Sports

Badgers rout Michigan State, cement status as College Football Playoff contenders

A.J. Taylor and the rest of the receivers stepped up against the Spartans to pick up the missing production from Jonathan Taylor 

A.J. Taylor and the rest of the receivers stepped up against the Spartans to pick up the missing production from Jonathan Taylor 

Image By: Will Cioci

Michigan State (4-3 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) came to Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday, hoping to be the first team to solve No. 8 Wisconsin’s (6-0 overall, 3-0 Big Ten) defense in 2019. But, four quarters later the Spartans left Camp Randall without an answer.  

The Badgers one-year turnaround from a disappointing 2018 season has been one of the better stories in college football this year, and after hosting a respectable MSU program, Wisconsin’s dominant 38-0 victory proved the Badgers are legitimate College Football Playoff contenders. 

For the second-straight conference game, Jonathan Taylor struggled to find a rhythm on the ground. He was held to just 80 yards on 26 attempts, with his longest carry tallying just 13 yards. However, he still reached the end-zone twice, with the first on a first-and-goal carry from the one yard line to put Wisconsin up 7-0 in the first quarter. The 11-play, 75-yard drive was highlighted by a fourth-and-two pass play where quarterback Jack Coan hit tight end Jake Ferguson over the middle for 28 yards. Ferguson, who would have walked into the end zone had he kept his balance, tumbled over himself on the one yard line. 

“I don’t need to score, I’m just trying to help [Taylor] out,” Ferguson joked postgame. “When it’s fourth and short, bringing in that extra beef helps a lot … seven different weapons and the best back in the country really makes it hard on defenses.”

Taylor has scored the first touchdown in each of Wisconsin’s six games, and has recorded a TD in seven straight games stretching back to last season. Now leading by a score, the Badgers never looked back.

With Taylor struggling, Coan rose to the occasion and silenced any doubts about his ability to man the Wisconsin offense.  The sophomore quarterback looked unphased against a strong MSU defensive line, sitting in the pocket and hitting his receivers in stride.  Leading 7-0 early in the second quarter, Coan hit receiver Quintez Cephus on a beautiful strike across the middle of the endzone for the Badgers second score. Cephus bobbled the throw but grabbed it before hitting the ground, increasing the Wisconsin lead to 14-0.

Those two touchdowns were much more than the Wisconsin defense would need. The Badgers forced a punt on each of Michigan State’s first six drives, allowing just 77 total yards during that span. On the first drive of the second half, the Spartans converted a creative fake punt from their own 38 yard line to put them in Wisconsin territory for the first time. The drive stalled shortly after, with Chris Orr and Isiah Loudermilk landing back-to-back sacks on Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke to push them out of field goal range and protect the shutout.

“It doesn't matter who we play,” Orr said, “they’re just nameless, faceless opponents. Our team motto is no switch — we’re always on. We’re doing what we set out to do as a team and it’s coming true.”

Lewerke finished 7/16 for 53 yards and an interception. Early in the fourth quarter, Lewerke tried to connect on a crossing route but linebacker Zack Baun reached out with one hand and snagged the pass. Baun immediately turned up field, taking the pick down the sideline and into the end zone for a 35-yard pick-six to increase the lead to 31-0.

“The pick six came from preparation,” Baun said. “From lots of work in the film room, we know out of that formation they like to run double slants.  I dropped into zone and he threw it right at me.”

Wisconsin finished off the shutout with a goal line stand in garbage time. Rachad Wildgoose secured an interception in the end zone for the Badgers with less than a minute to play, increasing their scoreless-quarter streak to eight. The shutout was Wisconsin’s fourth of the season, cementing them (at least statistically) as the nation’s best defense. 

“It’s a pride thing,” Orr said. “It’s been a goal of ours to dominate anybody that we play defensively. We’re striving to be excellent, striving to be dominant. So [shutouts are] not necessarily surprising to us.”

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