Aside from winning a national championship, Michigan’s biggest goal for every season is to win a Big Ten title. Despite starting 0-2 and suffering the most embarrassing loss in the program’s history, Michigan still can accomplish that goal next week against Ohio State. With that being said, going into yesterday’s game against Wisconsin, the only thing on the line was the chance to play for an outright Big Ten title on November 17th. Despite that, the coaches obviously made the decision to get injured players rest for next week and partially coming from that was a Michigan loss. In hindsight, this could end up being a smart move if it means Henne and Hart will be healthy for Ohio State, especially since the Buckeyes lost to keep an outright title shot alive, but only time will tell. On the other side of things, a win yesterday would’ve given Michigan at least a share of the Big Ten title, so again, it’ll depend on what happens against OSU.
Getting to the game itself, it didn’t start out completely ugly, but one play would quickly change that. After neither offense could get anything going and it was just a game of punts, Michigan did have the ball up near midfield. That wouldn’t mean much, though, as Chad Henne attempted a pass and it was not accurate at all, leading to an interception. At that point, you could tell that something was off with Henne’s passes, so he removed his pads and would be done for the day. With Hart standing on the sideline the entire game and never playing either, this game was destined to turn out badly.
Following the interception, Michigan got the ball back when Jamar Adams picked off a pass, but a Shawn Crable roughing the passer penalty gave the ball back to Wisconsin. That turned out to be a huge break for the Badgers as Crable just made a dumb mistake, and it wouldn’t be his only one either. As Wisconsin moved into Michigan territory, quarterback Tyler Donovan ran an option and pitched the ball to running back Lance Smith. Right after the pitch, Crable tackled Donovan and got called for another personal foul penalty even though Donovan became a runner. I have no idea how the officials could justify the penalty, because even though the tackle was close to being a clothesline, that still doesn’t explain how it was a penalty. Three plays after the penalty, Donovan hit tight end Travis Beckum for an easy touchdown, giving the Badgers a 7-0 lead.
With Ryan Mallett in at QB for Michigan, the offense really did nothing. After being sacked on 3rd and long, U-M had to punt the ball away and Wisconsin again got down the field easily. The defense did hold the Badgers to a field goal, but the momentum was completely in their favor. That would continue to be the case as Mallett was sacked again on another 3rd and long, giving the ball back to Wisconsin. When the Badgers had 3rd and 7 after the punt, Tyler Donovan was feeling pressure and took off and ran for the first down. He really made the defense look bad as it wasn’t the only time he escaped the pressure considering Michigan didn’t even have 1 sack all day. After a long pass to Travis Beckum, Donovan ran the ball for a touchdown from 2 yards out, making it 17-0 Wisconsin.
Needing something to keep the game from getting out of reach, Ryan Mallett did finally get the passing game going. After a couple of big passes to Greg Mathews and Adrian Arrington, Mallett eventually faced 3rd and 6 and threw a pass downfield. The pass was intended for Mathews, but appeared to get intercepted. Instead of a pick, though, Mathews somehow got his hands on the ball and it was a tie between him and the defender. By rule, a tie goes to the receiver, so Michigan caught a break and moved the ball down to the 12-yard line. On the very next play, Mallett threw a quick pass to Mario Manningham and Super Mario juked out a defender to get into the endzone, cutting the deficit to 10 points.
Hoping to get the ball back one more time before the half, Michigan forced a 3rd and 8 and appeared to have Tyler Donovan caught in the backfield for a sack. Somehow he managed to escape the pressure and actually completed a pass for a gain of 26. That play kept the drive alive and eventually led to a field goal near the end of the second quarter, meaning it was a Wisconsin lead at the half of 20-7.
Getting the ball to open the second half, Michigan had to get something going if they wanted to win this game. With the way the defense was struggling and the offense was playing so inconsistent, points had to come to start the half off the right way. Well, that wouldn’t happen. Michigan went three and out, but did catch a huge break. A bad punt by Zoltan Mesko bounced off of a Wisconsin player and Michigan’s Stevie Brown recovered, giving the Maize and Blue the ball at the Wisconsin 38. Even with the short field, Michigan still couldn’t move the ball as it would be another three and out that forced another Mesko punt, giving the Badgers the ball back.
Wanting to get points and run the clock, Wisconsin did that in a big way after getting the ball back. They are one of the best in the nation when it comes to time of possession, and that was evident on this drive. The Badgers went down the field and were stuffed at the goal line, but did manage to take over 8 minutes off the clock and added a field goal to their lead.
