The Wolverines trekked to the other side of Lake Michigan to Madison, Wisconsin to battle the undefeated Badgers of the University of Wisconsin in their most significant contest yet this season.
The Wolverines played a decent first half, but could not present an effective offense or defense for the last third of the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter. This has been a symptom of their play all year long. Complete games have been rare against better opponents.
Both sides had great expectations and motivation in this battle, but the Badgers prevailed to remain undefeated and on top of the Big Ten.
BADGERS: Foremost in the Badger’s immediate expectation was to hammer the Wolverines. All time, the Badgers had suffered at the hands of the Wolverines, but they have had their moments, as the M record of 50 wins includes 15 losses, and Saturday’s win.
One of those moments was an early season 1980’s contest against the Wolverines in Camp Randall. In a season opener, the Wolverines featured their great running back Butch Woolfolk, and went into the game ranked Number One in the country. They were convincingly toppled by the Badgers, demolishing M’s expectations and momentum.
This time around the Badgers were ranked Number Five, and had a shot at another step towards an unbeaten season. They had the advantage of playing on home turf at a frenzied Camp Randall Stadium in front of a packed house of over 80,000.
Representing the much-maligned West Division, which they had already won, they wanted to teach the higher profile East Division a lesson by taking another step up the ladder in esteem. They were already destined for the Big Ten East/West game in Indianapolis.
If the right circumstances occur, the Badgers could possibly get a shot at NCAA football’s football final four. It’s a long shot, but a shot. These were compelling expectations and motivations.
A victory over the nineteenth ranked Wolverines is just the ticket to eliminate criticism that the Badgers had not beaten a ranked opponent, and had played an easy schedule. That discussion is now diminished, if not at an end.
WOLVERINES: The Wolverines still desperately needed a “signature” win. Coach Harbaugh and his Michigan program have not routinely knocked off a member of upper football echelons in a meaningful game. I think one out of six in his Michigan Head Coaching career is the correct number. This season has been no exception to date.
M also wanted to maintain the slim chance of a shot at the Big Ten Championship. They needed to combine a win over the Badgers at their home burrow, with a clobbering of the Buckeyes in their regular season finale to maintain that chance. That is gone now, except for wanting to clobber the Buckeyes.
They also wanted to play spoiler. They did not want the Badgers to continue to sniff an undefeated season, but couldn’t stop them.
BRIEF STATS: Offense: The Wolverines managed a dismal average rushing yardage of 1.6-yards a carry. Chris Evans led the pack hauling 10 for 25-yards with a long of 10 and a 2.5-yard average. Karan Higdon, who was dinged during the game and left it, toted 7 for 20-yards with a long of 8 for 2.3 average. Donovan Peoples Jones ran once for twelve yards.
Donovan Peoples Jones led the receivers. DPJ had his best day as a Wolverine receiver gathering in 4 passes for 64-yards with a long of 48-yards. Zach Gentry had a thirty-five yard completion that put the Wolverines at the five early, before the DPJ no TD call and Peters lost fumble.
Defense: K. Hudson had six solo tackles. He had 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFLs. Josh Metellus had the same stats minus the sacks and TFLs.
Michigan had 58 net yards rushing, and 143 net yards passing to Wisconsin’s 176 net yards rushing and 183 net yards passing.
HOW THEY SCORED; First Half: The odds were against the Wolverines but they stayed determined, and played hard and smart for much of the game on offense and defense, especially in the first half.
A costly first half special teams gaffe was an exception. An M punt hit the ground and laid there unpossessed for a second or two. An alert Badger scooped it up for a 50-yard TD.
This lackadaisical punt return effort allowed the first TD by either side for the day. Did the Wolverines think the ball was dead when it hit the ground? Whatever the case, it was a major error.
There was only one Wolverine near the ball as it lay on the ground before being picked up by a Wisconsin player, and toted to 50-yards into the end zone. The M player overran the ball, and could not get back to make the tackle. Another player wearing Maize and Blue missed his tackle, and the Badger was home free.
This special team’s gift made it 0-7 Badgers at 8:52 of the first quarter.
It was not the Wolverines lucky day. There was some first half bad luck for the Wolverines. A great Peters throw to Donovon Peoples-Jones for 48-yards was captured by a leaping DPJ in the end zone.
While in the air, he was being pushed to the boundary by the defender. He had control of the pass as first his left, and then the right foot came down. I thought the replay showed the left foot in bounds and the right out a split second later as it touched the line.
