Since the beginning of this season, Wolverine fans have awaited Saturday evening’s football tussle with the Badgers of the University of Wisconsin. Many fans believed that they could not measure the Wolverines prior to this Wisconsin game, believing that no prior game, except Notre Dame in the non-conference season opener, was a stern enough test to provide a rational forecast of the quality of this season’s edition of the Wolverines.
While the Wolverines’ prior five football challenges were hard hitting and hotly contested at times, they were mostly against teams that did not field strong offenses directed by QBs that could attack, or that featured bruising offensive lines, plus exceptional defenses.
It was considered before Saturday’s struggle that the Badgers offensive group was better than their defensive group, especially their offensive line, and that proved true. Still the Badgers had great LBs, and other defensive talent. They are big and they hit, and they got 3 sacks.
While Notre Dame was a nasty loss, it may prove fortunate to the Wolverines that it was at the very start of the season and not later. As Notre Dame rises, and the season progresses, that loss loses some sting.
Finally is was Wisconsin, and the meat of the season was put before ravenous Wolverines. The Wolverines were outstanding on offense and defense. Two missed field goals were the only criticism of the specials teams unit.
THE SEASON’S FIRST SATURDAY JUDGEMENT DAY IS PAST: The first Saturday judgment day for this season is past, and we now have a more authentic bench mark of this year’s Wolverines. There are more, and tougher hurdles down the pike, but this was the first against one of the better teams in the Big Ten. Without question it was a good test and result.
Wisconsin could be the master of the West Division of the Big Ten, and it is possible Michigan could meet them again in the Big Ten title game. Maybe not probable, but quite possible.
WOLVERINES PASSED THE FIRST EXTREME CHALLENGE OF THE SEASON AGAINST THE TOUGH, AND TALENTED WISCONSIN BADGERS: The Badgers sauntered into Ann Arbor with a great QB Alec Hornibrook, a great running back Johnathon Taylor, and a tough and experienced offensive line. RB Johnathon Taylor had pre-game statistics indicating that he had been the most productive back in the country this season.
He could not live up to that high standard against the Wolverines defense Saturday as he was held to 101-yards on 17 carries.
Wisconsin’s offense faltered as the Badgers made 28 rushing attempts for only 183 net yards. M’s defense held them to them to 100-yards passing for the game and a total of 283-yards. That is a season low for the Badgers. Seventy-five of those yards came late in the game, in the 4th quarter.
The Wolverines held Badger QB Hornibrook to 7 completions on 20 attempts for 100-yards, 2 interceptions and 1 TD.
It was pointed out by the Badgers before the game in a big banner headline on their athletic site, that under current Badger Head Coach Paul Chryst the Badgers were 15 and 1 in true road games. Now, courtesy of the Wolverines efforts Saturday, make that 15 and 2.
SHEA PATTERSON RISING: Patterson provides something the Wolverines have long lacked. He is a play maker at the QB position. His 81-yard scamper around left end in the second quarter got the stalled Wolverine offense, that had stalled in the first quarter, going in a spectacular way in the second. He did get caught as he neared the end zone, but that was a timely and necessary big play. The offensive play of the game. Shea tossed 14 completions on 21 attempts for 124-yards. Doesn’t seem like much, but he threw zero interceptions, and used his wheels nine times for 113-yards (90 net), including the 81-yard run, and a TD run.
On the first drive of the game which stalled, Coach Harbaugh played a little bit of a river boat gambler role by inserting Joe Milton on a critical 3rd down. The fact that Joe was in there must have tipped them to a QB run as he was stuffed for a one-yard loss.
In the 4th quarter, Milton had a couple more attempts for 23-yards (net 22), one of which was a 23-run. Very happy to have him get some prime time game action. Dylan McCaffery ran once for 44-yards and a TD.
MORE STATISTICS, AND A SALUTE TO HIGDON: The receivers were productive, but had no TDs. WR Nico Collins nabbed 4 for 31, with a long of 11. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones grabbed 3 for 39, and Nick Eubanks one for 28-yards. Evans, Higdon, Martin and Thomas all had a reception.
