Alex Hornibrook’s first drive started auspiciously, having poor ball security, holding the ball too long and standing too close to a collapsing pocket (this came after he took a one step drop out of a shotgun formation). The result was the ball getting swatted out of his hands and seeing Michigan State recover in prime field position. The Spartans got a field goal and Hornibrook regrouped.
“I wasn’t going to let it hold me down,” Hornibrook said. “I asked coach (Jon Budmayr) what coverage it was and where I should have gone with the ball. It really didn’t affect me too much.”
From that point forward he was tremendous and his final stat line of 16-for-26 for 195 yards and a touchdown doesn’t do him justice. Just like he did in the second halves of Akron and Georgia State, Hornibrook moved the offense consistently and effectively. His third-down numbers of 9-for-12 for 136 yards and six first downs were incredible, especially when you consider he went 6-for-6 for 100 yards on third-and-10 or longer. That’s hard to do in practice, let alone against a Michigan State defense.
Hornibrook’s interception at the end of the first half didn’t hurt him and he missed on a few passes that could have been completely but none of those created a major hurt for the offense.
It’s a small sample size, but it seems like Wisconsin has found its quarterback of the future.
Corey Clement couldn’t put his finger on why it was so hard to find running room against the Spartans, either he wasn’t hitting holes with force or Michigan State was finding gaps in the offensive line. It was likely a combination of both, as the Spartans were swarming on plays up the middle and Clement – although saying he was 100 percent – didn’t appear to have that burst to the outside off his heavily taped left ankle on most plays. One play he did was his 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter – his second of the day – that sent people streaming for the exits.
Dare Ogunbowale ran hard and it with purpose. He had 28 yards on the final drive of the half on three carries but only 27 yards on six other carries. His 6.1 yards per carry average warranted him getting more carries.
Alec Ingold’s role as a ball carrier has decreased this season with a healthy Clement, but picking up eight yards on two fourth-and-short situations on Wisconsin’s first scoring drive set the tempo for the afternoon.
Hornibrook’s third down numbers don’t look nearly as good if it’s not for his receivers, who all pitched in on big catches. Three of Jazz Peavy’s grabs were on third down, including a 31-yard catch on third-and-8 that put UW in field goal range to boost the lead to 23-8. All four of Peavy’s catches went for a first down.
Rob Wheelwright had three catches on four targets for 34 yards, and George Rushing had two catches for 24, including a 15-yard grab on third-and-11.
UW’s tight end game was also strong. The return of Troy Fumagalli helped open up the offense and gave the junior four catches for 42 yards. Through four games, it appears Fumagalli is the x-factor for UW’s offense.
Kudos to Eric Steffes on his 1-yard touchdown catch, the first of his career.
Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said that with left guard Micah Kapoi unable to go (he went through warmups), the Badgers felt that the best way to match up against Michigan State’s front was moved established center Michael Deiter to left guard and insert Brett Connors at center for his first start. Smart move.
The protection was a little rocky early and there were some protection busts, but the Badgers gave up only one sack and three hurries after the first drive, quite an accomplishment against the Spartans’ talented front.
UW also appeared to have a good plan for Malik McDowell, who was either double teamed by the OL or was chipped by a running back. As a result, McDowell finished with one tackle and one quarterback hurry.
“Obviously with a guy like that, when you can get double teams you want them,” Deiter said. “With his length, the big thing as an offensive linemen is you’ve got to limit how he uses his length. That was our emphasis this week, don’t let his length get the best of you.”
If Wisconsin’s front line is doing its job, the Badgers’ linebackers have a boatload of tackles. As you will read below, they did, meaning this group did its job of creating the rush lanes to thwart Michigan State’s running attack.
The Badgers held Michigan State to just 75 rushing yards (56 after the first carry of the game), marking the third consecutive opponent that has failed to reach the century mark on the ground vs. Wisconsin. Dating back to last season, five of UW's last six opponents have been held under 100 yards rushing.
Michigan State’s young front was bottled up by the group of experience linemen. Per usual the stats don’t jump off the page, but Conor Sheehy combined with Derrick Tindal for a tackle for loss on receiver Monty Madaris (not easy to do for an edge rusher) and combined with Watt for a sack on third-and-11 on the series right after UW made it 20-6, quickly turning the stadium into a ghost town.
This group is part of the reason why the defense has only surrendered three touchdowns this season.
Jack Cichy was out of position on Michigan State’s first offensive play, shifting toward the sideline and getting sealed out on a 19-yard run up the middle. He seemed to be in the right position from that point forward, including helping lay a hit on L.J. Scott that delivered the game-changing turnover in the third quarter.
