Wisconsin 56, No. 21 Michigan St. 21
MADISON, Wis. (AP)—The only thing Lee Evans loves more than facing Michigan State is seeing the Spartans in man-to-man coverage.
“If you beat your man, then you can have a lot of success,” Evans said after tying a Big Ten record with five touchdown catches in Wisconsin’s 56-21 rout of No. 21 Michigan State on Saturday.
The Spartans never adjusted, doubling Evans only when he lined up in the slot but usually leaving sophomore cornerback Darren Barnett to fend for himself whenever Wisconsin’s career receiving leader lined up outside.
“He’s the best receiver I’ve ever faced,” Barnett said. “I’ve never seen anyone want the ball so much. He’s so fluid and talented. But we didn’t come out ready to play him.”
Which was surprising, considering that Evans had burned the Spartans twice before, with a game-winning touchdown in 2000 and a three-TD, 228-yard performance in 2001.
“Going into the game, we knew what they were going to come out and do,” Evans said. “All week we stressed, ‘Beat man-to-man.”’
But who knew they’d never adjust?
“We probably should have doubled him more,” Barnett said.
Evans, who missed all of last season following two knee surgeries, established several school records on a cold, misty afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium, after which both teams were 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the Big Ten.
His five TD receptions tied the Big Ten mark set in 1993 by Minnesota’s Omar Douglas and he caught a career-best 10 passes for a school-record 258 yards.
He teamed with Jim Sorgi on TD plays of 9, 75, 18, 70 and 18 yards.
“It was vintage Lee Evans. He put on a show,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said.
Sorgi, who completed 16 of 24 passes for 380 yards, became the first Wisconsin quarterback to throw for four or more touchdowns in consecutive weeks.
Dwayne Smith, who replaced Booker Stanley (knee) on the first series, ran 21 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns, giving the Badgers a 200-yard receiver and 200-yard runner in the same game for just the second time in school history—the first time was against Akron on Sept. 6.
Evans’ 258 yards receiving topped Al Toon’s record of 252 set against Purdue in 1983. His 12 TDs this season and 26 for his career are both school records, too. Tony Simmons held the previous career mark of 23 TDs from 1994-97 and Evans shared the mark for nine TDs in a season with Toon.
The Spartans have always been Evans’ favorite team to face.
In 2000, he caught just one pass against them, but it was a 45-yard game-winning touchdown with 29 seconds left.
Against Michigan State the following year, his three TDs tied the school record set by Dave Howard in 1955 and tied by Pat Richter in 1961.
Evans tied that touchdown total in the first half Saturday, scoring on passes of 9, 75 and 18 yards as the Badgers rolled to a 28-7 halftime lead.
After his 75-yard reception made it 21-0, Chad Simon returned the kickoff 59 yards to the Badgers 25, and Jeff Smoker hit Kyle Brown in stride for a 21-yard touchdown with 2:51 left before halftime.
Evans wasn’t done, however.
Smith reeled off a 60-yard run to the Spartans’ 21, setting up Evans’ 18-yard TD catch with 1:39 left in the half that made it 28-7.
In the third quarter, Evans caught a 6-yard pass in the right flat and blew past Barnett for a 70-yard score and a 35-7 lead.
“It was like everything he caught he was going to take to the end zone,” teammate Brandon Williams said.
Evans’ final TD came on a diving, fingertips catch that made it 42-14 with 4:05 left in the third quarter.
“It was his show today,” Spartans cornerback Ashton Watson said. “Every time he caught the ball, you had to hold your breath. You didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Except that he usually ended up in the end zone.
“We were thinking there was something we could do,” safety Greg Cooper said. “But we never found an answer.”
The only one who stopped Evans from having an even bigger day was Alvarez, who called him over to the sideline after his final catch, a 9-yarder that allowed him to surpass Toon’s single-game yardage record with 13 1/2 minutes remaining.
Evans watched from the sideline as Smith capped the Badgers’ big day with scoring runs of 14 and 26 yards.
The Badgers snapped a three-game losing streak in sending the Spartans to their third straight loss and their worst defeat in John L. Smith’s first season as coach.
“We got our tails kicked up between our shoulders today,” he said. “Our kids didn’t play with abandon. They didn’t play with emotion. That’s on our shoulders as coaches. We were embarrassed.”
As for Evans’ performance, Smith said: “They just threw it up in the air and our DBs were on an island.”
Stranded, all afternoon.