BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published November 20, 2010
As senior offensive lineman Stephen Schilling headed to the locker room at halftime of the Wolverines’ matchup with Wisconsin on Saturday, it all seemed familiar.
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Little offensive production. Zero points. No rhythm. A huge, seemingly insurmountable deficit. It all felt like Michigan’s 2008 matchup with the Badgers — one in which the Steve Threet-led Wolverines overcame a three-score halftime deficit to give Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez his first signature in the maize and blue.
“We had come back from just about this much before,” Schilling said after Saturday's game. “We got out to those first two touchdowns in the second half, and the thoughts were definitely there."
But the 24-0 halftime deficit proved too much for Michigan’s porous defense and its too-little-too-late offensive push, as Wisconsin (10-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten) absolutely pounded the Wolverines on the ground — tallying the most rushing yards against Michigan all season — to win 48-28. The victory was Wisconsin’s first in the Big House since 1994 and the Badgers' second consecutive win over Michigan for the first time since then, too.
“We certainly didn't play well,” Rodriguez said. “We didn't tackle well. We didn't catch the ball well. We didn't execute on either side of the ball at times. You do that against a good team, you're going to get beat.”
The first half was a forgettable one for both Michigan’s offense and defense, as the Wolverines (7-4, 2-4) registered just 124 yards to Wisconsin’s 379. Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson was completely stymied by Wisconsin’s brute front seven, going for 22 yards on 4-of-10 passing
Meanwhile, the Badger offense seemed to be toying with Michigan’s defense, even without junior ballcarrier John Clay, who missed the game with an MCL sprain. Clay’s backups, sophomore Montee Ball and freshman James White, were still too much for Michigan’s defensive front to handle, as they combined for 187 yards in the first half alone.
It was Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema’s plan all along — run, run and run some more — and it was working to perfection.
“There wasn’t anything they could do to slow that down,” Bielema said.
But in the second half, Robinson showed flashes of his early-season self and a little bit of the Wolverines’ 2008 magic shined through.
With 11:03 remaining in the third quarter, Robinson lobbed a beautiful ball toward the south endzone where junior wideout Darryl Stonum took advantage of man-to-man coverage and pulled down the Wolverines’ first touchdown of the day.
Then, after Badger wideout Isaac Anderson coughed up a fumble and the Wolverines recovered, Robinson threw another deep pass to Stonum to set up his own 4-yard touchdown scamper. Suddenly, down just 10 points now, another comeback was in reach.
But Bielema stuck to the gameplan: expose Michigan’s biggest weakness on defense — fundamental tackling.
“We were emphasizing that in practice: that we were going to have to make players miss because of the kind of defense they run,” Ball said. “There are a lot of open bodies. … We knew that they miss a lot of tackles.”
Bielema didn’t call a pass play for the rest of the game after that, instead opting for 33 straight run plays. After focusing on running through loose tackles all week in practice, his backs ran through and around Michigan’s defense, as White finished with 181 yards to Ball’s 173, and the two combined for six touchdowns on the ground.
The Badgers’ 170 yards rushing in the second half overshadowed Robinson’s record-setting effort — he passed Air Force’s Beau Morgan for the most rush yards by an NCAA quarterback in a single season (1,538 yards in 1996).
A different Michigan record, though — a more somber one — was more telling of the losing effort and the season as a whole.
After allowing 558 total yards and 48 points to Wisconsin's offense, this year's Michigan defense has officially allowed the most yards and points in a season in program history — with one game still remaining.
“They just pounded us,” redshirt sophomore safety Jordan Kovacs said. “We're disappointed with the way that we played, but we're moving on, and we have a big game next week.”