MADISON — Tate Forcier’s freshman campaign peaked nine weeks ago.
The quarterback completed nearly 70 percent of his passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns against then-No. 18 Notre Dame as he led Michigan to a come-from-behind win.
From there, Forcier’s play slowly declined from very good to very freshman. The late-game heroics ran out, the losses piled up and Forcier threw just as many interceptions as touchdowns in the next seven games.
But this past Saturday was statistically his best game since the Fighting Irish visited the Big House.
Forcier completed 20 passes for just the second time this season at an outstanding 77-percent clip. Though there wasn’t any reason to bask in the 188-yard, two-touchdown performance after Wisconsin’s dominating 21-point victory, Forcier’s game seemed to take its first uptick in quite some time.
“Tate made some very good decisions on some plays,” offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said after the game. “The progress is going with Tate, and we see different things every week that he’s picking up.”
Wisconsin defensive back Niles Brinkley wasn’t short with the praise, either.
“He’s a very good quarterback,” Brinkley said. “We’ve seen a lot of good quarterbacks this year against the spread offenses, and I feel like he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the conference and he will be in the future.”
But just two days before the game, it looked like Forcier wouldn’t be the one running the offense against the Badgers. Forcier missed a study table session earlier in the week, and the coaching staff was unaware that he was making the time up in another way.
Once the situation was cleared up, Forcier made his 11th start of the season over freshman Denard Robinson. Robinson ended up getting just 10 touches, half rushes and half passes, most of which came in the game’s waning minutes.
“Denard, he took a lot of reps throughout the week — I actually expected him to start,” Forcier said about Robinson. “But Coach Rod threw me out there and I made the most of it. You know, we just got a little bit of an argument, but me and Coach Rod are fine.”
The most impressive part about Forcier’s performance may be that it was in the absence of senior running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, who were limited to a combined nine carries due to injury. As a result, the Badger defense focused primarily on Forcier rather than on stopping the ground game.
But that isn’t to say Forcier is playing as well as he needs to for the Wolverines to have a chance against Ohio State.
Forcier missed a few throws when receivers got behind the defense, according to Magee. He also struggled with negative rushing yardage. Though Forcier was sacked just twice (once on third down), he lost 24 yards on the ground and hurt Michigan at times by pulling the ball down too early.
And after halftime, the freshman didn’t play nearly as well against an adjusted defense. Just as Purdue successfully switched schemes last week, Wisconsin changed its techniques on the defensive line and disguised its safeties better.
“The techniques were designed to keep him out of the pocket and (give) him less time to throw the ball,” Brinkley said.
Those adjustments, coupled with Michigan’s seven minutes of possession in the second half, limited Forcier to just 5-of-8 passing and 49 yards.
But as he said last Monday and echoed after the game, Forcier is focused on improving his play to achieve one goal: “getting the seniors to a bowl game.
“If I have to spend 10 hours on film this week, I’m going to do it,” Forcier said. “But we’re gonna get them a bowl game and we’re going to come out and do what we can do against Ohio State.”