Upon Further Review: Wisconsin at Michigan
Wisconsin knew it would have a tough task going on the road for a second straight week and knocking off a top-10 team, in this case Michigan in Ann Arbor.
The Badgers gave themselves an opportunity to win, thanks in large part to a stellar defensive effort, but the offense never could sustain a good drive and Wisconsin had several misfires in losing to the Wolverines 14-7.
While Wisconsin held down a Michigan offense that had scored at least 45 points in each of its four games this year, the Wolverines D was even stronger, limiting the Badgers to their worst offensive game this century.
The net result was a defeat which, if things broke better, certainly could have been a victory. But players insisted this loss won't define their season, and it shouldn't. There's a lot of football left.
A recap of Saturday's game:
-- One of the narratives analysts like to bring up is Wisconsin's big, powerful and good offensive line. The facts, though, seem to indicate otherwise. The Badgers have struggled to run the ball all season and this game was no exception. For whatever reason, for the most part, they tried to keep pounding the ball inside with little success. Wisconsin's two biggest gains were on outside runs, Corey Clement for 19 and a jet sweep by Jazz Peavy for 17. Clement had only 68 yards on 17 carries. Taking away his two biggest runs (19 and 16), he had just 33 yards on 15 carries (2.2 average). Overall, UW averaged 2.5 yards per carry, the second straight game it has been held to under 3 yards a rush. In four of the Badgers five games, they've averaged less than 4 yards a carry. That has to change.
-- Was Wisconsin too predictable, especially early in the game? The Badgers ran on each of their first seven first-down plays and 16 of 20 overall.
-- Michigan seemed to have Wisconsin off balance on its touchdown drive in the second quarter. The Wolverines went 77 yards on 11 plays and never had a third down.
-- After what appeared to be a possible breakout performance against Michigan State last week, Alex Hornibrook struggled. He missed a couple of open receivers downfield, some of his completions appeared to be off target and at times would stare down his intended target. Of course, Hornibrook wasn't helped by five drops, either, including two on back-to-back plays on Wisconsin's final drive. But he also showed happy feet in the pocket and seemed to be a bit overwhelmed.
-- Due credit on Hornibrook's touchdown pass, a nice touch pass which he dropped right into the awaiting arms of Dare Ogunbowale, who was running a wheel route.
-- Leo Musso continues to play well, recording seven tackles with .5 tackles for loss. He also made a nice play coming across to knock away a pass to an open receiver after Michigan had picked up a Wisconsin blitz.
-- Jazz Peavy needs to learn a lot about being a punt returner. He fielded a punt at the 2 and later called for a fair catch at the 8 (before Wisconsin's final possession), both no-nos. Also, with just over four minutes to go in the game, Peavy fielded a punt at the 25 and was very indecisive and danced around, completely missing open lanes.
-- We didn't name this as "That Moment" but it could have been. After a punt and penalty, Wisconsin got the ball at its own 49-yard line early in the fourth quarter. It was a golden opportunity for the Badgers made even better when Clement ran for 16 yards on the first play on the drive. But then it fell apart as Hornibrook tripped on an offensive lineman's feet and fell to the ground for a 3-yard loss. Clement ran for 3 and Hornibrook bounced a pass to Jazz Peavy. Wisconsin played field position and punted, but the Badgers would only get as far as their own 32-yard line the rest of the game.
-- Jourdan Lewis' interception certainly was one of the best I've ever seen. However, the headlines surrounding this play have been confounding and dumbfounding -- key part of that word being dumb. It is being touted as a play which "sealed" the win, or in the case of a Sports Illustrated video played "a large part" in Michigan's victory. Uh, no. The smart play would have been to knock the ball down and have it be incomplete as it was fourth down and Michigan would have taken over at the Wisconsin 8 instead of the 46. As it turned out, it didn't matter as the Wolverines were able to run out the clock without giving the ball back to the Badgers, but let's tone down the hyperbole with this interception.
--- Wisconsin shot itself in the foot more than a few times. Dropped passes. Missed interceptions. Near sacks. Hornibrook tripping for a 3-yard loss and a snap miscue which cost the Badgers 13 yards. Against top competition, especially on the road, you need to play a cleaner game.
-- Wisconsin's 13 drives in yards: 38, 28, 4, -8, 14, 18, 31 (TD), 7, 16, -3, 7, 3, 0.
