set Michigan State up for a 3rd-and-14, where Lewerke ran for six yards. A fake punt saw the ball snapped to Tyriq Thompson who ran 20 yards for a first down and the longest gain for the Spartans on the day.
An 11-yard pass to Darrell Stewart on third down gave Michigan State their third first down of the drive, but back-to-back sacks by Chris Orr and Isaiah Loudermilk brought the Spartans back down to Earth.
If the sacks weren’t harmful enough to Michigan State, an illegal substitution penalty brought them back another five yards for a third-and-27, which resulted in an eight-yard pitch to Matt Seybert and another fourth down punt by Hartbarger.
After starting their first drive of the third quarter on their own eight yard line with 7:24 left, Wisconsin was able to punch and gain over and over again as they bled the rest of the third quarter clock out down to the Michigan State 20.
Three plays at the start of the fourth quarter was all it took for Wisconsin to find the end zone, once again courtesy of Taylor running it in from one yard out, bringing the score to 24-0.
To add insult to injury, Lewerke threw his second interception of the season to Zack Baun, who returned it 34 yards for another Wisconsin touchdown, 31-0.
Back-up quarterback Rocky Lombardi came into the game after the pick-six, but he had his share of issues as well with one pass almost intercepted and a botched snap.
After yet another Hartbarger punt, Kendric Pryor ran a reverse 66 yards all the way for another Wisconsin touchdown, 38-0, with 10:52 left in the game.
Michigan State’s sixth three-and-out of the game ended with another Hartbarger punt with 10:25 left in the game.
Wisconsin was able to advance to the Michigan State 38 before punting themselves to the 10. The last two minutes of the game belonged to the Wisconsin back-ups and more Michigan State ineptitude as the game ended 38-0.
“It’s frustrating for sure, but we’ve got to get our swagger back,” defensive tackle Raequan Williams said, “that’s what I think is the biggest thing lacking in the locker room.”
“When it’s game time, we’ve got to be able to make plays.”
The Badgers’ junior quarterback Jack Coan finished 18-21 with 180 yards and a touchdown. Heisman hopeful Taylor had 26 rushes for 80 yards and two touchdowns with three receptions for another 22 yards.
Though containing Taylor was surely a goal the Michigan State defense had, they neglected to contain anyone else on Wisconsin’s offense and were frankly embarrassed.
As if going up against the top-ranked defense in the country wasn’t enough of a challenge, the Spartan offense was more anemic than ever and appeared to lack effort everywhere on the field.
“We’re not there yet,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “We should be, we got some very good players, but we’re not there. Not in the last two weeks. So we’ve got to recollect things, we’ve got a bye week, we have to recollect ourselves, and push forward. That’s the only way I know how to do it.”
The Spartans have a bye week coming up to help them prepare to host No. 10-ranked Penn State on Oct. 26 at Spartan Stadium. Kickoff is still to be determined.
“As a team, we gotta come together, we gotta be a family, we know that,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “Great week for a bye week.
“We just got to clear our heads, come back out, defense have to get the swagger back, offense gotta get rolling, and we’ve got another top-10 team coming in, and that’s the beauty of the Big Ten.”
You can follow Aidan Hunt on twitter @TheAidanHunt