The Running Backs were led by the Wolverine’s other stunning playmaker, Karan Higdon. Higdon now has six TDs this season, and had his 5th straight 100-yard rushing game. He toted 19 times for 111 (105 net) yards, with a TD and a long of 25. Higdon is a play making workhorse.
Chris Evans had five carries for 18-yards with a long of 6. It was great to have him back on the field. Later he will be needed.
Defensively Rashan Gary did not play, but Carlo Kemp returned after having been nicked last week.
Wisconsin had 3 sacks, and the Wolverines two. Josh Metellus led the defense with 5 tackles-3 solos. Devin Bush and Josh Uche had sacks. The unit played great again.
HOW THEY SCORED: The Wolverines decided that they would be a good host to the Badgers and did not score in the first quarter. The Badgers returned the favor. M-0, W-0.
The second quarter got more exciting as M began a scoring drive. Patterson scooted down the eastern side line 81-yards from the Michigan 13 where he took the snap. Higdon ran for two and then 3, and it was suddenly M-7, W-0.
Wisconsin immediately answered on a 4-play, 73-yard drive. and the score was 7 up. A Badger 7-yard Patterson sack stalled the drive. M’s Quinn Nordin hit a 42-yard FG, and the Blue was up three. M-10, W-7.
On the next drive, Nordin hit another FG, this time from 33-yards as another drive stalled. M-13, W-7. A couple of incomplete passes did the damage.
The first half ended with Michigan leading in all the statistics but the score, because of two FGs instead of TDs. M had 207 offensive yards, and W had 127. There was not much consolation in that, or a 6-point, two FG lead at the half.
The Wolverines received at the half. They had a couple of short gains and it looked like the drive would stall. But hopes were renewed when the Wolverines got a holding call, and a first down on the holding call by a Badger name of Wildgoose. This wild Wildgoose chase resulted in an automatic first down for M.
The Wolverines benefitted from another Badger gaffe, as the Badgers were hit with a personal foul for 15-yards, and the Wolverines were at the Badger 41. Karan Higdon hauled it 25-yards, Chris Evans got 5, and Shea scored on a 7-yard run. Shea then threw a laser to Nico Collins in the end zone for the two-point conversion. M-21, W-7. Things were looking better as the third quarter played out at 21-7. Wisconsin attempted 7-third down conversions in the quarter and converted 1. The Wolverines had 4 conversions on 12 attempts.
The Wolverines had the ball to start the 4th quarter, and were benefited by another Quinn Nordin FG, this time for 36-yards. A couple of Karan Higdon runs helped pushed the ball down from the Wisconsin 48 into FG range. M-24, W-7.
Lavert Hill made a great quick snag of a Hornibrook pass and had a 21-yard pick six. M-31. W-7.
On the next series Tru Wilson had 5 consecutive carries for 24-yards. Dylan McCaffrey scampered 44-yards for a score and it was suddenly M-38, W-7.
Badger QB Hornibrook passed his way to a final TD and the game ended 38-14. Much of the Badgers passing yardage came on this, their final series.
TAKEAWAY: This was a great effort and accomplishment on the part of the Wolverines. They finally nailed a ranked team, and they are on the rise progressing to the heart of the season.
The style points were not always there in this game, but the results and performance of the Wolverines on both side of the ball was outstanding. The Wolverines are climbing the Big Ten Ladder by means of constant improvement through working.
No one can call the Wolverines the not ready for prime time players. Saturday they were prime time.
The Stadium looked great at night, and was packed with 111, 360 on lookers. Afterwards, in the traffic, you get to personally experience how many cars that puts on the road, but it is all worth it. Ann Arbor handles the traffic well.
Pregame they honored 20 Offensive Line players that earned letters at Michigan, and later ended up playing professional football, were all BIG Ten or were a Michigan Football team Captain. A neat touch when you are trying to attract the best offensive linemen possible.
Bring on the always ornery Spartans. Fresh from their win at Penn State, their swagger will be back. It was quite a victory by the Spartans. The Wolverines will be ready too.