The first half of Wisconsin's game against Michigan gave fuel to those who think the Badgers don't deserve to be in the college football playoff discussion. Wisconsin could get nothing done on offense and Michigan was finding success through the air.
However, the second half demonstrated exactly why the Badgers are one of this year's best in college football.
Never panicking, Wisconsin's offense -- specifically quarterback Alex Hornibrook -- finally got into gear in the third quarter, scoring two touchdowns in overcoming a 10-7 deficit.
Meanwhile, the defense was absolutely ferocious, shutting down Michigan, which could never get a run game going all day.
The final was 24-10 -- and it could have been worse if head coach Paul Chryst wanted to run up the score at the end -- propelling Wisconsin to an 11-0 record and keeping the Badgers more than alive in the race to be among the four teams vying for the national championship.
If you asked me to name one standout play against Michigan by T.J. Edwards, I'm not sure there's a definitive answer. But of Edwards' game-high 11 tackles (7 solo), seven stopped runs to 1 yards or less. That's saying something right there. Edwards also had 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a pass broken up and a quarterback hurry. Basically, he was everywhere. (By the way, if you think Ryan Connelly deserves this, there's certainly a case to be made. Of his 10 tackles, nine were on rushes of 2 yards or less, plus he had 1.5 TFL and a QBH. It was a good day for the inside linebackers.)
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DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
There's a lot of words to describe quarterback Alex Hornibrook (and his naysayers have come up with plenty) and one certainly has to be unflappable. Despite a first half in which he completed just 4 of 7 passes for 40 yards, Hornibrook led Wisconsin to a pair of three-and-outs (1-of-2 passing for 4 yards) before throwing an interception, which has been a weekly occurrence in 2017. Yet, on the next series, with Michigan's defense causing troubles all game, Hornibrook led the Badgers to a touchdown, connecting with A.J. Taylor on a dime for the score after earlier dropping a pass right into the wide receiver's hands on a deep ball for 51 yards. Hornibrook's final stats weren't eye-popping -- 9 of 19 for 143 yards -- but he came up big when needed and is a big reason Wisconsin came away with the victory. It's all part of the weekly frustration (another word to describe him), as he can go up-and-down quickly -- but you have to love his resiliency and ability to shake off previous tough plays.
Midway through the third quarter, Wisconsin was trailing 10-7, was barely over 100 yards of total offense, had converted just 1 of 8 third downs and Hornibrook had thrown an incompletion on the Badgers' last possession and was hurried in his last two throws, an incompletion and loss-of-3 dump-off to Jonathan Taylor which set up UW with third-and-13. In other words, things weren't looking good. But Hornibrook took a shot deep and, as mentioned earlier, dropped one right into the arms of A.J. Taylor for a 51-yard game. A few plays later facing third-and-16, Hornibrook threw an absolute laser to A.J. Taylor in the end zone for the go-ahead score. The drive gave Wisconsin's offense life and, not-so-coincidentally, it would score on two of the next three possessions.
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234 -- Michigan's total yards. For the second straight week -- OK, all year -- Wisconsin's defense held down its opponent's offense. This was the lowest offensive output for Michigan all season. The Wolverines had 129 more punting yards than offensive yards. Michigan averaged just 3.7 yards per play (the Wolverines entered Saturday averaging 5.6 yards per play), the third-best effort by the Badgers this season behind Iowa (1.32) and Northwestern (3.09). One more fun defensive stat: Michigan had rushed for at least 102 yards in every game this season. Against Wisconsin, the Wolverines had just 58 yards on 37 carries (1.6 average). Take away the quarterbacks and one team rush, and it is still only 65 yards 28 carries (2.3 average). Anyone else want to question whether this Wisconsin defense is the "real deal" or not?
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THEY SAID IT
"I thought defensively, we played really well. I thought it was a huge stop, you know, after the one pick, able to hold them to a field goal. But the defense put pressure on the quarterback, and they were really good in the run game. They were fun to watch." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"Sometimes adversity helps us play even harder and better. We were able to do that today." -- quarterback Alex Hornibrook
"When T.J. (Edwards) and I are running around untouched, it means that the D-line is doing a great job. They've been doing that all season. We've been running free because they're eating up double-teams down there. Today, especially, we had a lot of room to run, and that's really a testament to what they were able to do in the trenches." -- linebacker Ryan Connelly
"It was a great feeling. I tried to get two (punt return touchdowns), but they caught me on the sideline. When he tripped I went and got it and the rest is history. I wouldn't say I was dying to get it, but I'm trying hard. I didn't want to force it, but just let it come naturally." -- Nick Nelson on his punt return for a touchdown
Wisconsin closes out the regular season with a game at longtime rival Minnesota. The Badgers have owned this series for the past decade or so and while the Gophers hope for a resurgence under new head coach P.J. Fleck, his first year has been a struggle. Minnesota is 5-7 (2-6 Big Ten) and coming off a 39-0 shellacking at the hands of Northwestern.