As Michigan State learned on Saturday, Ron Dayne at his best is better than just about anybody.
Wisconsin overpowering tailback gave another stellar performance, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns as No. 17 Wisconsin shredded the nation's best run defense and routed the No. 11 Spartans 40-10 on Saturday.
Michigan State allowed 279 rushing yards, the fewest in the country, in its first seven games. The Badgers racked up 301, including touchdowns runs of 51 and 15 yards by Dayne, who had just one of his 34 carries in the fourth quarter.
"We knew that they were No. 1, and that was one of our main goals, to go out and run on them," Dayne said. "My offensive line, the fullbacks and tight ends all had great games."
The Spartans' front seven was thought to be one of the best in the country, but Michigan State had almost no success in containing Dayne, who bulled his way to 152 first-half yards, closed in on the Big Ten's career touchdowns record and even extracted a little vindication.
"Every week, somebody finds a reason to criticize Ron Dayne," said Barry Alvarez, who became Wisconsin's winningest coach with the victory. "This guy has proven himself to me and everyone in this state the last four years. So if someone finds criticism, that's up to them."
Dayne passed Charles White for third place on the major-college career rushing list, and moved within 483 yards of Ricky Williams' record. Dayne must average 161 yards in Wisconsin's final three games against Northwestern, Purdue and Iowa to set the mark.
Cornerback Jamar Fletcher intercepted two passes for the Badgers (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten), who got their fourth straight conference victory with a second straight overwhelming performance. Wisconsin beat Indiana 59-0 last week an led the Spartans 33-3 early in the fourth quarter.
Just two weeks ago, the trash-talking, high-fiving Spartans (6-2, 3-2) were undefeated and talking about a national championship run. But consecutive humbling losses to Purdue and Wisconsin have knocked Michigan State all but out of the national and conference title hunts.
Dayne broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run on the Badgers' opening possession of the game and, after two field goals by Vitaly Pisetsky, Bobby Myers intercepted Bill Burke's pass deep in Michigan State territory.
That set up Dayne's second TD run early in the second quarter. With 66 career touchdowns, Dayne trails only Indiana's Anthony Thompson (68) in Big Ten history.
Wisconsin jumped to a 23-0 halftime lead and put the game away with two clock-eating drives in the third quarter. The Badgers held the ball for 13:56 in the third, making scoring drives of 14 and 13 plays around a three-and-out series by the Spartans.
Alvarez got his 66th victory while sitting in the press box to rest a sore knee. He passed Phil King, who won 65 games near the turn of the century.
"I think someday I'll look back
Pisetsky tied a Wisconsin record with four field goals, including a 23-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter that made it 33-3. With four straight convincing wins, Alvarez thinks one of the Badgers' biggest foes is overconfidence.
"They've just got to keep level-headed," Alvarez said. "I reminded them we are the defending Big Ten champs, and we're going to fight like hell to try to keep it."
The Spartans' offense was woeful, as Burke threw three first-half interceptions and Michigan State rushed for just 42 yards in the first three quarters before finishing with 110. Freshman tailback T.J. Duckett's 53-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter was Michigan State's only bright spot.
Michigan State also fumbled twice. The Spartans, who are stumbling into their bye week, have made 11 turnovers in the last two weeks and have been outscored 92-38.
Michigan State coach Nick Saban thought the Badgers' four-play, 85-yard opening drive was the killer.
"That was a little bit shocking to me, because I thought we were ready to play," Saban said. "Against those guys, you have to execute perfectly. I was disappointed."
Burke's efforts to find his favorite receiver, Plaxico Burress, were also disastrous. The Badgers' sharp secondary intercepted three passes intended for the 6-foot-6 Burress in the first half, when Fletcher had as many catches (two) as Burress.
Burress, who finished with five catches for 58 yards, said the Spartans' passing game was crippled by the absence of starting wide receiver Gari Scott, who has a hamstring injury.
"Tht's like not having a piece of my heart," Burress said. "Without Gari, all the attention shifts to my side."
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