With the exception of a wobbly last four minutes of a game that had long been over, John Clay and Wisconsin made a statement to the rest of the Big Ten Saturday as they stampeded to a 38-30 win over Michigan State.
The sophomore running back rumbled for 145 yards and a score while carrying the ball a career-high 32 times, 25 of which came in the second half as the Badgers ran down the clock and eroded the Spartan defense.
More importantly, Clay didn't fumble the ball once, helping Wisconsin finish plus-three in turnover margin. Head coach Bret Bielema lauded Clay's effort after the game, particularly coming off a rough game against Wofford in which Clay fumbled three times.
""He knew he had to get it right and the only person that was going to do that was him,"" Bielema said. ""You can see when he gets those knees driving and those double forearms on the ball, as a head coach you really like to see that.""
Clay wasn't the only offensive star in Saturday's victory.
Junior quarterback Scott Tolzien threw for 243 yards and a career-high 4 touchdowns as the offense continued to perfect its multifaceted attack that no longer relies solely on the rush to score points.
Senior tight end Garrett Graham caught three of Tolzien's touchdowns, and wide receivers Isaac Anderson and Nick Toon maintained their reliable play as dynamic downfield threats. Anderson made a crucial 45-yard reception down the sideline to help set up a 19-yard touchdown strike to Toon that gave Wisconsin a 14-point lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Much of the offense's success was because of the aggressive play of the Wisconsin defense, which hounded Spartan quarterback Kirk Cousins for much of the game and forced four turnovers that the offense turned into 21 points.
""We always talk about being opportunistic, and if our defense gives our offense a chance to score, we've got to ride that momentum,"" Bielema said. ""When those things happen and you don't get points off it, that's how you lose ball games, and we have to take advantage of them, and we did.""
Bielema also credited his defense for flawlessly executing its game plan of shutting down Michigan State star receiver Blair White, who finished the game with a single catch for 8 yards. Coming into the game, White was second only to Minnesota's Eric Decker in receptions and receiving yards in the Big Ten. Senior safety Chris Maragos, who had two of Wisconsin's three interceptions, echoed Bielema in stressing the importance of shutting down White.
""He's the type of guy that makes their whole show run, and we wanted to make sure that we took him out of the game and make sure we were limiting what they do best,"" Maragos said.
While the score appears close, Wisconsin dominated almost every aspect of the game before Michigan State scored two late touchdowns when the game was already well in hand. The game also served as an opportunity for revenge for the Badgers, who lost to the
Spartans last year in East Lansing on a last-second field goal.
""There was a little bit of animosity going on with us and those guys since from last year how we lost that game on that field goal,"" senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield said. ""Our biggest thing today was to stop the run and force them to pass, and I think we were able to do that.""