Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 28 (2OT): 2-minute drill
EAST LANSING — Wide receiver Jayden Reed pulled down a touchdown in double overtime to give Michigan State a 34-24 win over Wisconsin on Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
RB Braelon Allen
It’s hard to put Allen here because of the fumble in the second overtime, but prior to it he was pretty much Wisconsin’s offense. He accounted for 156 of the Badgers 283 yards in the game, including 123 on the ground. He became the fifth-fastest player at Wisconsin to reach 2,000 yards in his career and had a pair of touchdowns.
Again, the fumble, which was the first Allen lost this year, turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game – perhaps the biggest – but in a day where consistency on offense was lacking, Allen was productive.
S Kamo’i Latu
It’s not usually a good thing if one of your starting safeties leads the team in tackles and it wasn’t on Saturday. Still, many of Latu’s came around the line of scrimmage. Though he played with a cast on his right hand, Latu finished with a career-high 13 tackles and one tackle for loss. He was a central figure in the fourth-down stop near the goal line in the first quarter.
What Went Wrong
Passing game struggles
Wisconsin thought it would have an opportunity to take advantage of a porous Michigan State secondary that came into the game allowing 292 yards per game, the worst mark in the Big Ten. It didn’t happen.
Like two weeks earlier against Illinois, Graham Mertz threw an early interception deep in Wisconsin’s own territory after the Badgers defense had dominated the first two possessions of the game. Michigan State took advantage with a touchdown to tie the game.
Throughout the game, penalties and negative plays forced the Badgers into long third down situations. Mertz was able to convert on third-and-17 on the opening scoring drive but Wisconsin went just 4-for-12 for the game and the average distance on those was 10.1 yards.
“They had a good game plan as far as dropping out and playing the zones that we were trying to attack,” Mertz said. “It kind of forced me to take underneath stuff. And when you’re playing third-and-12, third-and-13 and taking underneath guy, it’s kind of hard to play in that world.”
Still, the junior and his weapons had their moments, including on a late drive to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter and in the first overtime. But too often Mertz was picking himself off the ground because the Spartans front had its way with the offensive line. They racked up three sacks, nine tackles for loss and were credited with six quarterback hurries.
“As much as their pass coverage has struggled, their front is really good,” interim coach Jim Leonhard said. “So you got to keep them off balance. You have to slow them down up front. You can’t let them pin their ears back and get after Graham.”
Not a clean game
Against Northwestern, the Badgers played the clean game that had been missing under former coach Paul Chryst. They won the turnover battle, didn’t allow a sack and had very few penalties. But they were back to their old frustrating ways against Michigan State.
They lost the turnover battle, didn’t get consistent pressure on quarterback Payton Thorne and had eight penalties for 72 yards. Four of those were on the offensive line, including three on left guard Tanor Bortolini — two false starts and a holding call.
“I wouldn’t say it’s tough to solve, we just need to be cleaner,” center Joe Tippmann said. “You get penalties for being in the wrong spot or not being wired in. Like holding penalties. We can’t have those.”
Wisconsin isn’t a good team right now and certainly not good enough to overcome those mistakes on a consistent basis.
Struggles at cornerback
Ricardo Hallman wasn’t alone in having a tough game, but he really struggled late. The redshirt freshman was responsible for the last three Michigan State touchdowns. After being called for pass interference on third down to keep the drive going, he got beat by wide receiver Keon Coleman for a 27-yard touchdown with 7:23 left. Then, in the first overtime, he got sucked up on a wide receiver pass and left Coleman undefended on his 25-yard touchdown. He also had good but not good enough coverage on Jayden Reed’s game-winning score in the second overtime.
“He’s feeling the weight of that game on his shoulders, as would, if I was in that position,” safety John Torchio said of Hallman. “But he has to realize that it’s bigger than just one play. His might be the play to seal it, but there’s a lot of screw ups for a lot of guys that could have done better leading up to that.
“It’s hard for him to realize it right now, but later in the season, next year, year after that, that’s going to help him having gone through this right now. It’s going to help him going forward.”
What They Said
Leonhard asked whether his team has been able to find an identity
“That’s that’s been a struggle and that’s why we are where we are. Offensively, (we’re) inconsistent. Running and throwing the ball, we’ve done some great things at times, but not consistently enough. And defensively, I think it’s been very similar. When we’ve needed to show up big, we haven’t gotten it done. We have to find ways as coaches to help them out, and players, when their number is called, they have to execute. I would say it’s still up in the air on what the true identity of this team is and that’s why we haven’t had the success that we all anticipated.”
In Case You Missed It
— Wisconsin was able to use the same starting five along the offensive line for just the second time this season. It didn’t last though, as right guard Michael Furtney got pulled late in favor of Tyler Beach. The latter had spent most of his day as the extra tight end in Wisconsin’s jumbo packages.
— On Wisconsin’s second touchdown, the Badgers lined up with Beach and fellow offensive lineman Trey Wedig as tight ends on the left side of the line, alongside left tackle Jack Nelson and left guard Tanor Bortolini.
— The Badgers played without a healthy number of key contributors due to injury. That included running back Chez Mellusi, right tackle Riley Mahlman, fullback Jackson Acker, tight end Hayden Rucci, linebacker Jake Chaney, cornerback Cedrick Dort and defensive end Isaiah Mullens. In total, they were missing at least eight guys that have started games this season.
— Alexander Smith made his return to the field after missing the first six games. The senior cornerback played mostly in the slot and was credited with one tackle for loss.
— Former Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger ran for 59 yards and a touchdown against his former team.
Inside the Numbers
3 – That is at least how many losses Wisconsin will have in Big Ten play for a fourth time in the last five years. That is after having that happen just once in the eight previous seasons.
283 – That is how many yards of offense Wisconsin finished with. It’s the third time in four Big Ten games where the Badgers haven’t topped 300 yards.
131 – That’s how many yards Wisconsin had passing. It’s the fewest Michigan State has allowed in a game since 2019.
6 – That is how many consecutive possessions Wisconsin’s offense had that ended with a punt over the second and third quarters. The Badgers held a 14-7 lead for most of that time and couldn’t find a way to make it a two-score game.
9-7 – That is Wisconsin’s record in overtime games after falling to the Spartans. Michigan State also beat the Badgers in overtime in 2012 at Camp Randall Stadium.
3-2 – That is the record Wisconsin needs to have over the final five games of the season just to qualify for a bowl game. The Badgers have been to a bowl game every year since 2002, the third-longest streak in the country.
Wisconsin (3-4, 1-3) returns home to face Purdue (4-2, 2-1) next Saturday.