By a quirk of the schedules, two Wisconsin football teams played two Michigan football teams this weekend.
Wisconsin started the weekend by going to East Lansing, where the Badgers are usually, and sometimes painfully, unsuccessful. But not this time, which didn’t please the Lansing State Journal:
One quarterback looked like a rookie making his first Big Ten start. One played with the poise of a fifth-year senior.
Tyler O’Connor struggled mightily as Michigan State committed costly turnovers. The defense couldn’t generate much pressure on Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook, with the redshirt freshman shredding No. 8 MSU to lead the 10th-ranked Badgers to a 30-6 victory Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
“People have been saying a lot of good things about us lately,” 10th-year coach Mark Dantonio said. “And now we’ll take some shots. I think that’s usually the case with these things. We gotta regroup ourselves. And like I tell our players, it can always, always get worse.”
It was the Spartans’ worst home loss since a 42-14 blowout against Penn State in 2009, their only losing season under Dantonio. It’s also the first time MSU’s offense did not score a touchdown at home since a 20-3 loss to Notre Dame in 2012. …
Wisconsin converted 7 of 15 third downs and 2 of 2 fourth downs. Hornibrook, who got his first start in place of senior Bart Houson, shined for the Badgers. Hornibrook went 16 of 26 for 195 yards, a touchdown and an end-of-half interception.
O’Connor, meanwhile, made bad throws and poor decisions in MSU’s passing attack. He was 18 of 38 for 224 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Give credit to Wisconsin, I thought they put together a really good game plan,” O’Connor said. “They threw some blitzes at us that maybe we weren’t ready for. Also, it’s on me to get the ball out on time and put in a good spot and not make a bad play worse for us.” …
Running back LJ Scott also committed a fumble that Wisconsin’s Leo Musso returned 66 yards for a touchdown that broke the game open in the third quarter. Two of MSU’s four turnovers, along with a muffed snap by punter Jake Hartbarger, led to 20 points for the Badgers.
“It was huge, anytime we can get a turnover and then also score on defense is huge,” Badgers linebacker T.J. Watt said. “We’re trying to flip the turnover margin in our favor. And when you score on defense, obviously that’s a huge play.”
The Spartans finally caught rhythm midway through the fourth quarter and got to Wisconsin’s 23, hoping to come back like Notre Dame did against them a week earlier. However, left tackle David Beedle took a 15-yard tripping penalty, O’Connor took a pair of sacks and the quarterback’s fourth-down heave to Donnie Corley in the end zone was batted away harmlessly.
All the Spartans managed on offense were a pair of first-half Michael Geiger field goals. The Badgers got a 1-yard TD pass from Hornibrook to tight end Eric Steffes and a 1-yard TD run by Corey Clement for a 13-6 halftime lead.
Dantonio said the Badgers’ “points were sort of handed to them,” indicative of an MSU team still trying to find its identity.
“It’s all inclusive,” Dantonio said. “You can look at these statistics and start to read them and say, ‘Oh, there’s why they didn’t win, there’s why they didn’t win.’ Possession time, turnovers, running the football, sacks, third down conversions combined with fourth-down conversions – it’s all right there. That’s why you don’t win a football game.”
The Badgers’ murderous schedule made many observers believe they would be 2-4 after their first six games, including likely losses to top-10 LSU, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers instead are 4-0 heading to Ann Arbor Saturday. LSU, meanwhile, fired head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron Sunday.
The Packers, with one insufficiently impressive win and one loss that one should have expected, then hosted Detroit. The Detroit News reports:
Whatever had been ailing Aaron Rodgers, the Detroit Lions defense proved to be the elixir. The Green Bay Packers quarterback moved his offense up and down the field with surgical precision, tossing four first-half touchdowns in 34-27 victory at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
The Lions staged a comeback after falling behind 31-3, capped by a 35-yard TD pass from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones with 3:34 remaining, but Green Bay was able to run out the clock to end the game.
Rodgers’ struggles had drawn national attention in recent weeks, but he looked far more like the player who won the MVP in 2014 than the one who has struggled with accuracy and efficiency the past year.
“Rodgers’ was hot, completed a lot of big passes on us,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He really gave us some problems in that area. We just couldn’t slow him down.”
The Packers wasted little time getting on the scoreboard, taking the opening kick and driving 75 yards with eight plays. Rodgers completed four of his five throws for 75 yards on the drive, eluding pressure to connect with Randall Cobb on a 33-yard gain before capping the series with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Devante Adams running a slant with cornerback Quandre Diggs in coverage.
After a Lions field goal, Rodgers continued his assault on the opposing secondary. Taking advantage of a coverage mismatch, the quarterback waited for Jordy Nelson to run past linebacker Thurston Armbrister down the seam before delivering a strike that resulted in a 49-yard pickup. Three plays later, Rodgers went back to Nelson for an eight-yard touchdown to give the Packers an early 14-3 advantage.
The Lions proved unable to keep pace, going three-and-out on the ensuing possession, while Rodgers kept his foot on the gas.
The Packers needed just two plays to get back into the end zone. The scoring drive, if you can call it that, was aided by a 66-yard pass interference penalty against Lions cornerback Nevin Lawson, the longest such call in the NFL the past 15 years. That set up a two-yard scoring toss to tight end Richard Rodgers.
With Detroit’s defense unable to get a stop in the early going, the offense only compounded the problems with a turnover. Looking for tight end Eric Ebron in a soft spot of the Packers’ zone defense, Stafford’s pass was ripped from his intended target’s arms by cornerback Damarious Randall.
Ruled an interception because Ebron never establish control, the turnover was returned 44 yards and shortly after turned into three more Packers points, a 36-yard field goal for Mason Crosby.
“That’s a throw I make 10 out of 10 times,” Stafford said. “Eric probably didn’t feel (Randall). He did a great job coming from the side and the guy made a really nice play.”
Rodgers put the finishing touches on his masterful first half, leading a six-play, 67-yard touchdown drive following a missed field-goal attempt by Lions kicker Matt Prater.
The scoring strike, a perfectly-placed fade to Nelson down the right sideline, put the Packers up 31-3 with 3:53 remaining in the half.
Caldwell shouldered the blame for the sluggish performance.
“It’s all on coaching if you ask me,” Caldwell said. “If you have been around me long enough, you know we don’t ever back away from that. Every single bit of it, we’re responsible.” …
Needing a stop, the Lions defense stuffed Packers bruising running back Eddie Lacy on first and second down, before Rodgers beat the defense again, this time with his feet.
With the coverage taking away all his receiving options, Rodgers scrambled to his right, gaining 11 yards to convert the third-and-8.
“He just scrambled out of the pocket, broke contain and pick up the first down,” safety Glover Quin said. “It was the key play of the game.”