EAST LANSING, Mich. — For several seconds during the third quarter, University of Wisconsin fifth-year safety Leo Musso felt like he had been transported back to his running back days at Waunakee High School.
Musso had scooped up a fumble forced by fellow safety D’Cota Dixon, whose low hit on Michigan State running back LJ Scott jarred the ball loose, and now Musso streaked toward the end zone. MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor was the final green jersey preventing his path to the end zone as Musso streaked up the Wisconsin sideline. Musso then put O’Connor in the spin cycle at the 50-yard line, executing a perfect spin-move and scampered into the end zone on a 66-yard touchdown.
“I was escstatic when I saw him hit the spin-move,” Dixon said after the game. “It’s like he pressed the B-button or something. I was like ‘Oh my god, did he really just do that?!'”
The score put No. 11 Wisconsin up 20-6, and sent the Badgers (4-0) on their way to a 30-6 upset over No. 8 Michigan State at Spartan Stadium.
“I had the easy job,” Musso said of the play. “Just pick it up and run.”
Saturday was an aberration from the recent meetings between the Badgers and the Spartans (2-1). A combined 12 points decided the last three meetings between the two teams, and Saturday marked the first matchup for the programs since 2012.
UW redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook rose to the challenge of his first career collegiate start with extreme poise. Hornibrook threw for 195 yards while completing 16 of his 26 passes. Hornibrook’s production on third-down, 9-for-12 for 136 yards and a touchdown, was downright impressive.
“That’s a huge deal, to get third downs, especially those third-and-longs,” Hornibrook said. “They either end your drive or help you keep going on your drive and get a touchdown.”
But Wisconsin’s rushing attack struggled. With left guard Jon Dietzen out, redshirt sophomore center Michael Deiter slid there and Brett Connors made his first career start at center. Senior running back Corey Clement managed just 54 yards on 23 carries, but added two scores. Clement said after the game his health is 100 percent, but the unit needs to improve moving forward.
Sophomore fullback Alec Ingold had two key fourth-down conversions on UW’s second offensive drive of the game, which was capped by tight end Eric Steffes’ first career touchdown catch from one-yard out on play action. That put the Badgers up 7-3, and the 16-play, 7:38 drive was much needed after Hornibrook fumbled on UW’s first drive, setting up a short field for the Spartans. MSU capitalized with Michael Geiger’s 48-yard field goal. Geiger’s 40-yard field goal with 1:18 left in the first half, which made it 13-6 UW, would mark the last time MSU got on the board.
That’s because the defense — and the four turnovers it forced — was the collective MVP of the game. Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton jumped a curl route and picked off O’Connor in the second quarter, which set up Clement’s first touchdown run from one-yard away. Andrew Endicott, filling in for injured kicker Rafael Gaglianone, missed the extra point, keeping the game at 13-6.
Coming out of the second half with the score unchanged, UW went three-and-out and MSU received the ball back with favorable field position at the 50-yard line. Two plays later came Musso’s touchdown and the momentum reverted to Wisconsin for good.
Following a 41-yard field goal from Endicott and another stop from the Wisconsin defense, MSU punter Jake Hartbarger muffed the snap, and fell on the ball at the MSU five-yard line. Clement punched in his second touchdown of the game on the next play, making the score 30-6, which held for the remaining 18:52 of the game.
The defense was so dominant that MSU’s offense never made it to the red zone until the final minute, when the outcome was decided and the score no longer mattered. T.J. Edwards and Derrick Tindal added interceptions, but redshirt sophomore linebacker T.J. Watt broke out in a big way. Watt recorded six tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3.5 tackles-for-loss, a pass breakup and two quarterback hits.
“Nothing’s going to change for me,” Watt said. “I’m going to approach each week the same. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s honestly how it is for me. [I’m] pleased to have the numbers I put up today.”
The win marked the first time Badgers have beaten multiple AP Top 10 teams in the same season since 1962 (LSU was ranked No. 5 when UW beat the Tigers three weeks ago).
“We knew today was an opportunity,” UW head coach Paul Chryst said. “And the kids did a great job all week preparing for it.”