Midway through the fourth quarter, it seemed that things could get no more embarrassing for the Michigan football team. Wisconsin was up by 31 points, its fourth-string quarterback was in and the Badgers handed the ball to fullback John Chenal to bleed the clock.

Forty-three yards later, Gemon Green tackled him. And two plays after that, Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger ran 23 yards into the end zone all but untouched.

Even when Wisonsin was just trying to bring an end to Saturday’s game, it couldn’t help but take the easy yards Michigan’s defense gave it on the ground. The final score was 49-11, with the Badgers racking up 341 rushing yards, the most the Wolverines have given up since their loss at Wisconsin last year.

Since the Badgers had played just one game so far this season due to COVID-19 cancellations, Michigan watched tape of its loss in Madison last season — a 35-14 beatdown — in the lead-up to Saturday. Evidently, it didn’t learn much.

“They had extra blockers on the perimeter,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We couldn’t set it, we didn’t set an edge all night.”

Wisconsin used an array of jet-sweeps, end-arounds and reverses all night long with laughable success. When the Badgers ran it up the middle, that worked, too. With starting defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye both out due to injury, Michigan had no edge and couldn’t get any penetration up front.

The result was a third-straight game in which Don Brown’s defense was outmanned, outgunned and outplayed.

“With those jet sweeps you think it’s not everybody’s involved in that play … but as a D Line when you get that movement and you get that sweep motion, you owe it to your team, you owe it to your teammates to put your foot in the ground and start running,” fifth-year senior defensive lineman Carlo Kemp said. “We’ve got our safeties and we’ve got our corners that are having to go against people  and a whole bunch of pullers coming at them. That’s a whole entire defensive thing is to stop the run.”

Left unsaid in Kemp’s admonition that everyone had to “start running”: Everyone was not running.

That, on top of a front four that was so depleted that Kemp, a longtime starting defensive tackle, played snaps on the edge, meant that Wisconsin got what it wanted, when it wanted it. Kemp was left to answer for a third-straight week of an abject disaster for Michigan’s defense. Only instead of the corners, this time it was the line at the center of it.

“It sucked,” he said when asked to sum up his thoughts on the game. 

He repeated a familiar line — what’s happening in practice isn’t translating to the games — and when asked why things spiraled so out of control, so fast (the deficit at halftime was 28-0, a Big House record), he shrugged. “Things just happened,” he said.

Asked whether he was concerned about the level of buy-in after Michigan’s defense spent much of Saturday night struggling and dejected, Kemp said he wasn’t worried or nervous. But halfway through the season, the Wolverines are 1-3 and the defense has struggled in each of the losses.

“Not in a good place as a football team right now and that falls on me,” Harbaugh said. “Gotta get after, really going back to basics and everything we do and look at everything we’re doing.”

Wisconsin scored touchdowns on seven of 11 drives on Sunday, and it did so without even 150 passing yards. Going into Saturday, the status of Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz, who was in the Big Ten’s COVID-19 protocols, was a major question. Mertz played, but it turned out to barely matter.

From the Badgers’ second drive, when Chimere Dike ran for 30 yards on a reverse to set up a Nakia Watson touchdown from two yards out, they pushed Michigan around like rag dolls.

“We didn’t do all that we could do,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Cam McGrone said. “We left some plays out there on the field that we wish we could get back, but we can’t.”