Thoughts on Wisconsin’s Victory Over Michigan State

Alex Hornibrook had a solid first start on the road at Michigan State in Wisconsin's 30-6 win. (Bobby Ellis/Getty Images North America)
Alex Hornibrook had a solid first start on the road at Michigan State in Wisconsin’s 30-6 win. (Bobby Ellis/Getty Images North America)

Thoughts on Wisconsin’s Victory Over Michigan State

#11 Wisconsin traveled to East Lansing to face #8 Michigan State on Saturday and they ended up with a big victory. They crushed the Spartans 30-6 with the defense having a big day. It was Wisconsin’s first victory at Michigan State since 2002. Let’s take a look at some things we liked and some things that still need to be worked on.

1. The game plan was excellent – A lot of the credit for the game plan goes to coach Paul Chryst and his staff. They used short passes and good routes to make Alex Hornibrook comfortable. The players deserve credit as well because they executed the game plan pretty well against a very good Michigan State team. In the first half, the Badgers were 5 for 8 on third down in 1st half and 2 for 2 on fourth down thanks in large part to the conversions being manageable.

2. Alex Hornibrook is not short of confidence – Hornibrook is not afraid to throw the ball even if the window is small. He threaded the needle a few times with success and other times with no so much success (last drive of the first half to Robert Wheelwright as well as the first drive of the second half to Troy Fumagalli). As long as Hornibrook does not let the bad plays bother him, such as the fumble early in the game and interception on the last play of the first half, then he will do well with his confidence and the poise he showed as well.

Hornibrook finished 16 of 26 for 195 yards with a touchdown and two turnovers (fumble and interception). Those stats are not terrible when you consider it was his first start in college and it was in East Lansing at Michigan State. For the most part, he made the smart throw and did not try to do too much (a few exceptions though). The ceiling is high for him.

3. The defense never broke – There were plenty of drives for Michigan State that looked promising yet all the Badgers allowed were two field goals. They held the Spartans to 4 of 13 on third down as well as not allowing the Spartans to score on their two red zone possessions. The run defense did allow a few big rushes, but for the game only allowed 2.8 yards per carry (75 yards on 27 rushes).

They ended up getting four turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble recovery) including the 66 yard fumble return for a touchdown by Leo Musso (see below). T.J. Watt was a constant nuisance in the backfield as he had 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 6 total tackles. It was an impressive performance against a good Michigan State offense.

4. Chryst is not afraid to roll the dice on 4th down – Not having kicker Rafael Gaglianone probably made the decision easier for Chryst to go for it fourth down when necessary against the Spartans. The Badgers went for it twice on fourth down on the Badgers second drive converting both attempts. Chryst probably felt even more reassured after the shanked extra point by Andrew Endicott on the Badgers second touchdown drive.

For the season, the Badgers have gone for it on fourth down five times and converted three of those. All of the attempts have been from the opponent’s 31 yard line or closer with an average placement of the 18 yard line. Chryst has a lot of trust in both his offense and defense, which is why he feels he can take chances on fourth down.

5. It was a constant grind for the running game – The Badgers constantly struggled to run the ball effectively against Michigan State, but that is not a surprise given the Spartans strong run defense. Against Notre Dame they allowed only 57 yards on 25 carries (2.3 average) while they allowed 87 yards on 33 yards versus Furman (2.6 average) in the season opener. It was no surprise that the rushing attack might have some trouble.

Except for a couple decent runs the Badgers were stymied throughout, but they stuck with the run game. They finished with 122 yards on 41 carries for an average of 3 yards per rush. There were not the usual massive holes for the backs to run through, but Dare Ogunbowale looked most explosive (finished with 55 yards on 9 carries). Corey Clement finished with 54 yards and 2 touchdowns on 23 carries after missing last week with injury. Perhaps all those small runs were subtly effective for Hornibrook and the rest of the offense, especially in the first half.

The Wisconsin Badgers have opened 4-0 and they will be back in the state of Michigan with a game at the #4 ranked Wolverines next week. Game time is scheduled for 3:30 PM Eastern Time. Below are the previous columns for the Wisconsin games in 2016.

Wisconsin versus LSU

Wisconsin versus Akron

Wisconsin versus Georgia State