After trading punts, Wisconsin pinned Michigan back inside their own 5-yard line. As the game had moved into the fourth quarter right before this possession began, the Wolverines were running out of time and had to get something going. With 3rd and 9 coming up from their own 3, things looked very bleak. That would change on the next play. Ryan Mallett found Mario Manningham downfield and Super Mario simply outran the entire defense, going a whopping 97 yards for a Michigan touchdown. That TD pass set a new record for the longest play from scrimmage in Michigan history, and cut the lead down to 23-14.
The defense came up with a stop as Wisconsin got the ball back, riding the momentum of the long touchdown, but it would all be for nothing after a punt. On the opening play of the next drive, Ryan Mallett dropped back to pass and was pressured, and rather than throw the ball away or just take the sack, he lobbed it downfield and Wisconsin intercepted it. The pass was so bad that it looked like Wisconsin was fielding a punt, and it really put the game back into the Badgers’ favor.
The defense wanted to put the game back into Michigan’s favor and actually did accomplish that after getting another stop. With the ball back and trailing by 9 points, the Michigan offense had to score some points. Facing a 3rd and 10, the thought of scoring any points was far from any one’s mind. Instead, it was focused on the 3rd down play as Mallett was facing a lot of pressure and looked as though he would be sacked again. Knowing that he had to keep the drive alive somehow, Mallett pitched it backwards to Carson Butler as he was being dragged down, and Butler, who was just in the right place at the right time, ran the ball for a gain of 16 yards and the first down. It was truly a great play by Mallett as the offensive line was blown up and he had to do something, so I’ll give him credit there.
Keeping the drive alive with a play that was similar to when Mallett fumbled and Hart picked the ball up and ran for a first down last week, I figured this would be the play that changed this game. I really felt that way after Ryan Mallett hit Adrian Arrington in the endzone on 3rd and 10 for a 26-yard touchdown. The pass was perfect and the catch was even better as Arrington dove to make the play. That cut the lead down to 23-21, and at this point, all the momentum was in Michigan’s favor.
After the defense came up with another stop to force a Wisconsin punt, all Michigan had to do was get into field goal range and they could take the lead. That was easier said than done, however, as the offense completely faltered when it mattered most. Following a great play by Arrington to make a catch on a pass thrown behind him, Michigan had the ball on its own 30-yard line with a first down. After a 1-yard run on first down, Ryan Mallett dropped back to pass and was getting pressured heavily. He probably should’ve thrown the ball away, but instead kept running backwards to avoid the blitzers. Once again, the officials made a call that I don’t understand at all. Mallett was ruled down because of forward progress for a loss of 20 yards, but right before being tackled managed to get rid of the ball. I don’t get how forward progress could have been the ruling considering he wasn’t wrapped up or anything, but the refs decided that that was the case, putting Michigan in a horrendous 3rd and long situation. Needing 29 yards for a first down, Mallett threw a desperation type of pass into a swarm of Wisconsin defenders and it was intercepted (even if caught by a Michigan receiver it would’ve been well short of a first down).
Even with the INT, another stop by the Michigan defense, which would mean holding Wisconsin to a field goal, would give the offense another chance to win it. Knowing that the Badgers were going to run the ball as starting QB Tyler Donovan left with an injury on the previous drive, Michigan still couldn’t stop Wisconsin. Third string running back Zach Brown ran the ball 4 times for 33 yards, and scored a touchdown on the final run to make it 30-21 Wisconsin.
Coming back out with 3 minutes left in the game, Michigan still had a small hope of pulling off the comeback. After being sacked and throwing three straight incompletions, that hope was dead as Michigan turned the ball over on downs on its own 2-yard line. One play later, Zach Brown was back into the endzone for the touchdown, making it 37-21 Badgers. Even with comeback hopes fading away nearly completely, Michigan still only trailed by two possessions. Faced with another 4th down on its own 16-yard line, Michigan just decided to punt the ball away rather than attempt to pick up a first down. With the ball back, Wisconsin just ran the clock out, and despite having a pair of timeouts, Michigan used neither, showing that they simply gave up and basically waved the white flag.
With the 37-21 loss, it was beyond disappointing. I don’t care if Hart didn’t play at all, I don’t care if Henne didn’t play beyond the first couple of drives, and I don’t care how bad Mallett played at some times. Despite all of those things working against Michigan, at the end of the game, they still had a chance to win and it was the defense that failed. Yes, Mallett shouldn’t have put the “D” in the position they were in, but that’s no excuse to let a third string running back go 33 yards in only 4 plays for a touchdown when you know he’s going to get the ball.
Even with this game turning out so badly, we all just have to move on. Normally I would never say that after a loss, but even with it, Michigan can still win the Big Ten title to clinch a trip to Pasadena. Kickoff for “The Game” against Ohio State is set for noon on ABC. Until then, beat the Buckeyes and Go Blue!