Mark Dantonio reacts after Michigan State’s blowout loss to Wisconsin in Madison, Oct. 12, 2019.
Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press
MADISON, Wis. — Michigan State football looked like it was sleepwalking Saturday inside Camp Randall Stadium.
Maybe it was the cold, gray, windy day. Or the recent players leaving for the NCAA transfer portal. Or last week’s beatdown at Ohio State.
And maybe it had something to do with No. 8 Wisconsin being dynamic on defense and overwhelming on offense. Because the Badgers certainly are and showed it in a 38-0 victory.
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Oct 12, 2019; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers fullback John Chenal (44) rushes with the football as Michigan State Spartans cornerback Josiah Scott (22) defends during the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. (Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
It was the manner in which the Spartans got bullied and bashed that made it one of the worst and most thorough beatdowns of Mark Dantonio’s tenure. It was just the second time the Spartans were shut out in Dantonio’s 13 seasons at MSU, the only other a 38-0 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Dec. 31, 2015.
The Spartans (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten) now get a week off before hosting No. 9 Penn State on Oct. 26 and have back to back losses to dwell on during the first of two byes.
MSU got dominated from start to finish on both sides of the ball in much the same way they used to do to opponents in the middle of the decade – controlling the clock and running the ball with power, allowing its defense to stay fresh and be physical.
The Spartans totaled just 149 yards of offense. They managed just seven first downs, the first time they were held under 10 since Dantonio’s debut season in 2007 against Ohio State. They had the ball just over 20 minutes.
The offense managed just 87 yards before QB Brian Lewerke got benched after Wisconsin returned a fourth-quarter interception for a touchdown, with just two first down drives in his seven possessions. The senior went 7-of-16 for 53 yards passing and ran for 4 yards on eight attempts. He was sacked twice.
The defense fared little better.
Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0) totaled 402 yards and is the third straight team to score 30 or more on the Spartans. MSU became the just the sixth team to hold RB Jonathan Taylor under 100 yards, but he had 80 yards on 26 attempts with two scores. QB Jack Coan went 18-of-21 for 180 yards and a TD as the Badgers held the ball for over 39 minutes.
The first-half numbers spoke volumes. About MSU’s offensive unreliability and defensive inability to stop the Badgers.
MSU’s offense ran just 18 plays and went three-and-out in four of its five possessions. It had just 38 total yards, only 11 of them on the ground. Lewerke missed seven of his 11 passing attempts, with dropped passes again a problem as well as his own errant throws and miscommunication with receivers.
Wisconsin, meantime, dominated. Which proved completely understandable as the Badgers had the ball for 23 minutes, 26 seconds to the Spartans’ 6:34.
Taylor ran 17 times for 58 yards, including a 1-yard score on Wisconsin’s second possession. It was set up by a fourth-and-2 play-action pass from Coan to Jake Ferguson for 27 yards to the MSU 1 as four Spartans ran to cover Taylor outside and left the tight end open.
Wisconsin receiver Jordan DiBenedetto runs after the catch as Michigan State safety Xavier Henderson tries to tackle him during the 1st half at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis., Oct. 12, 2019. (Photo: Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Coan was steady and efficient, completing 14 of 16 passes for 126 yards. His 19-yard TD pass to Quintez Cephus in front of MSU safety David Dowell on the first play of the second quarter put Wisconsin ahead, 14-0.
The Badgers tacked on a 29-yard Collin Larsh field goal on its next possession, which took 7:34 off the clock in 14 plays and 52 yards.
MSU got its second first down on the second play of the third quarter but appeared to stall. A fake punt snap to Tyriq Thompson went for the longest play for the Spartans, 20 yards, and set them up in Wisconsin territory.
Lewerke hit Darrell Stewart for an 11-yard pass and another first down to put MSU to the Badgers’ 27. But that’s when things unraveled again – back-to-back sacks of Lewerke, a penalty for too many men in the huddle, then an 8-yard gain on third-and-22.
The 12-play, 39-yard drive in 7:36 was the best chance of the day, and it ended in a punt. Wisconsin marched 92 yards in 15 plays, converting another third down pass to a wide-open Ferguson to set up Taylor’s second score.
Lewerke got picked off by Zach Braun for a 34-yard interception return for a TD, with Rocky Lombardi taking over on the ensuing drive. Then the Badgers got a 66-yard TD run from Kendrick Pryor to add to the defensive misery after MSU’s seventh three-and-out offensive drive.