The Wisconsin Badgers' Big Ten Championship hopes are still very much intact, but their pride might need a bit of mending following their 16-13 overtime loss to the Michigan State Spartans on homecoming. Wisconsin was in control for most of the game, but their offense fell apart when Joel Stave left the game with a shoulder injury. For the remainder of the game, Michigan State did not respect Danny O'Brien and the Wisconsin passing game.
O'Brien played the entirety of the second half following Stave's injury on the first play of the third quarter and finished 5-11 passing for 44 yards. He also had three rushes for an incredible -32 yards. The Badgers, who averaged 326 yards per game on the ground over their last three games, had just 19 rushing yards on the day as a team.
Even with their offense completely stagnant throughout the second half, Wisconsin's defense held onto a narrow lead until the Spartans' final drive of regulation, on which they drove 75 yards in 12 plays for a the touchdown that forced overtime. In overtime, Wisconsin could only manage a field goal on their sole possession, allowing Bennie Fowler to end the game with a 12-yard touchdown reception on the ensuing Michigan State drive.
Wisconsin's defense regularly came up with huge plays to keep Michigan State out of scoring range after their defense or special teams gave the Spartans offense excellent field position. On Michigan State's second drive of the day, UW came up with a huge stop on the edge of field goal range and forced a punt from just inside the Wisconsin 40-yard line. They also came up with a similar stop in the second quarter, pushing MSU back out of field goal range after a blocked punt.
The Badgers got on the board first, on their second drive of the day. They put together an incredibly impressive 10-play, 90-yard drive capped off with a 31-yard pass from Stave to tight end Jacob Pederson. Michigan State completely blew their coverage on the play, leaving Pederson wide open over the middle of the field. He had 20 yards of open field in front of him after making the catch, then powered into the end zone to get Wisconsin off to a great start. Unfortunately, it was their last touchdown of the day.
Michigan State's ensuing drive was an impressive one, but a broken-up pass on 3rd down and two from the Wisconsin 16-yard line halted the drive and forced Michigan State to kick a field goal. Drew Meyer failed to handle a low snap on the punt and attempted to evade defenders to make room for himself to get a kick off, but Marcus Rush stayed with the play brilliantly and got a hand to Meyer's improvisational kick.
The Spartans should have scored easily on their next drive, which started from the Wisconsin 11-yard line, but they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot. A holding penalty, followed by an incomplete pass and a false start set up 2nd down and 25, when Andrew Maxwell was sacked by Beau Allen. MSU couldn't pick up any positive yardage on 3rd and 33 and was forced to punt.
For the rest of the second half, both offenses struggled. Wisconsin might have engineered a plan in the locker room to jump-start their running game in the second half, but their plan was thrown completely out the window when Stave went down.
O'Brien completed three of his first four passes, but frequently held onto the ball too long and was directly responsible for multiple big losses during the rest of the game. Michigan State camped eight men in the box for the rest of the game and O'Brien was unable to take advantage. The change in both the diversity of Wisconsin's offense and the playcalling of the Michigan State defense when O'Brien entered the game was very noticeable, and there's no question that Stave's injury had a serious effect on the game.
Wisconsin did add a field goal in the fourth quarter, thanks to a fumble by Lawrence Thomas that gifted Wisconsin possession inside MSU territory. They did nothing with it, losing three yards on the drive before kicking a 39-yard field goal to extend their lead to 10-3 with 6:06 remaining in regulation.
As it turned out, those three points were needed. Wisconsin's defense, which was spectacular up until MSU's last drive of regulation and only drive of overtime, wasn't able to come up with stops at the end of the game. Maxwell completed eight passes on the game-tying drive and also had a seven-yard rush for a first down. The drive was capped off with a five-yard pass to Le'Veon Bell, tying the game at 10-10 and forcing overtime.
Wisconsin's offense looked nothing like scoring a touchdown in overtime, and had to kick a 43-yard field goal after a three play, negative-one yard drive. That gave Michigan State a window to win the game in the first overtime period, and they took it. On 3rd down and eight from the Wisconsin 12-yard line, Maxwell hit Fowler for the game-winning touchdown.
This one hurts. There's no hiding that. It'll hurt more if Stave has to miss any time going forward, though I'm hopeful that he can play next week because the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder. Wisconsin still controls their own destiny in the Big Ten and can book a trip to Indianapolis easily, but this team has a lot of work to do if they're going to beat the eventual Legends Division champion and compete in the Rose Bowl.