Wis­con­sin steps for­ward

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SCREEN CHECK - Dan Wolken @DanWolken USA TO­DAY Sports

Even when they’re good, the Wis­con­sin Badgers rarely blow you away. It’s more of a work­man­like pro­gram, built on ef­fi­cient de­fense and a tra­di­tional of­fense with­out much flash.

But Satur­day’s 30-6 vic­tory at No. 8 Michigan State is the kind of eye-pop­ping score that might make you think the Big Ten has an­other con­tender along­side Ohio State and Michigan.

Of course, the ex­cite­ment over Wis­con­sin might be short-lived, as the Badgers play at Michigan and host Ohio State in their next two games. But for now it’s per­fectly fine for Wis­con­sin to dream big af­ter im­prov­ing to 4-0.

This is a team that now owns two vic­to­ries against op­po­nents that were in the top 10 when they played. And as ugly as Wis­con­sin’s 16-14 sea­son-open­ing vic­tory against LSU might have looked at the time, maybe the Badgers are on an up­ward tra­jec­tory with fresh­man quar­ter­back Alex Horni­brook at the helm.

Horni­brook threw for only 195 yards against the Spar­tans on 16for-26 com­ple­tions, but there were big mo­ments in the game where he showed se­ri­ous moxie and put the ball on the money for his re­ceivers.

If there is any big con­cern for Wis­con­sin right now, it’s a run­ning game that pro­duced just 122 yards on 41 car­ries. Run­ning back Corey Clement, dogged by an an­kle in­jury, was only marginally ef­fec­tive with 54 yards on 23 at­tempts. There’s no doubt the Badgers will need to be much bet­ter up front if they’re go­ing to chal­lenge Michigan next week­end.

Here are the rest of Satur­day’s win­ners and losers: WIN­NERS

Ten­nessee: Down 21-3 af­ter the first half, the No. 12-ranked Vols sum­moned an in­cred­i­ble come­back to put away No. 16 Florida and end an 11-year losing streak that had prac­ti­cally con­sumed the pro­gram. Quar­ter­back Joshua Dobbs came to life with four touch­down passes against a de­fense that hadn’t given up a score through the air all year. Florida was too con­ser­va­tive in the sec­ond half, and the Vols took ad­van­tage. This win po­si­tions Ten­nessee ex­tremely well to fi­nally win the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence East.

Michigan: The Wolver­ines con­tinue to qui­etly dom­i­nate, beat­ing Penn State 49-10 to open Big Ten play. Apart from the sleepy first quar­ter last week­end against Colorado in which they yielded 21 points be­fore roar­ing back, it’s hard to find much fault with any­thing Michigan has done. This time, Jim Har­baugh wasn’t go­ing to let his team get off to a slow start and it came out with sur­gi­cal pre­ci­sion, scor­ing touch­downs on its first three drives.

Vir­ginia Tech: Any Hok­ies fan with a sense of his­tory dreads play­ing East Carolina. Ever since a highly ranked Vir­ginia Tech team lost to the Pirates in the 2008 sea­son opener, they’ve played sev­eral close games, in­clud­ing two more ECU vic­to­ries in 2014 and 2015.

But Vir­ginia Tech cruised to a 54-17 win at Lane Sta­dium and im­proved to 3-1.

Vir­ginia: It was a rough 0-3 start to the Bronco Men­den­hall era, but you could see progress even in losses the last cou­ple weeks. The Cava­liers were un­der­dogs at home to Cen­tral Michigan but came away with an im­pres­sive 49-35 win in which they racked up 569 yards.

Vir­ginia shot out to a 28-0 lead, then gave it all back by the early stages of the fourth quar­ter. But in­stead of suc­cumb­ing to shat­tered con­fi­dence, the Cava­liers showed some Men­den­hall-bred tough­ness and ex­ploded for three touch­downs in a span of six min­utes.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels didn’t lead un­til two sec­onds re­mained when quar­ter­back Mitch Tru­bisky found Bug Howard for a 2-yard touch­down pass

to win 37-36. The fi­nal play ended a fre­netic se­quence in which North Carolina, with­out a time­out, ran the ball near the goal line and got stopped with 12 sec­onds left. The Tar Heels had to quickly re­or­ga­nize and get a play off, which they did suc­cess­fully to com­plete a come­back from 36-23 down in the fourth quar­ter.

The Tar Heels badly needed this game if they wanted to re­peat as ACC Coastal cham­pi­ons. LOSERS Notre Dame: Duke was a three-touch­down un­der­dog com­ing into Notre Dame Sta­dium and sprung a 38-35 up­set that could have wide-rang­ing im­pli­ca­tions on the pro­gram.

Notre Dame is now 1-3 af­ter com­ing into the year with Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off as­pi­ra­tions, and you can bet there will be fall­out on the de­fen­sive side. It’s been ap­par­ent all year there are ma­jor is­sues, but this is now at the fivealarm fire stage with co­or­di­na­tor Brian VanGorder.

North­ern Illi­nois: The Huskies are in an ab­so­lute free fall, and now there’s a very real pos­si­bil­ity that Rod Carey’s job is in dan­ger. North­ern Illi­nois lost its seventh con­sec­u­tive game dat­ing to last sea­son; this time 28-23 to West­ern Illi­nois. Satur­day rep­re­sented an op­por­tu­nity for the Huskies to get back on track af­ter a dis­as­trous start to this sea­son; in­stead they fell be­hind 28-7 af­ter three quar­ters and couldn’t quite com­plete the come­back.

Ge­or­gia: It was clear the Bull­dogs were liv­ing a lie at 3-0, and Mis­sis­sippi ex­posed them in hu­mil­i­at­ing fash­ion 45-14. This was a rout of a Ge­or­gia team that was very for­tu­nate to win its first three games against medi­ocre op­po­nents, and it’s a bad look for a first-year head coach in Kirby Smart re­plac­ing a guy (Mark Richt) who al­most never got beat in such hu­mil­i­at­ing fash­ion.

Mak­ing mat­ters worse, run­ning back Nick Chubb sprained an an­kle in the first half and didn’t re­turn. The sever­ity of the in­jury is un­clear.

Ore­gon: The Ducks' slide back into medi­ocrity in the Pac-12 con­tin­ued Satur­day with a 41-38 loss to Colorado at home. Not to take any­thing away from the Buf­faloes — it's Colorado's first win vs. the Ducks since it joined the league in 2011 — but the magic of past years seems to be gone. The Ore­gon de­fense is a prob­lem. Mark Hel­frich's ten­ure at the top is go­ing to get tricky.

LSU: It won't get any eas­ier for Les Miles af­ter the No. 17 Tigers came up short against Auburn 18-13. There was some buzz about this clash be­ing a loser leave town matchup, Miles vs. Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, and no doubt the seat will heat up again for LSU's head coach. And maybe for of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Cam Cameron. LSU scored on the game's fi­nal play in what would have been a mirac­u­lous vic­tory ... but the clock ac­tu­ally ran out be­fore the Tigers got the play off. Ec­stasy to agony; there could be a lot more on the way.


Wis­con­sin quar­ter­back Alex Horni­brook (12) pre­pares to fire a pass dur­ing the third quar­ter against Michigan State. The Badgers rolled to a 30-6 vic­tory.

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