On a day when most top 10 teams were either losing or playing with fire, Michigan made a statement. The No. 12 Wolverines pasted No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday night, beating the Badgers 38-13 at Michigan Stadium. It was a statement-making win for the Wolverines, as they had a complete effort.
Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson only threw for 124 yards and didn’t have a passing touchdown, but he completed 14 of his 21 passes and rushed for 90 yards and a score. Wolverines running back Karan Higdon rushed for 105 yards and added a score too, as Michigan rushed for 320 yards. Compare that to the Wisconsin offense, which rushed for 183 yards but finished with only 283 yards of offense, as Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was harassed all night by the Michigan defense.
Hornibrook completed his first three passes of the night and then completed only four of his next 17, as he threw two interceptions — including a pick-six — and was sacked twice.
The only thing that went wrong for the Wolverines were a couple of missed field goals.
Here are four takeaways from this big Michigan win.
1. Shea Patterson’s legs make Michigan’s offense so much better. The Wolverines have been held back during Jim Harbaugh’s tenure by their quarterback play. Shea Patterson was seen as a savior coming into 2018, and while that wasn’t fair or accurate, you can’t deny the impact he’s had on this Michigan offense.
What is a bit surprising, though, is that it’s not Patterson’s arm that’s having the most significant impact. It’s his legs. With an offensive line that’s had trouble pass-blocking, Patterson’s ability to move in the pocket has been a boost to the passing game. He’s also made the offense harder to defend overall, as Patterson’s a threat to keep the ball on read-option plays.
Wisconsin learned on Saturday night how dangerous Patterson can be without throwing the ball as he rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown, including an 81-yard gain (he was also sacked three times, and the 23 yards lost on those sacks are deducted from his rushing yards). When you combine Patterson’s versatility with Karan Higdon and the Michigan running game, this offense becomes more dynamic, and a more dynamic Wolverines offense makes for a Michigan team that’s much more difficult to beat.
2. This doesn’t change the narrative surrounding this Michigan program. This is a big win for Michigan. It’s a win Michigan needed, not just to help it accomplish what it wants to this season, but perhaps for its psyche as well. This team has heard all the talk about how it hasn’t been able to beat top teams over the last couple of years, and on Saturday night it not only beat a team ranked No. 15 in the country, it crushed one.
This wasn’t a case of Michigan catching a few lucky breaks and coming away with a win. This was Michigan punching Wisconsin in the face over and over again.
Still, as big a win as it was, it’s not likely to change the narrative surrounding the program. It gives a reason for hope, but even if Michigan did crush Wisconsin, it’s the same Wisconsin team that lost to BYU at home earlier this season. It’s a Wisconsin team that will be clinging to a spot in the top 25 come Sunday, and a Wisconsin team nobody is going to take seriously as a Big Ten title contender at this point.
Of course, the irony here is that Michigan will have played a major role in making this the case, but that won’t matter. The skeptics will say it was a nice win, but they’ll also say they need to see Michigan do it against Ohio State before they buy in.
And this Michigan team should relish that.
3. The Big Ten East looks a lot friendlier at the moment. Michigan State beat Penn State 21-17 on Saturday, which accomplished two things. First of all, it gave Penn State two Big Ten losses already, effectively eliminating the Nittany Lions from the division race. It also put Michigan State back in the race, though it’s essential to remember Michigan State lost to Northwestern last week, so it’s hard to have too much faith in the Spartans going forward anyway.
And it also left only two teams in the division without a conference loss. The two teams that have dominated the Big Ten for so long: Michigan and Ohio State.
Michigan now has two massive games coming in the next three weeks. It heads to East Lansing next week to take on Michigan State and then will take a week off before hosting Penn State in early November. Both of those games look a lot more winnable after tonight’s performance, as well as the performances from both of those teams.
The regular-season finale against Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio is setting up to be a possible Big Ten East title game, which is precisely what the Big Ten has always wanted it to be.
4. The Big Ten West is up for grabs. With the Wisconsin loss, the Big Ten West now has four teams tied at the top with one conference loss apiece. Northwestern is 3-1 while Wisconsin, Iowa and Purdue are all 2-1. Northwestern is responsible for Purdue’s loss, and Wisconsin beat Iowa, so there are some tie-breakers in effect here, but still, it’s going to be a jumbled mess over the final month and a half of the season.
And I just can’t consider Wisconsin a clear favorite after Saturday’s loss.
That’s not to say it can’t win the division, but it’s important to remember that the Badgers don’t just have games left against Northwestern and Purdue — both on the road — but they have a road trip to Penn State as well. All of a sudden we’re looking at a Wisconsin team that could easily finish with three conference losses, and possibly four.
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