MADISON — The hits just kept on coming.
A 51-yard completion on 3rd-and-13. A 24-yard touchdown strike on 3rd-and-16 to give No. 5 Wisconsin the lead.
Then Brandon Peters was driven into the ground on third down. He couldn’t get up. His teammates surrounded him somberly as he was carted off the field.
In brutal fashion, Michigan learned a difficult lesson it has learned many times before: winning on the road is hard. It’s even more difficult when your starting quarterback returns to the locker room in a wheelchair.
Without Peters, who made several big plays and completed 9-of-18 passes for 157 yards before exiting, the offense lost its bite. A rampant Wisconsin defense did the rest, suffocating the 24th-ranked Wolverines (5-3 Big Ten, 8-3 overall) in the second half, while its offense came alive to propel Wisconsin (8-0, 11-0) to a 24-10 victory.
“They were able to crack a few runs in the running game,” said Jim Harbaugh. “(Jonathan) Taylor got out a little bit there in the fourth quarter. And then we weren’t able to get any big chunks in the running game. They made more plays. We had some opportunities, but couldn’t get it done today.”
Several miscues led Michigan to a slow start. Near the end of the first quarter, Wisconsin’s Nick Nelson picked up a wobbly punt near midfield and took it to the house. Three possessions later, Peters fumbled on 3rd-and-goal from the six-yard line only one play after it appeared Donovan Peoples-Jones got his left foot down in the end zone for a touchdown.
“I thought I was in,” Peoples-Jones said. “I thought that replay showed that I was in. But there’s not much I can do (besides) come back the next play and try to score again.”
But then Peters found his rhythm, leading the offense on one of its most impressive drives all year.
He hit Peoples-Jones in stride for a 48-yard gain, Michigan’s longest play of the day. On third down, he stood tall in the pocket and found Chris Evans across the middle. A completion to Sean McKeon gave the Wolverines four chances to punch it in from the one-yard line.
It would take only one try, thanks to Michigan’s jumbo package and freshman fullback Ben Mason, who scored his first career touchdown to tie the game at seven.
The Wolverines controlled play early in the second half, too. They won the battle for field position, pinning the Badgers deep in their own territory. On Wisconsin’s third drive of the half, Devin Bush Jr. intercepted an ill-advised throw from Alex Hornibrook to put his team in scoring range. Several minutes later, Quinn Nordin gave Michigan its first lead of the game with a 39-yard field goal.
“We felt great,” said Maurice Hurst Jr. “The only thing we really let up was the punt return for a touchdown. Other than that, defense was lights-out in the first half and I thought we did a good job of controlling the game for the first half.”
But things fell apart from there.
Hornibrook bounced back from his interception in scintillating fashion, completing two long passes during the ensuing drive to give his team the lead. Then Michigan lost Peters.
It took just over a minute for the Badgers to strike again on a 32-yard run from Kendrick Pryor.
With just under two minutes left and the result all but etched in stone, Michigan gave it one last shot. Harbaugh kept the offense on the field for a 4th-and-2 from their own 23-yard line. John O’Korn took off — and was promptly crunched by three Badgers short of the marker.
It was a fitting end. Michigan’s quarterback, along with any hopes of earning an elusive and much-coveted road win, laid crumpled on the ground one final time.