After Saturday evening’s 38-13 smackdown over No. 15 Wisconsin, Chase Winovich spoke on national television as Chase Winovich does. And a new chapter of the Michigan football team’s 2018 season was formed.
“The revenge tour has officially commenced,” he declared.
For every mistake last season that made the Wolverines’ winless against the Big Ten’s best, for every mistake that put Notre Dame too far ahead in the opener and for every mistake that put question marks on a top-five defense, Saturday was vindication.
The Badgers were a top-25 offense averaging nearly 34 points per game coming into Ann Arbor, and left looking like anything but.
Excepting a 75-yard, garbage time touchdown drive, Wisconsin totaled just 208 total yards and one score.
“They were coming into our house trying to take something away from us, and we weren’t gonna let that happen,” said junior defensive end Josh Uche, who recorded a sack to tie Winovich for a team-high of three on the season.
Adjusting for the caliber of the opponent, it was bar none the defense’s most dominant performance of the year. The Badgers were heralded for exceptional offensive line play, but a less-than-healthy defensive front limited a Heisman-contending running back in Jonathan Taylor, and reduced a four-year starter in Alex Hornibrook to freshman numbers.
Taylor, averaging 169.8 yards coming into the game, racked up 101 yards on 17 carries, both season lows. Taylor occasionally managed to find a gap and seemingly build momentum, but the ground-and-pound strategy wasn’t a surprise. Junior safety Josh Metellus even went as far as to say Wisconsin’s entire offensive game plan was “predictable.”
“Our d-line did a great job putting pressure on Hornibrook, making him throw the ball over the place,” Metellus said. “I feel like we did a great job there. … Everybody knows Wisconsin likes to run the ball, it wasn’t nothing too big that they were doing on their part to break open those couple runs, just us not being as disciplined as we’re supposed to.”
With a bevy of eyes locked on Taylor, Hornibrook’s opportunities were limited, and wholly unfulfilled. Prior to the garbage time series with five minutes remaining, Hornibrook was an abysmal 3-for-15 for 25 yards. All three of the completions came in the first quarter. He had just as many completions to Wisconsin receivers as Michigan’s secondary in a 30-minute-plus stretch.
The first interception came off a pass breakup by cornerback David Long that neatly fell into Metellus’ arms and returned to the Wisconsin 15-yard line, which turned into a Wolverines’ field goal.
Hornibrook’s second pick was the de facto game-ender. Facing pressure, Hornibrook high-pointed a ball that junior cornerback Lavert Hill snatched with one-hand, cutting to the northeast corner into the endzone to widen the lead to 31-7.
“Playing really good in the secondary, getting our hands on balls, coverage was tight,” said coach Jim Harbaugh. “And making the big play was Lavert, a couple (pass break-ups), getting our hands on the ball. But really in good position throughout the game in our coverages.”
Added Hill: “It just felt amazing. It felt like all the hard work is paying off.”
For the first time in a long time, confidence espoused prior to the game manifested into reality with a convincing win over an elite program.
Wisconsin waved the proverbial white flag with over nine minutes to go. After failing to convert a third-and-short run play, the Badgers, staring down that 24-point hole, punted. There was no magic from Hornibrook. For no earthly reason, Taylor watched his team’s eight third down failure from the sidelines.
“We just kept pounding, we didn’t care what they were doing, whatever they were doing,” Uche said. “We just kept pounding and doing what we had to do. If they gave up, that’s on them, that’s a personal problem on their end.”
Uche puts the onus on the Badgers. But from any angle, it also looked like a defense that buried a team into submission.
“You’ve gotta go through us, that’s how we look at it,” Uche said. “It don’t matter what your accomplishments are, you’ve gotta play us. We’ll see how good you are when you play us.”
Added Metellus on the team’s mindset: “We want to win a Big Ten Championship, we want to play for the National Championship and win that. It goes by week by week with the mentality that this is the game that can decide our season.”
And with those dreams still in tact, the Revenge Tour begins.