The No. 12 Michigan Wolverines (6-1, 4-0) defeated the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers (4-2, 2-1) 38-13 under the lights of Michigan Stadium Saturday night, and in so doing they joined 4-3 BYU as the only two teams in the nation to have beaten the Badgers this season.
The Michigan defense held Wisconsin to just 11 first downs — none of which came via penalty.
In fact, the Wolverines committed just one penalty on the night, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following a Lavert Hill pick six.
Michigan never trailed in the game, but only led 13-7 at the half. They then went on a 25-0 run in the second half before giving up a late and meaningless touchdown with under four minutes to go.
While the Badgers had some success on the ground, it was only a matter of time before Wisconsin’s one-dimensional offense succumbed to the suffocating Michigan defense. Badger quarterback Alex Hornibrook completed just 7-of-20 passes for 100 yards, with two interceptions and one touchdown. He was sacked twice.
Almost every pass was contested, and I have to commend the Michigan defenders for not dozing off before the ball arrived.
The Wolverine running game was almost as dominating as the defense, thanks mostly to the quarterbacks, who rushed for more yards than they passed for. The red zone offense could have been better, however.
Still, this was a performance that now has people talking about Michigan and the Playoffs, and not in a “Ha Ha” sort of way.
You know, kind of how they used to talk about Penn State and Wisconsin.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines rushed for 320 yards on a Wisconsin program that hasn’t given up 300 yards rushing since the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State. That Buckeye team went on to win the first-ever College Football Playoffs, if that sort of trivia does anything for you.
Running back Karan Higdon rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries, but the Wolverines were led by their quarterbacks. All three of them.
Shea Patterson rushed for 90 yards on nine carries. Actually, that’s 113 yards on six carries, but he was also sacked three times for 23 yards in losses. Those 113 yards include an 81-yard jaunt down the left sideline on a read-option keeper.
Backup Dylan McCaffrey had a 44-yard touchdown run, and true freshman Joe Milton added a 23-yard scamper as well.
Together, the Michigan quarterbacks rushed for nearly half of the Wolverines’ total yards on the ground.
Following the Nebraska game a few weeks ago, I wondered when we would start seeing more of Patterson in the run game. That’s been happening in the weeks since and it could be devastating for opponents moving forward.
The offensive line continues to grow and improve, just as Ed Warinner’s lines did at Ohio State. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, this will be a cohesive unit with only veterans on it. What they lack in individual talent will be made up for in technique and execution. That’s just how it goes.
Over the past month or so, each week the offense looks a little more comfortable than the week before. The lack of passing didn’t bother me in this game.
Patterson completed 14-of-21 passes for 124 yards. Wisconsin did a great job in coverage most of the night, and it was that coverage that was the main culprit in the three sacks that Patterson suffered. Of course, he could also choose to throw the ball away sooner and not try to make something out of everything.
He did also fumble the ball on a sack that could have been huge, but Michigan recovered. He needs to be more careful with the ball, but he knows that. Patterson took a sack early on that he didn’t need to. He could have thrown the ball away, which he did from that point on afterward, so he is able to quickly apply those lessons.
There wasn’t a lot for the Michigan wide receivers to do. They combined to produce nine catches for 72 yards. Nico Collins led the way with four catches for 31 yards.
Donovan Peoples-Jones caught three passes for 30 yards. Save for the SMU game where he caught four passes for 90 yards, he has been under 40 yards receiving in every game this year.
In the first half, Jim Harbaugh put Joe Milton in the game for some reason. He ran a QB counter or draw, I can’t quite remember. It’s been a long hour since I watched the game. Then later in the contest, they ran a screen pass while teasing a double pass with Dylan McCaffrey. Why? Easy.
This play is called "Let's Give MSU, PSU, and OSU Something Meaningless To Work On." pic.twitter.com/Z7Uwex0eOB
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) October 15, 2018
When Michigan Was On Defense
I wrote yesterday and probably tweeted that one of the main differences between the Ohio State defense and the Michigan defense is that the Buckeyes always look like they’re about a man-and-a-half down, while the Wolverines generally look like they’re playing 13-on-11.
Rarely for the Wolverines are there entire patches of green (fake) grass without a defender building a homestead on it.
That’s why what Wisconsin was able to do on the ground was pretty impressive, and they got no help from quarterback Alex Hornibrook and the passing game.
