MADISON — With about two minutes left in the Michigan football team’s 45-24 blowout loss to No. 20 Wisconsin, the raucous, “Jump Around”-crazed Badger student section started to chant, “Let’s get wasted.”
For different reasons — namely, to drown their sorrows and forget about the game — Michigan fans surely were thinking the same thing. For the fourth straight week, the Wolverines were blown out, showed serious flaws on the defensive side of the ball and inched closer to clinching their second consecutive bowl-less season, which hasn’t happened since 1974.
But most frustrating of all, for the fourth straight week, the game’s storyline was exactly the same: keep up for two quarters, built some offensive momentum and then completely shut down after halftime.
The Badgers racked up 469 total yards, and quarterback Scott Tolzien became the sixth person ever to throw four touchdown passes in a game against Michigan.
Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, who declined to speak with the media for the second straight week, decided to switch up his scheme a little bit this week.
“We were really, defensively, really reaching to find an answer and to try to stop people,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Smith started instead of safety Mike Williams. But he cheated up to the line of scrimmage all game, which left walk-on safety Jordan Kovacs as the last line of defense.
More surprisingly, junior Donovan Warren, one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten, logged some time at safety. He drifted back while J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfolk covered the Wisconsin receivers.
“I actually have no idea,” middle linebacker Obi Ezeh said of Warren’s switch. “Monday we just kind of go out, and they tell us where to line up and that’s how we practice.”
But before the break, Michigan (1-6 Big Ten, 5-6 overall) hung with the Badgers and was actually beating them at their own game. The Wolverines held the ball for more than 20 minutes in the first half, even though going into the game, Wisconsin ranked fifth in the country in time of possession and Michigan came in at No. 118.
But the Wolverines take advantage of the time-of-possession disparity, scoring just 10 offensive points in the first half and allowing the Badgers to block a 19-yard field goal. Michigan, the worst red-zone team in the Big Ten, managed just three points in two red-zone trips in the first half.
“You want to put those into touchdowns,” offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. “So it hurt a lot, offensively. Any time you’re down in the red zone, you need to put the ball in the end zone. It was good to come away with points the second time, but of course you want those extra few points, and we didn’t do that today. We gotta get that down.”
Wisconsin flexed its muscles after halftime, though. The Badgers bled the clock and controlled the ball for more than 22 minutes. They didn’t punt in the second half, and their only drive that didn’t end in a touchdown was capped by a field goal with 1:30 left in the game.
On the other hand, the Wolverines only had 21 offensive plays after the break — seven of which came in the last minute and a half of the blowout.
“In the second half, it just seems like, defensively, we’re not able to get off the field,” Rodriguez said. “Our offense, we need to be in some rhythm, and when we’re not on the field much offensively and the other team is controlling the ball, it’s hard to get into a rhythm offensively.
“We need to evaluate everything: the players, scheme, and try to come up with answers. That’s my job to do as a coach.”
Rodriguez’s job as coach is now to get Michigan prepared for college football’s greatest rivalry. Although the Michigan-Ohio State game traditionally decides the Big Ten title, the Wolverines are shooting for a much lower goal this week:
“It’s not a game that’s gonna be hard for either team to get fired up for. It’s Michigan and Ohio State,” Rodriguez said. “We got a lot at stake.
“The focus this week should be great. I just hope the play next Saturday is.”