EAST LANSING, Mich. — By the time Alex Hornibrook’s first start was over, there wasn’t much question about whether he could handle one of the toughest road tests in the Big Ten.
Hornibrook threw for 195 yards and a touchdown, and 11th-ranked Wisconsin turned its early-season showdown with No. 8 Michigan State into a rout, beating the Spartans 30-6 on Saturday.
"You’ve got to have respect for a guy whose first start is against a Michigan State defense," Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said.
"He’s going to come out the next game and do even better. I think he’s just getting his feet wet."
The freshman quarterback outplayed fifth-year senior Tyler O’Connor, his Michigan State counterpart. The Badgers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) were the better team in the first half and then outscored the Spartans 17-0 in the third quarter.
Michigan State (2-1, 0-1) was down 13-6 early in the third and had the ball in Wisconsin territory when LJ Scott’s fumble bounced to Wisconsin’s Leo Musso in the secondary. O’Connor was the only player with a decent shot at him on the return, and Musso spun past the quarterback and went all the way to the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown.
O’Connor finished 18 of 38 for 224 yards with three interceptions.
"People have been saying a lot of good things about us lately," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "And now we’ll take some shots."
Clement ran for two touchdowns for Wisconsin, which went with Hornibrook at quarterback after Bart Houston started the first three games. Hornibrook wasn’t spectacular, but he kept his cool.
"That’s something that I take pride in, just staying the same level, not going too far up or too far down," he said.
Wisconsin: Some were skeptical about the Badgers after their season-opening win over LSU, since it wasn’t clear if LSU would be as tough as advertised this season. But Wisconsin has now gone on the road and pounded the defending Big Ten champions. Even before the Badgers took total control in the third quarter, they were pressuring O’Connor and preventing Michigan State from doing anything significant with its running game.
Michigan State: A win at Notre Dame last weekend looked like business as usual for the Spartans, but their outlook changes considerably now. This was their most lopsided defeat at Spartan Stadium since falling 42-14 to Penn State in 2009.
Dantonio ran down the list of categories in which his team came up short: "Possession time, turnovers, running the football, sacks, third-down conversions, combined with fourth-down conversions. It’s all right there. That’s why you don’t win a football game."
Wisconsin had the ball for 32:48, forced four turnovers, outrushed Michigan State 122-75 and went 7 of 16 on third down. The Spartans were sacked four times.
This was a rare blowout in the recent history of this series. The previous seven meetings were decided by an average of 4.9 points.
Wisconsin: There should be no denying the Badgers a spot in the top 10 after this victory. There were four Big Ten teams in the top 11 before this game.
Michigan State: The Spartans have been ranked in the AP poll for a school-record 45 consecutive weeks. They’re unlikely to fall all the way out after this lopsided loss, but another performance like this would put that streak in some jeopardy.
Wisconsin: K Rafael Gaglianone missed the game because of a back problem. Andrew Endicott missed an extra point but made his first career field goal, from 41 yards in the third.
Michigan State: LB Riley Bullough missed the game with an unspecified injury.
Wisconsin: This was the start of a brutal five-game stretch for the Badgers. Next up is a trip to play Michigan in Ann Arbor next weekend, followed by games against Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska.
Michigan State: The Spartans will have to change gears when they play on the road against an Indiana team that likes to move fast on offense.