With its seventh win of the year – a thrashing of Minnesota three weeks ago – Michigan had finally completed an almost season-long test against its supposed nemesis: the spread offense.
And although the defense improved significantly during that time, some Wolverines said they were relieved they would finally play traditional offenses in the season’s final three weeks. Get back to some “good, red-blooded American football” as linebackers coach Steve Szabo called it.
Now the Wolverines might be longing for the good ‘ol days of four-wide-receiver formations.
For the second straight week, the defense failed to stop – to put it lightly – a traditional offense, with the Badgers beating the Wolverines on the ground, in the air and even on the clock. In its win, Wisconsin scored more points (37) and recorded more yards (477) against Michigan than any opponent but Oregon this season.
With just one more game left in the regular season (perhaps you’ve heard of Ohio State), the defense will have one more chance to prove itself. That is if it can figure out what’s wrong first.
“I don’t know exactly what’s happening,” defensive lineman Will Johnson said. “They’re just making plays and we’re not.”
If they’re looking for help, the Wolverines probably want to start with the running game.
Much like Michigan State running back Jehuu Caulcrick pounded through the Michigan line in the second half, Wisconsin rushed right through the Wolverines the whole game – even with star running back P.J. Hill sitting out most of it.
The Badgers tandem of true freshman Zach Brown and, until injury, sophomore Lance Smith-Williams carried the load. With college football’s all-time leading rusher Ron Dayne looking on, the Badgers put on a 232-yard rushing performance – one of their best all year.
“That pisses us off as a defense,” linebacker Shawn Crable said. “Teams shouldn’t be able to run the ball like that, so this week in practice we need to tone it up. It’s just a mentality. It’s a mentality. Teams think they can run the ball on you, so everyone can think they can run the ball on you.”
And Michigan’s troubles extended to the passing game, too.
Unlike many of the quarterbacks Michigan faced this season, Wisconsin senior Tyler Donovan wasn’t rattled by the Wolverines’ pressure, he eluded a number of backfield tackles with ease. For the first time this season, Michigan didn’t record a sack, allowing Donovan to throw downfield after escaping, or – yes, they still can’t stop it – scramble for key yards.
Combined with great catches by wide receiver Phil Hubbard and the match-up problems posed by tight end Travis Beckum, Wisconsin beat the Michigan defense for 245 passing yards. Donovan finished 14-for-27 and recorded 49 yards on the ground.
Michigan’s inability to stop Wisconsin kept the defense on the field for more than 38 minutes. The Badgers marched 79 yards for a field goal on their longest drive, eating up more than eight minutes of game time during the third quarter.
And Wisconsin made nearly every second count. Following their first scoring drive (extended by two Crable personal fouls), the Badgers scored on their next four possessions. They finished 7-for-7 in the red zone.
Wisconsin’s 37 points was its highest output in the series’ 61-game history.
“Some of the things they did I’m sure Ohio State is going to try and do,” defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said. “We just need to put this game behind us and move forward to our next game and be focused for that game and start out fast.”
And Michigan is sure hoping “try” is the best the Buckeyes can do.