Michigan can't stop the run in loss to Wisconsin
Ann Arbor, Mich. -- When Michigan scored twice in the first six minutes of the second half Saturday, coach Bret Bielema and his Wisconsin Badgers had to have flashbacks to two years ago when they squandered a 19-point halftime lead at Michigan Stadium.
There was plenty of time for Denard Robinson to rally the Wolverines from a 24-point halftime deficit this time, except for one serious problem: It turned into one of those groundhog days for the U-M defense.
The men of Wisconsin just ran it down the throats of the boys from Michigan the rest of the way. Maybe the young Wolverines need to eat more cheese.
Robinson, who broke the Division I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more in the second half.
It didn't matter, though, because Wisconsin always had an answer, marching it right back downfield time after time to cruise to a 48-28 victory.
The Badgers, who are tied for first place in the Big Ten, scored on eight of their first 11 possessions before two kneel-downs to end the game. After scoring on all 12 possessions last week in an 83-20 victory over Indiana, Wisconsin had totaled 16 touchdowns and four field goals over 23 possessions.
"I don't know how many times they passed it, but it wasn't too many," Michigan strong safety Jordan Kovacs said. "We knew they were going to run downhill at us. We just had a tough time stopping it."
Added linebacker Obi Ezeh: "It just kind of got out of control."
Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1 Big Ten) threw only one pass in the second half. Once Michigan (7-4, 3-4) became a threat, Wisconsin went to the basics. The big, bad Badgers ran it 33 times for 174 yards after halftime.
The Wolverines defense, depleted by injuries and relying heavily on inexperienced players, just got run over.
"Physically, they moved us around a little bit," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We were afraid of that coming in. We didn't tackle well. Some of it's strength. Sometimes you miss tackles because you're just not strong enough."
Defensive end Craig Roh (concussion-like symptoms) and nose tackle Mike Martin (ankle problems) are among the injured Wolverines from Saturday's beating, along with receiver Darryl Stonum (left foot) and return specialist Jeremy Gallon (right arm).
"The list goes on," Rodriguez said. "It's just one of those crazy years. We're at the bare bones right now."
As for his team's physical inferiority against the Big Ten's upper-tier teams such as Wisconsin, Rodriguez said: "They're older, bigger, experienced teams against a younger, not-yet-full-grown undersized team. If we were an older, experienced undersized team, I'd say, 'Gosh, we've got to figure something out.'
"But we are young, inexperienced. I'm not making excuses. It's reality. I've never coached and had five true freshmen playing at one time on a Division I team.
"Are you kidding me? Think about that. Those guys are playing their tails off. They're going to be better, hopefully, next year because of it. Go find another Division I school that has five or six true freshmen playing significant time on defense. It's a perfect storm.
"But, that being said, we have a high standard of play that we, everybody wants us to play at. We've got to get those guys to that level as quickly as we can."
Time is running out on this season. The Wolverines finish the regular season next Saturday at Ohio State.
The question is whether time is also running out on Rodriguez. Watching their team get manhandled by Wisconsin is only going to heat up the debates among Michigan fans this week.
They certainly weren't too pleased when Rodriguez chose not to use any of his three timeouts, trailing 24-0, with the ball at Michigan's 24-yard line in the final seconds of the first half. The Wolverines left the field to significant booing.
"We were backed up," Rodriguez explained. "The way we were playing and all that, I didn't want to screw up and make a major mistake. If we had not gotten the ball first in the second half, I probably would have (used the timeouts). We were getting the ball first.
"When you go back on a game, there's a whole lot of things you'd do (differently). That one I wouldn't."
The Wolverines offense was surprisingly ineffective in the first half, partly because defensive end J.J. Watt was creating so much havoc.
Robinson overthrew Stonum, who had gotten behind the secondary and could have run all the way for a touchdown.
Dropped passes weren't helping Robinson get into a rhythm, either. He then overthrew an open man again, this time running back Vincent Smith, for a first down on third-and-6 from Wisconsin's 13-yard line on the first play of the second quarter. That proved even more costly when Michigan's season-long kicking woes continued with Seth Broekhuizen missing a 30-yarder.
"That's been ongoing," Rodriguez said of the kicking game. "Seth had clearly kicked better (than Brendan Gibbons) all week in practice. That ball was in the middle of the field. I don't know if I've seen him miss a kick in the middle of the field in practice in a month.
"Brendan kicked the extra points, but they looked a little bit low. We'll go back to the drawing board there."
While it was run, run, run in the second half for Wisconsin, quarterback Scott Tolzien was largely responsible for building the comfortable lead. He completed his first 13 passes for 196 yards, only to throw an interception deep in Michigan territory in the final minute of the first half.
Michigan, which rallied from a 19-0 halftime deficit in Rodriguez's first year for a 27-25 victory over Wisconsin, scored on its first drive of the third quarter and then turned a rare takeaway into another touchdown less than two minutes later.
Robinson broke the rushing record for a quarterback on the opening drive of the second half. He has 1,538 yards, surpassing Air Force's Beau Morgan, who ran for 1,494 yards in 1996.
"It doesn't mean nothing to me," Robinson said.
That's because he couldn't finish the rally. It was going to take some stops to give the offense any chance to catch up.
When that became unrealistic because of Wisconsin's running game, Rodriguez tried two onside kicks, both of which failed.
And so Wisconsin stays in the race for the Rose Bowl. Bielema said he expects to have his No. 1 tailback, John Clay, back from an injury next week against Northwestern.
As if James White (181 yards and two touchdowns) and Montee Ball (173 yards and four touchdowns) aren't enough running the ball.
It was a convincing victory for the Badgers, who have been getting better every week since a Big Ten-opening loss at Michigan State.
Wisconsin won for only the second time in its past 19 trips to the Big House.
"It means a lot," Bielema said. "This is one of the most storied places in college football."
Much of that invincibility the Wolverines used to have here, however, has disappeared. They broke a record for average home attendance in a season (111,897), but they lost three of those seven games.
Now it's off to Ohio State, which has beaten Michigan six straight years.
Said Robinson: "We've got to redeem ourselves."
Nov. 20, 2010