Penalties Point Badgers in Wrong Direction

Although the Badgers led the Spartans in total offense and rushing yards, Wisconsin also led Michigan State in penalties, being flagged 12 teams for 121 yards in its one-point loss.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - If you remove one particular item from the post-game statistic chart, you might be inclined to assume victory and pat UW head coach Bret Bielema on the back for a job well done in preparing his team to combat a tougher-than-normal Michigan State squad.

The Badgers were plus-256 in rushing yards, plus-118 in total yards, had three sacks, were better on third-down conversions, held the ball for 32:38 (against the best time-of-possession team in the Big Ten) and for once, didn't let turnovers get in the way (each team just had one lost fumble and no interceptions).

However (and pardon the cliché), only two numbers matter at the end of the day. Wisconsin's score, and Michigan State's score. The first number is less than the second, and thus it's an unhappy day for Badger fans.

How'd it happen? That one little detail that will haunt the Badgers for a few days: penalties.

UW had 12 infractions for 121 yards while Michigan State had just two infractions for 30 yards.

The second-to-last penalty hurt the most; on a 3rd-and-1 with two minutes to go, tailback John Clay broke off a long run on what would have been the game-clinching first down. But a holding call on center John Moffitt brought it back, giving MSU second life.

"Penalties are part of the game, but those get you beat," UW wide receiver David Gilreath said. "Especially when it's on 3rd-and-3, little things like that … I don't want to say we are undisciplined, but I guess the penalties kind of show that we are."

Several pass interference calls, holding infractions, flags for face masking … without question, the players were responsible for littering the Spartan Stadium field with yellow hankies.

But even their windbreaker-wearing head coach wasn't immune to the almighty whistle.

After UW's defense was flagged for a "delay of game" for taking the field too early on a kickoff return (per Bielema's explanation), Bielema lost his cool at the sideline official for an earlier altercation involving a Wisconsin replay challenge.

"He said that he was being interfered with, his ability to do the job, and basically called a sideline penalty," Bielema said, adding the sideline hadn't been given a warning. "I asked the official what was the call for the foul, he said that he was being interfered with to do his job. I told him, in my opinion, he wasn't really doing his job."

Obviously, Bielema did not detail the particulars of what was said … but it was enough to tag on another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, something Bielema said he's never experienced as a coach.

Michigan State went on to score a touchdown at the end of that drive.

"I told our guys after the game, first off, I apologize for losing a 15-yard penalty myself," Bielema said. "We had done certain things during the course of the game that we just can't overcome. That begins with the attitude that I took to get that personal foul on our bench after the 5-yard penalty on us."

Bielema was clearly aggravated with the discrepancy in penalty calls, and said he'd be checking with the Big Ten Conference on certain calls made during the game.

His players shared that frustration.

"The game was taken out of our hands, so we try to keep going and just keep working on it," free safety Jay Valai said. Asked to elaborate, he replied, "You're all going to have to read between the lines on that one."

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