The Badgers rushed for 183 yards on 29 carries (6.3 ypc), with running back Jonathan Taylor being responsible for 17 of those carries and 101 of those yards (5.9 ypc). Receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor added jet sweeps of 37 and 33 yards, respectively.
The jet sweeps could come into play when Ohio State and Michigan meet in November.
The 183 yards are the most that Don Brown’s defense has given up since the Buckeyes went for 226 yards last year. (This was back when Ohio State could run the ball.)
Michigan only had two tackles in the backfield, which is a credit to a Wisconsin offensive line full of current, former, and future All-Big Ten players. The Badgers rushed for 102 yards in the first half, but when they had to throw the ball in the second half, they were doomed.
Hornibrook threw for 100 yards, but 75 of those came on the final drive of the game.
The only way Wisconsin was ever going to win this was for Hornibrook to be a difference maker for the Badgers instead of the Wolverines. He failed in that department.
Without Rashan Gary, the Michigan defensive line was smaller than normal, which is one of the reasons why Wisconsin was able to have a little bit of success on the ground. Chase Winovich had a rougher day than normal trying to handle the massive Badger run blocking.
Sophomore linebacker Josh Uche continues to emerge as a situational pass rusher. He had his third sack in his last three games. Watching him be able to bend underneath Wisconsin’s right tackle makes me think that Ohio State’s Isaiah Prince is going to need to be ready for him on passing downs next month.
The Michigan Special Teams
Kicker Quinn Nordin missed two of his five field goal attempts — one from 41 yards and the other from 54 yards. And some of the ones he did make didn’t look that great.
Michigan gave up no meaningful returns, but Donovan Peoples-Jones had a nice 26-yard punt return for himself.
Punter Will Hart continues his excellent season with two punts for 91 yards.
What Does It All Mean
It means that Michigan is peaking too soon.
Or maybe not.
With a road game at Michigan State this week and a home game against Penn State two weeks after that, perhaps they are peaking at exactly the right time.
Then they’ll have two games to dawdle before heading to Columbus for the biggest game of their lives.
The thing is, I don’t really think this is them peaking. They are still getting better and the offense continues to grow in a useful way.
We know Shea Patterson can throw the ball. We also know he can be careless with the football. I wonder if that keeps Jim Harbaugh from relying on him too much.
However, as long as the offensive line continues to get better and Karan Higdon and the newly-returned Chris Evans continue to do what they are capable of, then the passing game will remain formidable and less predictable.
The game at East Lansing will be an opportunity for the Wolverines to get a road win over a ranked opponent for the first time in forever. (If it doesn’t happen, then everything I’ve written today is a damn lie.)
And it also means that Ohio State doesn’t match up very well with Michigan right now.
If you can’t run the ball, you can’t win this game. One of these two teams is hitting its stride in the ground game. The other is hitting a defensive line. Repeatedly.
Without a running game, there is no such thing as home-field advantage here.
And now with Shea Patterson getting more involved in the running game, things become even more difficult for the Buckeyes down the road.
I think Dwayne Haskins can have success against this defense, but he’ll need to be more protected than Michigan’s injury updates this week. And as we saw against the poor man’s Chase Winovich (Minnesota defensive end Carter Coughlin) this past weekend, speed rushers can be an issue for the Buckeyes.
As we’ve also seen, without pressure, Haskins doesn’t make too many mistakes. With pressure, however, those mistakes come at a much greater clip.
So, just like every other time in the history of mankind, The Game will be won up front.
The only difference this time is that the Buckeyes have more ground to make up than Michigan for a change.
The Road To The Game
Sept 1 – at Notre Dame 17-24 (0-1)
Sept 8 – Western Michigan 49-3 (1-1)
Sept 15 – SMU 45-20 (2-1)
Sept 22 – Nebraska 56-10 (3-1, 1-0)
Sept 29 – at Northwestern 20-17 (4-1, 2-0)
Oct 6 – Maryland 42-21 (5-1, 3-0)
Oct 13 – Wisconsin 38-14 (6-1, 4-0)
Oct 20 – at Michigan State
Nov 3 – Penn State
Nov 10 – at Rutgers*
Nov 17 – Indiana
Nov 24 – at Ohio State
* Signifies rivalry game