- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan State is not dead yet.
The Spartans had played championship-level defense and unwatchable offense for most of the season. They did both for most of Saturday's game against Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium.
But just when it appeared time to write off the offense and the season, Michigan State came alive to rally past Wisconsin for a 16-13 overtime victory. The Spartans (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) snapped No. 25 Wisconsin's 21-game home win streak -- the second-longest in the nation -- and won in Madison for the first time since 2001. Andrew Maxwell found a seemingly blanketed Bennie Fowler for a 12-yard touchdown pass in the first overtime, after Wisconsin had kicked a field goal on its possession.
The Badgers (6-3, 3-2) clearly missed starting quarterback Joel Stave, who left the game with a shoulder injury after being hit by Michigan State DE William Gholston early in the second half. Stave played exceptionally well, completing 9 of 11 passes for 127 yards, and Wisconsin did nothing without him, as backup Danny O'Brien struggled mightily (5-for-11 passing, 44 yards), as did the offensive line. Still, Michigan State's offense continued to be worse, and it appeared as though the Badgers would escape with an ugly win.
After racking up one first down, one fumble and zero points on its first five second-half possessions, Michigan State came alive on a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the closing seconds of regulation. Maxwell connected on seven consecutive pass attempts, throw one incompletion, and then found Le'Veon Bell on a shuffle pass for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:08 remaining.
If Michigan State turns around its season a bit, remember that drive.
The Spartans defense deserves the lion's share of the credit for Saturday's win. Gholston was an absolute beast, racking up 4.5 tackles for loss, while linebacker Max Bullough led the way with nine tackles and 2.5 TFLs. Linebacker Kyler Elsworth dropped O'Brien on two blitzes and Michigan State held Wisconsin to an astounding 19 net rush yards on 37 attempts. Badgers top backs Montee Ball and James White, who had been so effective as of late, combined for 62 rush yards on 29 attempts.
It looked like White had sealed a Wisconsin win following a Lawrence Thomas fumble, but a holding penalty negated the score. Wisconsin certainly will take a look at the call, but there's nothing that can be done now.
For the Badgers, their misery against Michigan State continues, and Saturday's loss hurts the mood after a nice three-game win streak. Wisconsin remains in the driver's seat to represent the Leaders division in Indianapolis, but don't sleep on Indiana, which beat Illinois earlier Saturday and hosts slumping Iowa before the Badgers come to town. We'll have to see on Stave's status, but Wisconsin still appeared to have Michigan State beat and couldn't finish the job.
The game certainly wasn't the instant classic that Michigan State and Wisconsin twice gave us last year. The teams combined for just 78 rushing yards despite boasting the Big Ten's top two backs in Ball and Bell.
As ugly as it was for most of the afternoon, it goes down as a Michigan State win, one Mark Dantonio and his team will happily accept as they inch closer to bowl eligibility and should have a say in how the Legends division race shakes out.