Finally the fans in Michigan Stadium got to evaluate this year’s edition of their Wolverine’s against a well-coached and ranked team with talent, grit, a physical capability and aggressive attitude. At game time, M was ranked 4th in the nation.
Wisconsin’s Badgers entered the Stadium as the eighth ranked team in the nation, undefeated in four games. The Badgers held notable victories over LSU at home, and Saturday before last Spartan Stadium rang with the Badger’s victory cheers. The tough Badger’s defense swarmed and smashed the Spartans 30-6, displaying unexpected excellence.
Badger LB, J.W. Watt was outstanding in that game, making 6 tackles, and nailing 2.5 sacks plus 2 QB hurries, again Saturday. Week before last he was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. He was outstanding against the Wolverines Saturday, too.
Wisconsin unveiled a Freshman QB in his first start at MSU. He was up to the occasion, tossing for 195-yards and a TD. He was named Big Ten Offensive player of the Week for facing down the Spartans. He did not produce as well against the Wolverines. He threw for 88-yards on 9 completions. He also threw 3 interceptions, with no TDs.
THE REMARLKABLE JOURDAN LEWIS INTERCEPTION: The Wolverines got three interceptions, one of which was by Jourdan Lewis. That interception was “Woodsonesque” in the difficulty and improbability of its execution. Much like Woodson’s storied side line grab against MSU in 1997, which helped pave his way to a Heisman Trophy. This Woodson catch still radiates and is recalled with awe.
The Lewis effort came as he was airborne and falling backwards and leaping upwards with the intended receiver close behind him, he stretched one arm up and filled his hand with football, caught it against his thigh, and hung on. Harbaugh indicated that he thought Lewis had jumped a tad early, but he hung at the top of the leap long enough to make the grab. Jourdan’s catch will have a similar half- life to Woodson’s.
It will have a life of its own in Jourdan’s resume and elsewhere as a magnificently athletic play. It sealed the Badger’s fate, but as fate would have it, had the interception not been made, M still would have good field position and possession as it was a fourth down play.
BADGER’S FOOTBALL STYLE: This Badger team wanted to control the clock, possess and pound the ball in traditional Wisconsin and Big Ten fashion.
For example, in their very first possession, the Badger’s gnawed over five minutes off the clock, but if they had an Achilles, it was their defensive back field.
This bit the Badgers late in the game when M QB Wilton Speight threw a beautiful arching pass to Amara Darboh, who with an opposing DB racing close at his heels, caught the football and streaked into the end zone. This game winning play was timed to perfection, both as a play and in the scheme of the game as it dissolved a 7 up tie in a low scoring game.
THE BADGERS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN PESKY: For example, in 1981 the Wolverines opened their B1G season at Camp Randall against Wisconsin. M was ranked Number One in the country that season. Wolverine hopes were high, and they had one of the best tailbacks in the country in Butch Woolfolk. The outstanding Anthony Carter was a wide out. Anthony could certainly move those spindly legs downfield. As an aside, just think what he could have achieved receiving over his career if he had been in one of today’s pass happy offenses. As it was he did plenty for his team, on special teams as well as pass receiving.
Obviously, that 1981 game did not follow the Wolverine script, as the Cheese Heads downed the Wolverines 14-21. The Wolverines still achieved a good season, but the Badgers knocked a lot of the luster off it.
As I recall, it was because of fan elation after that game that an unfortunate young lady was crowd crushed into a chain link fence, ending her life. It was another event that puts the importance of football games in perspective, and secondary to the exigencies of life.
SOME PREGAME NOTIONS MEASURED BY POST GAME REALITIES:
NOTION: Will the OL display toughness and moxie enough to enable an effective run game. Say, at least a 100-yard back. This is their first outing this season against a defense that has a strong pulse. Reality: There was RB by committee so again there was no M 100-yard back. The OL at times opened holes for the backs. Smith, Evans, and Isaac were all effective at critical times, and contributory to the victory. The pass protection by all hands was sometimes wanting, as Wilton was sacked 4 times. Only accomplishing a single running TD and a single passing TD tells a tale of offensive inconsistency, plus a good Wisconsin defense, too. The only blocking whiffs were not by the OL.
