Big Ten Woes continue for Wolverines

By Chris Jenkins
Associated Press

Madison, Wis.
— For long-suffering conference rivals looking to throw some grief
back at the once-dominant Michigan Wolverines, now’s the time.

Have at it, Badgers.

No.
21 Wisconsin became the latest Big Ten team to get the best of the
reeling Wolverines and coach Rich Rodriguez, winning 45-24 Saturday
behind four touchdown passes and a TD sneak from quarterback Scott
Tolzien.

“Scotty had a big grin on his face walking off the field,” Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. “To beat Michigan is a big deal.”

It
was sweet redemption on Senior Day for the Badgers (8-2, 5-2), who
watched last year’s promising season unravel after blowing a big lead
in the Big House last year. Wisconsin has regained momentum in what is
shaping up to be a better-than-expected 2009 campaign, winning three
straight after consecutive losses to Ohio State and Iowa.

It was
the sixth straight conference setback for the Wolverines (5-6, 1-6),
whose miserable Big Ten season just keeps getting worse — and with a
potential bowl bid slipping away, Ohio State awaits next Saturday.

“There’s
no question we’ve got one more chance,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve asked the
team to be extra focused. We’ve been focused all year, but this is the
biggest game of the year. Our guys know that.”

Wisconsin’s 45 points were the most the Badgers have ever scored against Michigan.

After
the Badgers blew a 19-point lead in a loss to Michigan last year,
Badgers defensive end O’Brien Schofield said he wasn’t comfortable
celebrating the win until the clock hit zero.

“I didn’t want to
think about that,” Schofield said. “Because last year, I was like, ‘We
are killing these guys, these guys are terrible.’ … That was bad. I
had to eat my words.”

Tolzien was 16 of 24 for 240 yards with an
interception despite spending much of the game under pressure from
defensive end Brandon Graham, who had a pair of sacks and forced a
fumble that was returned for a touchdown to give the Wolverines a 17-14
lead just before halftime.

But this time, the second-half
letdown that has become this Michigan team’s dubious trademark actually
began just before halftime, when it allowed the Badgers to drive for a
1-yard touchdown by John Clay.

“We’ve got to stay focused on
what we need to do,” Graham said. “Most of the games we were out of our
gaps and let big plays happen. It’s been killing us.”

Nick Toon
caught two of Tolzien’s touchdown throws for the Badgers, who went to
the air early on after putting together monster rushing performances in
their previous two games.

Leading 21-17, Wisconsin received the
second-half kickoff and marched to the Michigan 15-yard line, where
Tolzien threw toward Toon in the end zone. Toon, son of former Badgers
and NFL receiver Al Toon, jumped and came down with his second TD of
the day despite being interfered with on the play.

Tate Forcier
was a solid 20 of 26 for 188 yards with two touchdowns and an
interception, but it wasn’t enough. After a 4-0 start to the season,
the Wolverines are reeling heading into their biggest rivalry.

“If
I have to spend 10 hours this week watching film, I’m going to do
that,” Forcier said. “We’re going to get the seniors to a bowl game.
We’re going to come out and do what we need to do to beat Ohio State.”

Forcier
kept Michigan in the game after Toon’s acrobatic touchdown catch,
converting a fourth-and-9 play to set up a 10-yard touchdown pass to
Roy Roundtree that cut Wisconsin’s lead to 28-24 midway through the
third.

But the Wolverines defense just couldn’t get the stop it needed.

With
Wisconsin facing third-and-7 at the Michigan 19, linebacker Stevie
Brown burst through the line and Tolzien got rid of the ball just
before taking a crunching hit, delivering a 12-yard pass to tight end
Garrett Graham to set up first-and-goal at the 7. Tolzien threw a
touchdown to tight end Lance Kendricks two plays later, putting
Wisconsin up 35-24.

The Badgers were coming off impressive
rushing performances in victories over Purdue and Indiana but had a
hard time finding yards on the ground against Michigan’s defense early
on. Michigan held Wisconsin to 53 yards rushing in the first half but
couldn’t keep it up, as John Clay got 109 of his 151 yards on the
ground after halftime.

“Defensively, we are reaching to find an answer to stop people,” Rodriguez said.