Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News talks about Michigan State's shutout loss at Wisconsin. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Madison, Wis. — Mark Dantonio was in a familiar position on Saturday evening, trying to explain what just happened after Michigan State got blown out by a top-10 opponent.
The Spartans players were in the same position, trying to come up with reasons they couldn’t compete with the best in the Big Ten, a status the Spartans believed they would achieve once again this season.
But after back-to-back humbling losses, the Spartans were again struggling to find any answers.
A week after getting trounced at Ohio State, Michigan State responded with one of its most uninspiring performances in the Dantonio era, getting hammered by No. 8 Wisconsin, 38-0, in front of 80,470 at Camp Randall Stadium.
“A very disappointing day and I take responsibility as head football coach,” Dantonio said. “You’ve got to win your individual battles. Whether it's coaching, whether it's playing, whether it's tackling whether it's catching the football, whether it’s throwing the football, whether it's blocking, whatever it is. Football’s a game of technique, repetition and you got to be win your set.”
There was very little winning for Michigan State (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten). In fact, the winning has been scarce the past two weeks as the Spartans have been outscored 72-10 in games against Ohio State and Wisconsin. The Spartans were shut out for the first time since the loss to Alabama in the 2015 College Football Playoffs and were held without a point for just the second time in coach Mark Dantonio’s tenure. The 38-point loss was the most one-sided defeat since a 48-3 loss to Ohio State in 2017.
Brian Lewerke was 7-for-16 passing for 53 yards and ended his day with an interception that Wisconsin linebacker Zack Baun returned 34 yards for a touchdown. Linebacker Tyriq Thompson was the Spartans’ leading rusher, gaining 20 yards on a third-quarter fake punt.
Michigan State finished with just 97 total yards, the first time it has failed to gain at least 100 yards since picking up 94 in last season’s loss to Michigan. Its five first downs were the fewest since it had nine in 2007 against Ohio State.
“You’ve got to play this game excited,” Dantonio said. “I didn't think we did that as the game progressed. We were unable to do that because we didn't get anything going. Something good didn't happen even when they fumbled the football early in the game, you know, fumbled it twice and we didn't get on it. So something good has got to happen for you, then it sort of springs you forward a little bit. Nothing really did for us.
“So I don't think we quit. I don't think that happened. It’s 17-zip at halftime and it’s 17-zip even into the third quarter, but again we never really got anything going. Maybe we did at the end of the game but we never got anything going.”
MSU coach Mark Dantonio said questions about his coaching moves weren't fair seven games into the season after MSU was shut out at Wisconsin. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
Wisconsin (6-0, 3-0) didn’t have much trouble getting things going. Jonathan Taylor ran for just 80 yards for the Badgers and scored a pair of rushing touchdowns while Jack Coan was 18-for-21 passing for 180 yards and a touchdown. It was just the sixth time in 33 career games that Taylor was held to fewer than 100 yards, though it hardly mattered.
By the time the stadium was shaking to “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters, the game had long been decided thanks to a one-sided first half. Michigan State managed just one first down and ran only 18 plays as Wisconsin controlled the game from the first snap, gaining 198 total yards to just 38 for Michigan State and picking up 13 first downs and holding the ball for 23:26.
“It's no secret that everyone’s plan is going to be, ‘How do you stop JT or minimize him, right?’” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “You knew that going in, for us to be the best offense we can be we've got to be able to move the ball a number of different ways.
“There were a lot of guys contributing, and you appreciate that.”
The Badgers got on the board first with Taylor’s 1-yard touchdown run with five minutes left in the first quarter. It gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead, and after another three-and-out for Michigan State, the Badgers went 75 yards on eight plays to extend the lead to 14-0 on a 19-yard pass from Coan to Quintez Cephus with 14:54 left in the second quarter.
The Spartans picked up their only first down of the half on the next drive but quickly punted the ball away. Wisconsin responded with a 14-play drive that included a fourth-down conversion and ended with a 29-yard field goal from Collin Larsh to give the Badgers a 17-0 lead they’d take into the locker room.
“The ultimate team sport,” linebacker Joe Bachie said. “We can't get off the field, come off the field finally, try and make adjustments. The offense has no rhythm because how long we're on the field. They go three and out, we’re punting and we're back on the sidelines and another 15-play drive. Defensively we’ve got to be a lot better.”
Michigan State’s only sign of life came on the first drive of the second half when it used Thompson’s 20-yard run on the fake punt to extend its drive. But two straight sacks and a substitution penalty left the Spartans facing fourth-and-19 from the Wisconsin 36 where they opted to punt.
From there, Wisconsin put the game away with Taylor’s second 1-yard touchdown run, the interception return from Baun and a 66-yard touchdown run from Kendric Pryor with 10:52 to play.
Michigan State now heads to its first bye week with No. 10 Penn State coming to Spartan Stadium on Oct. 26.
“We're not there,” Dantonio said. “That's what this tells me, we're not there. We should be. We’ve got some very good players, but we're not there. Not in the last two weeks. So we’ve got to recollect things. We’ve got a bye week, got to recollect ourselves and push forward. That's the only way I know how to do it.”