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Quintez Cephus - UW vs. Michigan State

Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus hauls in a touchdown pass while defended by Michigan State safety David Dowell in the second quarter of the Badgers' win over the Spartans on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. 

Michigan State tried to replicate everything it’d seen on film to slow down the University of Wisconsin football team’s offense.

The Spartans crowded the line of scrimmage with defenders to slow down UW’s star tailback Jonathan Taylor, and played tight man coverage against the receivers. But the Badgers’ receivers and junior quarterback Jack Coan were up to the challenge.

The receivers consistently won one-on-one matchups, the defense continued to be dominant on third down and aggressive play-calling from UW coach Paul Chryst paid off, extending drives as the Badgers wore down MSU’s defense.

Despite keeping Taylor in check, No. 8 UW maintained control throughout and came away with a 38-0 victory at Camp Randall Stadium. That’s UW’s fourth shutout of the season, the most it’s had since 1930, when it had five.

UW (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) had a 17-0 lead when Michigan State got the ball to start the second half. After what appeared to be another three-and-out, the Spartans faked the punt and Tyriq Thompson gained 20 yards on the play. It was MSU’s longest play of the afternoon, but set up what Chryst said was the biggest momentum-shifting moment of the game.

Back-to-back sacks from Chris Orr and Isaiahh Loudermilk, then an illegal substitution penalty, pushed MSU out of field-goal range and forced another punt. UW took over at its 8-yard line and drove 92 yards for a put-away score on the third play of the fourth quarter.

Long drives have been the norm for the Badgers this season. The 92-yarder against the Spartans was the longest of the year, but of UW’s 31 touchdown drives, 23 of them have been 60 yards or more.

“You know, it comes down to execution. Guys got to make plays. Obviously got to convert on third down. Couple times we’ve got to use fourth maybe to get it, right, but that's got to be a manageable situation,” Chryst said. “It's guys doing things to give yourself a chance and then someone takes advantage of that.”

The long, grinding drives affect every phase of the game.

It gives UW’s defense a chance to get a long rest. That’s something it has done a good job of helping itself with given its success on third down, which continued against the Spartans, who went two of 14 on third down. But sustained drives by UW also put the opposing offense on the sideline for long stretches, disrupting any rhythm it attempts to build.

Offensive lineman David Moorman, who played guard against MSU after playing at tight end and tackle this season, said the long drives are something the Badgers prepare for year-round.

“I think it’s a testament to our strength coach (Ross Kolodziej),” Moorman said. “All offseason, our workouts are meant for sustainability and to have great cardio so you can support those long drives. We had a lot lifts where it’s like constantly doing sets. Those guys get us ready.”

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Badgers 38, Spartans 0
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MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke never looked settled, and as the lead swelled, struggled to connect on anything down the field. He was 7 of 16 passing for 53 yards and an interception — the Spartans didn’t have 100 total yards until the final drive of the game, and they finished with 149.

“After the Michigan game, coach Chryst kind of emphasized the defense playing off the offense and the special teams as well. When they run 6 minutes off the clock and go down on score, we have to answer with a three-and-out stop,” senior linebacker Zack Baun said. “That’s just demoralizing to the opposing team, and I think we did a great job of playing off each other today.”

The rout was already on by the time Baun returned a fourth-quarter interception 34 yards for a score. It marked the UW defense’s fourth touchdown scored this year, matching its four touchdowns allowed.

Coan finished 18 of 21 passing, including 14 of 16 in the first half, with 180 yards and a touchdown in his most efficient performance of the year. He had completions to eight receivers.

Taylor (26 carries, 80 yards, two touchdowns) wasn’t able to create the big plays he’s been accustomed to in his UW career, but the receiving corps made up for it.

Junior receiver Quintez Cephus hauled in Coan’s scoring toss in the second quarter after tipping the ball with his left hand first, then his right hand, before pinning it onto his chest for a 19-yard touchdown. It was his first score since a blowout win over Central Michigan in Week 2.

In the fourth quarter, Kendric Pryor took a jet-sweep handoff 66 yards for a touchdown on the first play of a drive, one of the last UW starters played.

Michigan State was the first in a series of tests on UW’s schedule. After five games at home, the Badgers face Illinois and No. 3 Ohio State on the road in the next two weeks, and then Iowa at home after a bye week.

With UW’s dominant win over the Spartans coupled with results from around the AP Top 25, a top-five or top-six ranking could be coming for the Badgers. But they’re not interested in attention from the outside.

“We don’t even care about the rankings. At the end of the day, you’ve got to keep winning,” cornerback Faion Hicks said. “If you’re (No.) 1, 2, 3, 19, you’ve got to win. We don’t even care about the rankings. We’re not focused on that at all. We want to be the best team in the country, and we feel like we’re the best team in the country.”

Bucky!

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