Let’s Pump The Brakes On How Great Michigan State Is
Michigan State earned a lot of praise over the past week for dismantling Notre Dame in South Bend.
And rightfully so: Can you remember Notre Dame ever trailing at home by 29 points?
But on that same note, can you remember Mark Dantonio's Michigan State ever trailing at home by 24 points? Yeah, now that big MSU win at Notre Dame Stadium is more about how bad the Fighting Irish are.
Wisconsin routed the Spartans on the first day of their Big Ten title defense. Worse, State couldn't even muster a single touchdown against the Badgers.
And the final score doesn't really tell the full story of the Badgers' domination.
So now we'll have a full week of wondering which is the real MSU: The team that pounded Notre Dame on the road under the lights, or the one that got embarrassed on its own turf by a banged-up, freshman quarterback-led Wisconsin?
Whatever the case may be, it's time to pump the brakes on the whole "Michigan State is great again!" narrative that was borne out of last week's performance in South Bend. Here's why:
Let's compare the day had by the two signal callers, shall we?
For Michigan State's fifth-year senior starter Tyler O'Connor, it wasn't good. He went 18-of-38 for 224 yards and 3 picks, the last of which came on a play where the Badgers left Donnie Corley completely uncovered in the end zone. And there far too many instances of O'Connor staring down receivers. His performance was Maxwellian, if you catch my drift.
But for Alex Hornibrook, the Badgers' freshman quarterback making his first career start (and on the road against the defending Big Ten champions, by the way), it was a very good day. He went 16-of-26 for 195 yards, a touchdown and a pick. He also led his team to three touchdowns in three trips to the red zone.
If you hadn't seen the game you'd probably think the stat lines for the two QBs had been reversed, but no. It was the first-timer who played with all the moxie and poise that O'Connor got credit for a week ago.
It's hard to win football games when your veteran quarterback gets outplayed by a youngling.
The final third-down conversion numbers on the day are lopsided: The Badgers went 7-for-16 compared to MSU's 4-for-13.
But before Wisconsin had effectively ended the game in the third quarter, the Badgers had already converted on 7 of their first 11 third downs. They also were 2-for-2 on fourth down.
Simply put: Michigan State's defense could not get off the field on critical downs, and its offense couldn't establish anything against the Badgers. When the moments were biggest on Saturday, Wisconsin was much bigger than the Spartans.
The Spartans couldn't hold onto the ball on Saturday. They turned it over four times, including a crippling fumble by LJ Scott on their first offensive possession of the second half that went 66 yards the other way for a Wisconsin touchdown.
Plus, Michigan State had a bad snap on a punt that gave Wisconsin the ball on the goal line. That doesn't go down as a fifth turnover for the Spartans, but it really is.
On top of O'Connor's three interceptions, it was a very uncharacteristic performance by MSU.
How uncharacteristic? Coming into the game, Michigan State owned a plus-47 mark in turnover margin since 2013, which obviously is a big part of why they're 38-5 during that stretch. MSU has been the best in the Big Ten in terms of turnover margin since 2013, and the Spartans have ranked in the top 10 nationally for that statistic each of those years.
So yeah, Saturday's four turnovers were bad. Michigan State didn't even turn the ball over that much in its 38-0 loss to Alabama in last season's playoff game.
Remember how the Notre Dame game ended with the Irish on a 21-0 run? Now add that to Saturday's result and the Spartans have been outscored 51-6 over the past 78 minutes of football they've played.
All told, Saturday was Michigan State's worst loss at home since getting blown out by Penn State 42-14 in 2009.