-- Lubern Figaro dropped an interception by the goal line in the second quarter. It didn't end up costing Wisconsin as Kenny Allen missed a field-goal attempt, one of three misses on the day for Michigan (two by Allen, the other by Ryan Tice).
-- With Rafael Gaglianone out for the year, Andrew Endicott has taken over the kicking duties. Wisconsin eschewed a 52-yard field-goal attempt in lieu of a punt. Although to be fair, with the way the defense was playing, head coach Paul Chryst might have opted to try to pin down Michigan even if Gaglianone was healthy. Endicott had no field-goal attempts in the game and made his only extra-point attempt, although it barely snuck in to the left of the right upright.
-- Wisconsin used both punters in this game, Anthony Lotti and P.J. Rosowski. Lotti struggled early, not getting hang time and punting short. But Rosowski didn't impress either and Lotti was used again later, including on a short field which is more his speciality. But UW averaged only 35.7 yards per punt with a long of 42 by Rosowski.
-- Second straight week Wisconsin has been called for a strange penalty. Last week it was confusing defensive signals and this week roughing the long snapper was called on Garrett Rand. And, oh by the way, it was a terrible call.
-- Michigan entered averaging 5.41 yards per carry and converting 54.4 percent of third downs. Against the Badgers, the Wolverines ran for 3.0 yards a carry and converted 20 percent (3 of 15) of third downs.
-- Michigan got 0 points off Wisconsin's three turnovers while the Badgers got their only touchdown off the Wolverines' lone turnover.
-- Each of Wisconsin's last 12 Big Ten regular-season losses have been by 7 or fewer points.
WHAT IT MEANT
A loss always stings, but this showed Wisconsin can probably hang with any team in the country. Or should we say, Wisconsin's defense. The Badgers shut down a high-powered offense and kept UW in this game. On the other hand, there appears to be issues with Wisconsin's offense, and in particular the running game, which continued its yearlong struggle. Anyway, while a defeat, this still seemed to solidify Wisconsin as one of the better teams in the country.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
We're trying not to make this a habit, but going to cheat a bit here again and make this a co-player of the game. It's just too hard to separate the efforts by linebackers Jack Cichy and T.J. Watt. Cichy had a game-high 12 tackles as well as a half-sack, but also the best defensive play of the game when he dove to tip a Wilton Speight pass which Derrick Tindal then intercepted. Watt had 11 tackles and two tackles for loss, including a sack when he just bullied his way around the right tackle to get to Speight. That forced the punt which set Wisconsin up at midfield.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
In case you forgot -- probably not -- Wisconsin was without Vince Biegel, one of the best linebackers in the country. Filling in for him was Garret Dooley, a junior who had all of nine tackles in his career (including six this season). All Dooley did was have seven tackles and a sack, which forced Michigan to punt late in the fourth quarter giving Wisconsin one more possession. He also had a near sack early in the first quarter.
Wisconsin did a great job on third downs against Michigan all game, which makes the key play of the game even that more painful. The Wolverines, who had been 2 of 10 on third-down conversions, had a 3rd-and-7 midway through the fourth quarter. Speight was in a shotgun and took about one step -- both strategies to help avoid the tenacious Badgers pass rush -- then fired to Amara Darboh on a slant for 15 yards and a first. On the next play, Speight hit Darboh over the top for a 46-yard go-ahead touchdown.
8 -- The number of Wisconsin first downs. Statistics through the 2000 season are readily available and the Badgers have never had fewer than 10 first downs in a game (2012 vs. Michigan State) in that span. Wisconsin had only three first downs in the second half and one in the fourth quarter.
THEY SAID IT
"There were some critical times that we didn't make that play ... although I thought the kids put it all out there. It was really a heck of a defensive effort by a lot of guys and they gave us a chance." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"I thought that was a couple of balls when he you look back at this thing he's going to want back, and a couple had a chance to be a big hit for us and swing the field for us." -- Chryst on Hornibrook
"We couldn't get any drives going." -- Hornibrook.
Wisconsin is off next week and will play another top-10 team in two weeks when No. 2 Ohio State visits Camp Randall Stadium. Coming off a rout of Rutgers, the 5-0 Buckeyes play Indiana this Saturday.
Dave Heller is the author of the upcoming book Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth's Shadow as well as Facing Ted Williams Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns