Badgers squeak out win over Michigan State
MADISON, Wisc. -- The Badgers gave their opponent opportunities to win, but Michigan State was not able to come away with points in two late drives that stalled in Wisconsin territory. Wisconsin walked away with the 37-34 win.
Wisconsin, now one of three remaining undefeated Big Ten teams (Purdue and Ohio State are the others) struggled in the final period but was saved by a stubborn defense and a deafening home crowd.
"It's one of the toughest environments to play in," said Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio of Camp Randall. Dantonio was pleased with his team's effort against the 10th ranked Badgers, and admitted any one play could have changed the outcome of the contest. "It's a game of inches," he said. This game was a test, and his team passed the test, if not able to leave victoriously. "We were looking for proof," said Dantonio. "I thought out guys came to play and competed."
The Badgers also benefited from several costly Michigan State penalties in the final quarter which helped Wisconsin to jump back in front after a 34-34 tie.
Badger coach Bret Bielema was most surprised by all of the offense in this game. Said Bielema, "I didn't expect to see 1,000 yards of total offense out there today."
Still, the second-year coach was able to keep his good humor after squeezing out the win. "I knew it was going to be an usual day," said Bielema, "because this morning when I got up, I realized I forgot to pack my socks and was going sock-less through pre-game warm-ups."
A few notes on this game:
On its final possession, Dantonio chose not to run in the final series, even though his squad had gained 241 yards on the ground up to that point. On a third down and two, Brian Hoyer tried to hit a quick slant but the pass was broken up by Ben Strickland. On fourth down Hoyer tried to escape the Badger pass rush and his effort to complete a pass over the middle was denied. That left Wisconsin with one minute to work win -- enough time for two kneel downs. Not running the ball here -- at least once -- was a mistake.
The possession before, Spartans kicker Brett Swenson missed a 53-yard attempts wide left that would have tied the game. Some will question Dantonio's choice to kick the ball, but Swenson had plenty of leg, just not the right line on the goal.
The Badgers had outstanding performances from P.J. Hill (155 rushing yards, two scores) and tight end Travis Beckum (10 catches, 132 yards, one score). "Hill's a load," said Dantonio after the game. Wisconsin quarterback Tyler Donovan made several big plays on the run, and hit Kyle Jefferson for a 64-yard score in the second quarter.
The Spartans got 230 all-purpose yards out of Devin Thomas. Said Dantonio of Thomas, "He's a football player. He's all over the place for us." Agreed, which is why we're wondering why Thomas did not touch the ball more on offense: five carries for 61 yards, four catches for 111 yards. Every time Thomas got the ball, he made a big play.
Wisconsin's inability to stop the running game did not prevent them from winning this game. Not sure that will be true when they face Michigan and Ohio State later this year. Or even Illinois next week.
Luke Swan was not involved and somehow the Badgers still made things happen in the passing game. In fact, Paul Hubbard was out, Kyle Jefferson got hurt and Marcus Randle El got ejected. How did the Badgers survive? It was all Beckum.
Offensive player of the game: Javon Ringer, RB, Michigan State
Yes, a member of the losing team, but who can deny Ringer on this day? Not the Badger defense. Ringer gained 145 rushing yards and caught seven passes for 88 yards. Wow.
Defensive player of the game: Nick Hayden, DL, Wisconsin
Hayden recorded two sacks, but this award could have just as easily gone to Matthew Shaughnessy or Kirk DeCremer. It was a combined effort from the line that counted.
Play of the game: roughing the passer call on Michigan State
Facing a third-and-forever, Donovan dropped back and tried to throw a screen to a Badger player. It was incomplete, but Michigan State's Kellen Davis (a tight end) was found guilty of a roughing call that extended the Badgers drive. The score was tied 34-34 at the time and the Spartans had the momentum. Without the call, Michigan State would have gotten the ball back with a chance to regain the lead. Instead, Wisconsin marched down the field and kicked what eventually became the game-winning field goal.
What the highlight shows won't show you:
During a second-quarter drive, Donovan made a Brett Favre-like play when, escaping a collapsing pocket, he threw a seven-yard shovel pass to tight end Travis Beckum. It was the kind of play Donovan needed to make against Michigan State's aggressive pass rush in order for his Badgers to have success.
Freshman return man David Gilreath might be the Big Ten special teams player of the week again. He had several nice returns (one for 56 yards) that set up the Badgers with good field position.
Michigan State hosts Northwestern next week in what should be a bounce-back game from this defeat. The Wildcats are struggling more than any team in the conference right now and it's the perfect opportunity for Michigan State to re-set itself before it reaches the rough stretch of its schedule.
Wisconsin will travel to Illinois to face an up-and-coming Illinois squad bound to be in the top 25 after upsetting Penn State this week.