Wisconsin doesn’t give up many losses at home. In fact, they won the last 21 home games played at Camp Randall (only LSU has won more home games). But that streak ended yesterday when our Michigan State Spartans rolled into town and snatched the victory in overtime. The last time the Spartans won in Madison was 20o1, which is nice. But honestly, the win itself in this season of frustration is what feels great. It’s so great to leave the “could’ve, should’ve” behind.
As they have been all season, the Spartan defense was tough as nails and this was maybe their best performance yet. Cheers to Max Bullough, Kyler Elsworth, Marcus Rush and Taiwan Jones for just getting after it all game long. But the pleasant surprise of the day for me was the return of William Gholston. Gholston had 4.5 tackles-for-a-loss and he put a sack on Joel Stave that basically ruined his day (maybe his season?). Do you recall just before the season started when put up a short post on Gholston with the line “This machine eats quarterbacks”? Yup.
In a nutshell, the Spartans played shut-down defense. The Badgers have a serious running threat in the Ball / White duo, but they were held to 19 net yards on 37 carries. That’s a 0.5 average per carry. They actually ran for 93 positive yards, but it was the 74 negative yards that put the hurt on them. Ball had 46 yards and White had just 16. These boys were shut down.
When Stave went down, their passing game went down with it. The Badgers were forced to play Danny O’Brien, the QB they hired over the summer, and the Spartans kept him running for his life for the rest of the game. Wisconsin ended with 171 net passing yards going 13-22 with one TD. Stave accounted for nine of those 14 completions and 127 of the yards. O’Brien is not only no Russell Wilson, he’s just not very good.
On the other side of the ball, the Spartans struggled most of the day. We know that State’s offense is struggling, and they are improving, but they are not really a formidable unit as of yet. Oh, and Bucky is pretty damn tough on defense too. Andrew Maxwell went 24-39 for 216 yards and two TDs. Those are respectable numbers. The Spartan receivers did a good job of hauling the ball in too with Bennie Fowler leading the way with six catches for 48 yards and the game-winning TD. Fowler was well-covered, but A-Max through a pinpoint pass and Fowler made a great catch. Warms my heart, really. Keith Mumphrey and Tony Lippett each had five catches, Le’Veon Bell four including a TD shovel pass, and Lawrence Thomas and Dion Simms each had two.
Running proved to be all up-hill for the Spartans. Le’Veon Bell ran hard but never really had room to get going as he 21 carries for 77 yards. The Spartans had 61 net rushing yards on 28 carries which was far better than the Badgers, but far worse than I had hoped for. If nothing else, the threat of MSU’s rushing attack keeps the Wisconsin’s defense honest.
Lastly, a “good job” to Dan Conroy for knocking that 34-yarder through the uprights. I can’t recall a year when I had to hold my breath every damn time we kick a field-goal, but that is what this year has turned in to. When your offense is underperforming and struggling to put up points, every FG is precious. If Conroy missed that kick, we don’t tie the game, we don’t go to O.T., and we don’t win the game. It’s refreshing to not have not had that story play out this week.
Looking at the Legends, Nebraska and Michigan are leading tied at 3-1, but the Huskers hold the trump card should it come down to it. Northwestern is 3-2 and Iowa is 2-2 coming in at 3rd and 4th. That puts Michigan State in 5th at 2-3 ahead of a 1-3 Minnesota. A win against the Cornhuskers is a good step towards climbing that ladder, so let’s focus on doing just that next week in East Lansing.