Well, there’s just not much to say. On a gloomy day in Madison, Michigan was simply outworked, out-hustled, and flat outplayed by a Wisconsin team looking to make a statement - and now, the Wolverines must head back to Ann Arbor to pick up the pieces.
Yet while I’m sure we’d all rather just forget about this game and move on… there are some key takeaways that we should mention before turning our attention to Rutgers this weekend.
So, deep breaths, gang. Let’s get into it…
“Don’t beat yourself”
I preached mistake-free football for the Wolverines heading into this game, and, suffice it to say, mistakes were made.
The Badgers marched all the way down the field on their opening drive with the patented, precision offense that they’ve made their own this year. It was a disappointing way for Don Brown’s defense to start off with, but many figured that Brown would make the necessary adjustments and figure it out later in the game (Narrator Voice: they wouldn’t).
And while the Wolverines started the game with a huge pass to Ronnie Bell along the sidelines that looked to answer the Badgers early statement - a fumble by Ben Mason immediately gave the ball back to Wisconsin… and led to a 72 yard touchdown run from Jonathan Taylor. And from there, the wheels just came right off.
They would turn the ball over four times (including three lost fumbles - a stat for which the Wolverines now rank 128th in the country), would allow two sacks, six tackles for a loss… and would find themselves down 35-0 midway through the third quarter before they could even put points on the board. Woof.
Jonathon Taylor is as advertised
When you’re putting together a Heisman campaign, you need big time moments against big time competition to get the country talking… and everyone is talking about Jonathan Taylor after this weekend.
The junior ran for 203 yards and two touchdowns, and made a defense - typically so adept at stopping the run - look helpless every time he touched the football. On one particularly memorable play, it seemed like the entire Michigan defense had tracked him down in the backfield… only to watch Taylor bounce it outside in a foot race for nine yard game. It was just that kind of day.
The offensive line in front of him was, simply, remarkable. They allowed only two tackles for a loss, and just seemed to have their way with the Wolverines’ front seven all game long.
If both Taylor - and his line - keep this up throughout 2019, we could very well be looking at a player ready to challenge Jalen Hurts, Trevor Lawrence, and every presumptive favorite for college football’s biggest individual prize. Keep an eye on him, fans.
So, what’s next for Michigan?
Unsurprisingly, this game has made Jim Harbaugh’s seat quite a bit hotter in Ann Arbor, and as much as I’d like to get past quick, gut reactions… this one is tough to swallow. The Wolverines looked simply overmatched by Wisconsin’s gameplan, and even the things that are typically strengths for Michigan seemed to crumble right in front of us.
The fumbles are now their own conversation - but even fumbles and turnovers aside, Shea Patterson’s 2019 has been completely baffling to those of us who thought he could be the best QB in the conference heading into the year. He’s now clocking a paltry 55.6% completion rate for only 629 yards, and he now has as many turnovers (five) as he does touchdowns.
Add to that the rushing attack that, without Karan Higdon, has simply looked lost in 2019 (as a team, the Wolverines rank 97th in rushing yards per game), and the offense that was expected to take a firm step forward has appeared to be little more than the same story, told a new way.
This is made all the worse by the fact that the defense, though good through two games, just got absolutely trounced by the first great offense they’ve faced yet this year. Without a consistently dominant defense, the offensive problems will only be further magnified.
The Wolverines return to the field next week to take on Rutgers at home, which, even with this disappointment, should be a comfortable victory for Michigans. Hopefully that can get things moving in the right direction in 2019. If not, it could be a long autumn… full of some tough questions for this football program.
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