NOTION: Will the play be peppered by Peppers on Offense, Defense and Special teams? Reality: This was not a highlight game for Jabrill, he was not on the offensive team very much, but he was solid in the special teams return game and ball handling, and in his defensive assignments. Good field position in this game was mostly the work of Punter Kenny Allen, who hit punts long or dropped them short according to need.
NOTION: Will M QB Wilton Speight be able to mount a downfield passing attack to Chesson and Darboh, show an ability to avoid errors, and lead the offense to points. Reality: Wilton had pluses and minuses, but did engineer the win, including the spectacular winning TD. While Coach Harbaugh praised Wilton’s decision making generally, Wilton did throw an interception, and threw high occasionally.
He was sacked four times, but could have thrown the ball away once. He was 20/32 for 219-yards, with a long of 46-yards, which was that beautiful game winner. He had a evasive spin move in the pocket that was sometimes effective. Wilton performed well enough to secure the win, and that is what counts.
NOTION: Would the Wolverines be able to hit a FG when and if necessary? The game before last the Wolverines attempted to convert a fourth and short four times instead of kicking a FG and they converted four, but they can’t keep doing that effectively. The game before that they missed on their FG attempts. Reality: Saturday against the Badgers, the Wolverines missed three FG’s. Kenny Allen missed FGs of 31 and 46-yards. Tice, his prospective replacement, missed one of 40-yards.
These were critical points the team needed, which could have changed the outcome of the game by enabling a loss. This is a known problem that has remained unresolved, which is an interesting scenario for the detail oriented Harbaugh regime.
HOW THEY SCORED: The game started as a defensive field possession game between robust defensive teams, and continued that way throughout its course.
Points were not easy to come by, but the Wolverines began to threaten at the close of the first quarter and scored at the opening of the second quarter. If the Wolverines want it punched in from the one they often choose Kahlid Hill as the ramming vehicle this year and he did it again from a yard out on the first play of the second quarter, to put the Wolverines 7-zip.
This 77-yard, 11 play drive, prospered on a 22-yard Evans run, and a 12-yard pass to Amara Darboh. Jehu Chesson caught a pass, and on another play ran. The two plays combined for a total of 20-yards. Smith bulled to the one. Then Hill finished the drive.
The half ended a 7-zip, but in the third quarter the Badgers posted 7 using a short field provided by a Wilton Speight interception. A 17-yard pass completed a 5 play, 31-yard drive, and it was 7 up.
In order to prolong the suspense, the Wolverines waited until the 4th quarter to post the game winner, but when it happened, it happened quickly as Amara’s catch and run made the 46-yard play a TD. It was the game winning completion described earlier. The fray ended 14-7 Wolverines.
DEFENSE STOOD TALL: Some of it was spectacular, especially Corners Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling. They had three interceptions, with Stribling grabbing two. He is using his height as an asset. While not as spectacular as Jourdan’s interceptions they were every bit as effective and necessary. It was a great day for the Corners.
Coach Harbaugh on Stribling: “They were testing him deep,” …. “and he got his hand on four or five balls in the game, which is outstanding, and two interceptions, that’s outstanding for a corner. And he tackled. I think he had a heck of a ballgame as well. Both of our corners really played well.”
The defense as a whole outslugged a good Wisconsin team all afternoon, and played hard and well doing it. The Badgers managed just 71-yards rushing and 88-yards passing for a total of 159-yards.
Harbaugh put it thusly: “I thought our secondary was really good,” Harbaugh said. “Our defensive line was lights out. It was a game ball for (defensive coordinator) Don Brown. I was very impressed with our defense, and our defensive coaches, and the character of our defensive players and their talent — A-plus, plus.
CONCLUSION: While this game was too close for comfort, it had long been considered as the Wolverines first real quality test. Obviously the defense passed with flying colors. Not so much the offense, which is still developing. But getting there. The loss of rising OT Grant Newsome to an injury was most unwelcome.
The penalty situation, as well as the field goal gaffes, will be resolved.
The Wolverines are still in the chase for better things this year as a result of this victory. Another hurdle jumped, with more to come.
Bring on Rutgers, and as always…
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