Badgers survive Spartan attack
BEN CLASSON/Herald photoAlthough it wasn’t a perfect 10, the Wisconsin football team found a way to win when other top-ranked teams from around the country could not. The Badgers, despite an utter disregard toward containing the Spartans, survived 564 yards of total offense and numerous big gains to win 37-34 Saturday. “We don’t get any style points for doing things pretty,” Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. “We are not a pretty football team. We’re not a sexy school. We just go out and play Wisconsin football, and fortunately for us, it has translated into a lot of wins.”The victory extends Wisconsin’s nation-long winning streak to 14 games. Both teams matched each other punch for punch throughout the first half. Two players took the expression literally, getting into a scuffle that led to their ejections.”I thought that it was going to be a very good football game, close football game,” Bielema said. Building a 10-point lead in the third quarter with the ball, Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) appeared to be pulling away. But the offense stalled on one drive and an underthrown ball by UW quarterback Tyler Donovan on the ensuing possession fell into the waiting hands of safety Travis Key. Michigan State’s Brett Swenson kicked a 35-yard field goal to knot things up at 34. The Badgers used yet another fourth-quarter drive to win a tightly contested game. Starting from their own 31 yard line, UW took advantage of several costly MSU penalties, including a roughing the passer infraction on third down that could have forced the Badgers into a three-and-out. The drive ran seven plays, capped by a 28-yard run from backup running back Lance Smith, who finished with six carries for 54 yards to set up first and goal from the Spartans’ 4 yard line. Michigan State (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) was called for a defensive holding penalty on third down, but the infringement didn’t result in a first down because, according to Bielema, Donovan didn’t throw the ball. “If we had thrown the ball, it would have been a first down,” he said. “He held Luke (Swan), which took away the pass, which is kind of disturbing to me because we had to run because he was held so we couldn’t throw the football.” Instead of it being first-and-goal from the 1, Wisconsin faced third-and-goal. P.J. Hill, who has had success in his career in such situations, received no line surge and was tackled for a 4-yard loss. Taylor Mehlhaff split the uprights for the third time during the game and seventh time this season to give the Badgers the 37-34 advantage. After finding success all game on bubble routes and rushes to the outside, the Spartans questionably handed the ball off to running back Javon Ringer, who finished with 233 total yards on 17 touches, on a third and long from the Badgers’ 37 yard line. He was stopped after a short pickup, forcing Swenson into a 53-yard field goal attempt that missed wide left. Given one more chance with just over two minutes remaining, MSU drove down to UW’s 38, before getting stopped on third-and-2 on a perfectly timed pass breakup by cornerback Ben Strickland and fourth-and-2 when quarterback Brian Hoyer was flushed out of the pocket and sailed a pass just out of the reach of a diving Ringer to end the game. “It has been two weeks now that we were in a fourth-quarter game and found ways to win,” said Donovan, who finished 17-of-24 for 247 yards and two touchdowns. “That’s what we’re about — finding ways to win when it matters most. The defense stepped up on the last play of the game to get it done.”Wisconsin’s offense clicked in the first half, compiling touchdown drives of 85, 91 and 80 yards. Tight end Travis Beckum was Donovan’s target of choice, snaring nine balls for 121 yards and a touchdown. But it was the pass-play to freshman Kyle Jefferson that brought the biggest stir. Donovan found Jefferson on a fly route to give Wisconsin a 21-14 lead. The 64-yard strike was the first touchdown of Jefferson’s collegiate career and the longest play from scrimmage this season.”We knew we had to take some shots and capitalize,” Bielema said. “It took a good pass and a good catch.” “When we had our chance, we had to capitalize,” Donovan added. “We made the most of our opportunities.”Michigan State’s offense had no difficulty putting up points either. On the next play MSU’s Devin Thomas took the ball 80 yards — one of three plays that went for more than 50 yards during the game — untouched on a swing pass to re-tie the score. “I thought that we couldn’t get off blocks,” Bielema said. “Some of those one-on-one blocks, we were actually [getting] outside leverage, and we just couldn’t get off the bubble screen.”Throughout the game, the Badgers had difficulty covering the bubble screen, and their susceptibility to getting caught on their blockers downfield was evident during the play.”We didn’t do our jobs,” cornerback Allen Langford said. “We didn’t go out there and execute like we should have. We didn’t defend the ball.”Take away their big plays, and we’re right in the thick of things.” Thomas finished with 61 yards on the ground and 111 through the air. Already without the services of senior wide receiver Paul Hubbard, Wisconsin lost Marcus Randle-El after the junior wideout exchanged several punches with Michigan State’s corner Chris Rucker early in the second quarter. The Badgers lost Jefferson near the end of the half after Spartans safety Nehemiah Warrick put a spine-tingling helmet-to-helmet hit on the freshman.Hill finished with 2 touchdowns and 155 rushing yards on 34 carries to give him four consecutive 100-yard games. Wisconsin’s defense finished with a season-high five sacks and forced its first fumble of the season. “We definitely gave up too many yards today, and we have a lot of stuff to fix,” senior defensive tackle Nick Hayden said.