EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State lost its Big Ten opener for the first time in four years as No. 11 Wisconsin came into Spartan Stadium and dominated the No. 8 Spartans 30-6.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook was making his first start but he played his role perfectly, completing 16 of 26 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Michigan State ended up outgaining Wisconsin (325-317) but that was mostly in garbage time.
Michigan State falls to 2-1, 0-1 in the Big Ten with a trip to Indiana up next for the Spartans.
It is the largest margin of defeat for Michigan State in a regular season game since losing 37-6 at Iowa on Oct. 30, 2010. It is the largest margin of defeat at home since Penn State beat the Spartans 42-14 on Nov. 21, 2009.
Five things we learned
- Wisconsin’s defense is not Notre Dame’s defense. After running through and throwing over the Irish for 501 yards and 36 points last week, Michigan State was limited to 325 yards by the Badgers and turned the ball over (three) times leading to 13 points for the opponents.
- Quarterback Tyler O’Connor has to be more accurate and can’t force throws. He got away with a couple at Notre Dame but Wisconsin didn’t give him any margin for error. He finished 18 of 38 passing for 224 yards and was intercepted three times.
- Third downs are easier to convert when you’re successful on first and second downs. Michigan State was just 4 of 13 on its third-down attempts, and didn’t convert any of the four tries it had in the second half. Among the nine attempts in the first half, only two were for less than four yards while three were for 11 yards or more.
- One week doesn’t mean squat when it comes to the next game. Michigan State was feeling real good about itself after winning at Notre Dame, while Wisconsin struggled to get by Sun Belt Conference member Georgia State at home. Michigan State now has more questions on its hands, while Wisconsin goes into its next two games at Michigan and against Ohio State with a much better feel for itself.
- Wisconsin does what Wisconsin does better than Michigan State does what the Spartans do, at least at this moment. The Badgers controlled the clock for 32 minutes, 48 seconds and put Hornibrook into good third down situations. Even when he was forced into third-and-long spots, he made accurate throws.
Even though Wisconsin was leading 13-6, Michigan State started the second half exactly the way it wanted by forcing a 3-and-out and punt on the Badgers’ opening possession. Then L.J. Scott gained 7 yards on a first down run when the Spartans took over. More good feelings. That’s when things changed. Scott got the ball again on second down, and had enough for a first down when he spun in the hole. Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon jarred the ball loose with a hit on Scott. Fellow safety Leo Musso picked the ball up and ran it back 66 yards for a touchdown, with only O’Connor interrupting his route.
How important is R.J. Shelton to the Michigan State offense? Extremely. Wisconsin simply wasn’t going to allow Shelton to become an X-factor in this game. He had just 3 receptions for 23 yards on five targets.
How hurt is Riley Bullough? The senior linebacker was on the sideline watching in a sweats with an undisclosed injury. There was no indication during the week that Bullough had been hurt, but then again that’s why Mark Dantonio doesn’t open practice during the week. Bullough alone doesn’t make up for a 24-point deficit but his absence long-term would be felt significantly.
Turnovers are name of the game for the Spartans. They turned it over four times, plus lost a possession when punter Jake Hartbarger couldn’t handle a high snap and was tackled at the 5-yard line. Wisconsin outscored 13-3 on turnovers, 20-3 if you count the turnover on downs.
Kevin Goheen covers Michigan State for Landof10.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CincyGoGo