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Halftime Thoughts: Wisconsin outclasses Michigan State through one half

October 12, 2019
A spartan football helmet on the sideline. The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, at Ohio Stadium on October 5, 2019.
A spartan football helmet on the sideline. The Buckeyes defeated the Spartans, 34-10, at Ohio Stadium on October 5, 2019. —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

MADISON, Wis. — No. 8 Wisconsin leads Michigan State 17-0 at the end of the first half at Camp Randall Stadium.

The first 30 minutes of this game showed why one team (Wisconsin) will be fighting for a spot in the College Football Playoff come December. And why another team (Michigan State) will be fighting for a Florida bowl game.

Here are some quick thoughts from halftime in Madison.

Wisconsin is simply the better team

The Badgers put on an absolute clinic in the first quarter.

They led 7-0 through 15 minutes. Out-gained the Spartans 130 yards to 13. And out-rushed MSU 61 yards to negative 2. Then, on the first play of the second quarter, Jack Coan fond Quintez Cephus for a 19-yard touchdown to put the Badgers up 14-0.

Wisconsin had better players, better coaching and better execution.

It clearly showed, right from the start.

Wisconsin opened the game up with a clever play-action pass to Jonathan Taylor where they rolled him out in space underneath to match him against MSU's linebackers. The Badgers used the exact same play to set up their first touchdown. On fourth-and-2 from the Spartan 28-yard line, the Badgers again rolled out Taylor to the flat. However, they also sent tight end Jake Ferguson downfield. Three Spartans — Joe Bachie, Tyriq Thompson and Xavier Henderson — all went to Taylor, leaving Ferguson all alone. If it wasn't for a stumble short of the goal line, he would have walked into the end zone. But, Taylor finished the job on the next play, stretching the ball into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown to put Wisconsin up 7-0.

Wisconsin recognized the advantage they had with Taylor in space against MSU's linebackers. So, they kept feeding the junior back through the passing game. He finished the first half with three catches for 22 yards. Two of which, helped set up Coan's touchdown strike to Cephus.

The Badgers held the ball for 22:39 in the first half compared to just 6:34 for the Spartans.

Taylor added 58 yards on 17 carries on the ground in the half. Want to know how to make the best running back in college football even better?

An efficient quarterback.

Coan finished the half 14-for-16 for 126 yards and a score, setting up a running-passing tandem in Wisconsin's offense that MSU's defense had zero shot to stop.

MSU offense providing zero help

Michigan State's defense was getting gashed — again. And the Spartan offense did zero favors to help them out.

Thanks to a sloppy opening drive, the Spartans forced Wisconsin to punt on its first offensive possession for the first time this season. MSU's offense had a chance to put some early pressure on the Badgers. But, the Spartans proceeded to go three-and-out.

Then, after the Badgers took a 7-0 lead. the Spartans, again, went three-and-out.

When MSU fell behind two scores against the Buckeyes last week, the offense raced down the field on a five-play, 75-yard drive. But, when it fell behind 14-0 to Wisconsin, the Spartans proceeded to punt again after picking up one first down.

After MSU's defense held Wisconsin to a 29-yard field goal by Collin Larsh to extend the Badgers' lead to 17-0, the Spartan offense again couldn't figure out how to move the ball downfield and was forced into another three-and-out.

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With 1:29 left and three timeouts, the Spartans had a chance to make some noise offensively before the end of the half.

Matt Seybert got a 7-yard pass on first down. Elijah Collins rushed for two yards and a second down. And on third-and-1, Collins was drilled in the backfield for a loss of three. Another punt.

That pretty much summed up two quarters of MSU's offense.

As Coan flourished throughout the half, fifth-year quarterback Brian Lewerke struggled. He finished the half 4-for-11 for 27 yards. That's it. On top of it, he didn't get any help from his receivers with a couple of drops on their end as well.

The Spartans' offense finished the half with 38 total yards.

How did MSU handle its running back dilemma?

Now the most experienced running back on MSU's roster, Collins got most of the work in the backfield for MSU's offense.

Where we saw the big change was in clear passing situations.

With La'Darius Jefferson and Connor Heyward, the Spartans' two-best pass-blocking backs, in the NCAA Transfer Portal, the Spartans turned to Seybert, who shifted next to Lewerke to provide extra support in pass protection.

But, with tight end Trenton Gillison out due to injury against the Badgers, that took MSU's most successful catching tight end out of the passing game all together.

The Spartans traveled to Madison with only three running backs — Collins, true freshman Anthony Williams Jr. and true freshman Brandon Wright, who made his second appearance on the Spartans' travel roster this season. Walk-on Alante Thomas did not make the trip to Wisconsin, leaving MSU even more shorthanded in the backfield.

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