Five Things We Learned: No. 5 Wisconsin

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines sorely missed Lavert Hill in their matchup with the Badgers.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines sorely missed Lavert Hill in their matchup with the Badgers. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily
Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 7:50pm

The Michigan football team (5-3 Big Ten, 8-3 overall) lost more than just another game this weekend against Wisconsin. 

The Wolverines also lost another quarterback, as redshirt freshman Brandon Peters left with an apparent head injury in the third quarter. Without Peters, the offense looked depleted and lost for most of the second half.

Here are five things we learned from Michigan’s 24-10 loss to the fifth-ranked Badgers.

1. The offensive line problems aren’t fixed

The Badgers sacked Peters just twice, but pressured Peters all game with four quarterback hurries to keep Michigan’s young quarterback on edge.

He had to scramble out of the pocket multiple times, as Michigan’s pass protection was all but absent. For the run game, the offensive line didn’t open up any holes, and ultimately Wisconsin won the battle in the trenches, allowing them to win the battles everywhere else.

Michigan had just 234 total yards of offense. Only 58 of those yards came on the ground — the Wolverines’ worst rushing performance of the year.

2. Missing Lavert Hill was costly

The sophomore cornerback has been one of the best in Michigan’s secondary this season, but he was in concussion protocol last week for a hit he took in the Maryland game. He could not play against the Badgers, and the Wolverines could’ve used him on one particular third-quarter drive.

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook connected with receiver A.J. Taylor twice on that drive for a total of 75 yards and a touchdown. Taylor is Wisconsin’s top receiver, and would likely have matched up with Hill if he had been healthy.

Instead, freshman safety Jalen Kelly-Powell and sophomore safety Khaleke Hudson kept guard on Taylor on that drive, and Hornibrook punished them for it.

3. Peters, injured or not, isn’t perfect

Before the third-quarter injury, Peters had been putting on a decent performance, but there were a handful of plays where his inexperience showed. He threw for 157 yards, but he completed just 50 percent of his passes.

In the second quarter, on third and goal from the five-yard line, Peters ran from the pocket and dove for the goal line. While extending the ball out, Peters took a hit, fumbled, and the Badgers recovered, preventing Michigan from even trying a field goal.

After the game, Jim Harbaugh expressed that Peters shouldn’t ever be reaching the ball out like that unless it’s fourth down.

4. Michigan can’t keep up with the elite teams

With only one game left in the season, the Wolverines have still yet to beat a team with a winning record. With the way the 21st-ranked Spartans’ season has panned out, it is fair to say Michigan avoided any major upsets this season, but never propelled itself to contend for the Big Ten.

Just as the team couldn’t contain the likes of Penn State’s Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley, it couldn’t contain Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who had 123 rushing yards, and especially could not contain Wisconsin’s receivers.

A.J. Taylor, mentioned above, had one touchdown, and Wisconsin’s other offensive touchdown came on a 32-yard reverse run from receiver Kendric Pryor. As a whole, the Badgers were too quick for the Wolverines’ defense.

Michigan will get one last shot to prove itself against No. 8 Ohio State. Will it be able to keep quarterback J.T. Barrett and running back J.K. Dobbins in check?

5. Bold Prediction: California bound

Let’s look past Ohio State, because it’s never too early to predict where Michigan will play its final game of 2017.

If Michigan ends the regular season 8-4, the Wolverines would likely finish as the sixth-best team in the Big Ten by record — behind Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Northwestern.

At least two of the Badgers, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are bound for a New Year’s Six bowl, and maybe even a Playoff spot for Wisconsin. For the Wolverines, that means they are headed for one of the lower-tier bowl games the Big Ten teams typically play in.

That doesn’t narrow down the list too much, but here are those options by pecking order:

The Citrus Bowl in Orlando, the Outback Bowl in Tampa, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Foster Farms Bowl in San Francisco, the Pinstripe Bowl in New York and the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

Usually the next-best available Big Ten teams will go to the Outback or Citrus Bowls — so let’s pencil in the Spartans and Penn State for those.

Michigan certainly won’t be one of the worst bowl-eligible teams from the conference, so that should cross out Santa Clara, New York and Detroit.

So that leaves three. With plenty of quality SEC and ACC teams to choose from, it doesn’t make much sense geographically to send the Wolverines or Northwestern to Florida.

My methodology is questionable, but the Holiday Bowl will probably pick Michigan over Northwestern — even if the Wildcats have a better record by next week — because Wolverine alumni notably travel better.

Give Northwestern fans a short drive to Tennessee, and let Michigan soak up the sun out west.

Stay classy, San Diego.