It was the judgement of the officials after review, it was not a catch. That TD was still born.
Next came Peters first turnover as the M QB. On the subsequent play, it looked like the Wolverine’s red zone woes were in the past, as Peters sprinted to the goal line down the sideline. A little short of the flag (pylon), he tried to switch the ball from his left to right hand to score by stretching stretch over the pylon. Jostled during the switch, he dropped the ball, and a Badger recovered.
Before those two plays, the Wolverines had earlier enjoyed some good luck when an apparent Badger third and 14 first down conversion was overturned on review.
Donovan Peoples-Jones contributed to positive passing stats with a 48-yard grab of a perfectly thrown Peters’ pass. DPJ had his best day as a Wolverine receiver..
On third and eight, Peters then checked down to Chris Evans for a 19-yard first down. TE Sean McKeon then nabbed another nifty Peters pass of 14-yards and the ball was on the Wisconsin one.
Harbaugh got inventive, and lined up K. Hill beside Ben Mason. Mason got the call, and the one-yard TD, which was the first of his career.
Despite of the special-teams gaff, the Wolverines had bettered the Badgers in the first half. Wisconsin had not scored an offensive TD, and the Wolverines had allowed the Badgers just 99-yards of offense.
HOW THEY SCORED; Second Half: The first two-thirds of the third quarter were good for the Wolverines. M Punter Brad Robbins set the Badgers on their own ten after the Wolverines held to begin the third quarter. The defense stood tall, and the special teams stood tall. M’s Robbins dropped a punt on the Wisconsin ten.
M’s Viper, Devin Bush, stood especially tall as he collared an errant Badger pass on the first play of the drive to put the M offense at the Wisconsin 29. The Wolverines offense stalled and they had a Quinn Nordin field goal of 39-yards. M-10; Wisc.-7.
Nordin was relieved and happy after his score on the sidelines. In a big game, under pressure of previous misses, he knocked it through to aid his team, and preserve his job. Harbaugh had warned him after the last game not to miss another.
Even though the later loss of Peters was also very significant, I believe that not scoring a TD after the sudden change was a serious turning point of the half, and the game.
The wind seemed to go out of the Wolverines defense. The Wolverines helped the Badgers by means of a Tyree Kinnel 15-yard pass interference penalty. The Badgers took it to the house from there. A 24-yard pass capped a 7 play, 77-yard drive that produced all that was needed to win, as Wisconsin went ahead to stay, 10-14, at about 3:32 of the third.
The Wolverines went three and out, and Peters was downed by what I considered a late hit that could have been called, but wasn’t. It was close. Peters was lost for the game.
After the game Harbaugh said he seemed OK, but was getting checked out. He also said O’Korn was ready.
Hopefully, Peters will be back to face the wrath of the Buckeyes, but possibly not if it is a head injury instead of a shoulder injury. Then the concussion protocol could rightfully apply.
John O’Korn took over, and the offense could score no more points. John made no mistakes, but the Wolverines were not effective offensively from that point of the game on.
Meanwhile, the Badgers were super charged, and went up 10-21 on the strength of a 32-yard TD run.
With 2:22 left Wisconsin hit a 30-yard field goal to make the final 27-10.
TAKE AWAY: The Wolverines offensive line and its backs do not shield the QB very well, so it is no surprise whatever that Peters was knocked out of the game. In fact, it was predictable, and predicted.
The Wolverines are a team that has not yet this year played a full game effectively against the better teams they faced. While the defense shines for a longer period and is more remarkable, they too finally bite the dust late against the better teams.
The offense is significantly ineffective in producing points against the better defenses. For a team the relies on its running game as a staple, they often can’t move the chains at crunch time as runs are stifled with the box loaded with defenders. The pass pro is so rudimentary that they can’t consistently move the chains through the air. Michigan’s QB is too often harassed. They suffered well over a dozen QB hurries.
The Wolverines game management is too often suspect. Why did they have to use so many time outs so early in the first half? It didn’t burn them this time, but could.
Almost everyone forecast that this game was a true litmus test of the Wolverines fortunes and capabilities this year, and forecast that at this we would be able to measure this edition of the Wolverines.
These results show that they look like they fit well into an 8-4 season.
They can change that perception as the big, ugly shadow of the Buckeyes looms over them. It will take a lot of fight for sixty minutes. Ten points will not do the trick. We will see if the Wolverines can do it.