Vince Biegel missed a sack on a third-and-15 play that resulted in a 17-yard completion and a first down for Michigan State. That led to the Spartans opening field goal, but the senior appeared to play much more composed after that.
T.J. Watt’s final stat line is tremendous: finishing with six total tackles, including 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. Both of those are career highs. Since recording his first career sack vs. Akron on Sept. 10, Watt has notched 4.5 over his last three games
T.J. Edwards had four assisted tackles but had his hand in two turnovers. Having an open alley to Tyler O’Connor, Edwards charged in and laid a hit on the Michigan State QB right after the ball was released. O’Connor having to speed up his throw led to an easy interception for cornerback Sojourn Shelton.
At the end of the third quarter on a third-down play at UW’s 26, Edwards immediately breaks to his left at the snap of the ball to defend the uncovered receiver in a trips formation. As O’Connor rolls to his right, Edwards gets to his assignment in time to undercut the throw and make a diving interception on UW’s 8-yard line, keeping points off the board.
Leon Jacobs finished with five tackles, including four solo stops, showing the old dog still remembers his old tricks.
A perceived area of weakness entering the season for Wisconsin has been anything but, as the Badgers secondary delivered time and again with big plays.
Shelton is playing some of the best football of his career, as his first interception of the season set up UW’s second touchdown, while Tindal picked off a lollipop pass in the fourth quarter. Both players delivered excellent coverage on Michigan State’s receiving arsenal and no combative penalties.
“Confidence is just a matter of putting it all together; that’s what we did,” Shelton said. “We executed well. I think the main focus and goal going into Michigan next week is another performance like this as far as executing, getting to the ball, causing turnovers. We’ll see where we’re at after the game next week.”
Leo Musso continues to play a strong free safety position and his ability to cover ground led him to five solo tackles. His fumble recovery that turned into a 66-yard touchdown was the play of the game, and he spin move he executed following his stutter step and stiff arm of O’Connor was impressive.
Of course, that play doesn’t get off the ground without Dixon putting his helmet in Scott’s chest. That hit actually stemmed from the play before when Scott broke a Dixon arm tackle, causing UW’s safety to his the gap with a full head of steam. Dixon finished with a team-high seven tackles, two quarterback hurries, one sack and the forced fumble.
“He’s playing unreal,” Musso said. “D’Cota loves to tackle and do all that but just as a unit, it’s fun just to see everybody do their 1/11th.”
Of the four turnovers caused by Michigan State’s defense, three were at the hands of the defensive backfield. Five of Michigan State’s eight chunk plays of 15 yards came in the fourth quarter when the score was 30-6 and the Badgers were trying to prevent the long home-run play. Before the fourth quarter, Michigan State had nine possessions. Seven of those drives yielded the Spartans 18 or fewer yards.
“It’s great confidence when we all have fun out there and communicate,” Musso said. “It’s a fun unit to play with.”
Not having Rafael Gaglianone was already worrisome to begin with but seeing senior Andrew Endicott miss an extra point really had people shaking. Thankfully it didn’t matter, as Endicott even booted a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter for the first points of his career.
P.J. Rosowski averaged 64.2 yards on his six kickoffs, two for touchbacks, another two into the end zone and the other two inside the five. Returner Darrell Stewart got rude welcomes from Zack Baun and Joe Ferguson on kick returns. The Spartans averaged only 17.5 yards on the four returns.
Punter Anthony Lotti appears to have firmly locked down the starting job. He punted five times for an average of 40.8 yards. While he poorly hit his first punt of the second half, giving MSU good field position until Wisconsin turned them over, Lotti flipped the field position from UW’s 28 to MSU’s 25 in the second quarter and put two of his three fourth-quarter punts inside the 10, including one at the five.
Ogunbowale appears to be UW’s new returner, as his 18-yard and 19-yard return gave the offense solid field position.
UW’s first touchdown was perfectly designed, a play-action pass after Clement dive over the top and after Ingold successfully converted two fourth-and-short plays on the drive. Chryst also put as many as four players in motion on certain short-yardage situations to get Michigan State off its marks. They worked.
The only thing that looked ugly from a coaching perspective was the final series of the first half, getting the ball with 70 seconds left, armed with timeouts, moving the ball effectively and letting too much time waste away between plays.
How good is Justin Wilcox’s Wisconsin defense playing? UW could have pushed Michigan State back 7-8 yards after an illegal block penalty on second down, but Chryst declined the penalty to get his defense on third down. A Dixon quarterback hurry led to an incompletion.
Chryst is 5-0 in Big Ten road games and 7-1 in games away from Camp Randall in his two years. His steady approach is obviously rubbing off on the players, who overcame a handful of injuries to dominate once again.