Michigan State lost its first game of the season in the most surprising sort of way as Wisconsin came into Spartan Stadium and blew out the Spartans 30-6 for its first win in East Lansing since 2002.
Michigan State (2-1) was ranked No. 8 in the AP Top 25 poll and the USA Today Coaches poll but it was No. 11/10 Wisconsin (4-0) that was the team in control most of the game.
The Spartans will be on the road next week at Indiana (2-1). The Hoosiers lost at home against Wake Forest on Saturday.
Offense (1 star)
There was very little positive from the run game, which gained only 75 yards on 28 carries. There was even less positive from the passing game. Quarterback Tyler O’Connor completed just 18 of 38 passes for 224 yards and was intercepted three times. He spent too much time being forced out of the pocket or being sacked while receivers downfield weren’t able to gain separation. As good as the offensive line was against Notre Dame, it lost the overall battle against Wisconsin. The offense also failed to reach the end zone and the six points was its lowest point total in a regular-season game since losing 20-3 to Notre Dame on Sept. 15, 2012.
Defense (2.5 stars)
Losing linebacker Riley Bullough to a shoulder injury certainly was damaging, but the run defense was respectable. Shane Jones, Bullough’s replacement, had six tackles, two tackles for loss and half a sack. Wisconsin averaged just 3.0 yards per rush. The problem is that the Badgers still ran the ball 41 times because they converted third- and fourth-downs at will for the first three quarters. Wisconsin redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook was way too comfortable in the pocket and his receivers were too often left alone in space as he completed 16 of 26 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Five of his completions came on third-down conversions of 8 or more yards.
Special teams (2 stars)
Kicker Michael Geiger made field goals of 48 and 40 yards, while Jake Hartbarge had another punt inside the 20, but he also was tackled at the 5-yard line after he couldn’t corral a high snap. Kevin Cronin had a kickoff go out of bounds for the third straight game, allowing Wisconsin to start a drive at its 35 immediately following Geiger’s 48-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Badgers drove 65 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. The return game provided no spark.
Coaching (2 stars)
It’s not too often you’ll find Mark Dantonio without any in-game answers, but that was the case against Wisconsin. There were no adjustments to get the Badgers off the field or to keep them off O’Connor’s back. Wisconsin’s defense made sure R.J. Shelton would not be a factor in the game as he was held to 3 catches for 23 yards. There were a couple of Michigan State players after the game who said they came out flat. The coaches can’t allow that to happen.
Overall (2 stars)
Even when things were looking up, it was simply an illusion. The Spartans had a chance to get back in the game early in the third quarter but a 13-6 deficit went to 20-6 when L.J. Scott lost the ball on a big hit and it was returned 66 yards for a touchdown. This loss was stunning not because it happened, but because of how it happened. It was the largest regular-season margin of defeat since a 37-6 loss at Iowa in 2010. It was the largest margin of defeat at home since losing 42-14 to Penn State to close out the 2009 regular season. This was an uncommon kind of loss for the Spartans, a loss that will test their mettle.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo