ANN ARBOR, Mich. — As predictable as Saturday night’s result at Michigan Stadium may have appeared by night’s end, the University of Wisconsin defense did everything in its limited power to prevent the inevitable.
After an encouraging first half in which that defense made one big play after another to stave off a runaway Michigan victory, sustaining that level for 60 minutes became too much to ask from a unit ravaged with injuries and laden with inexperience.
The Wolverines (6-1, 4-0) pulled away in the second half for a 38-13 victory, handing the Badgers (4-2, 2-1) their worst loss of the Paul Chryst era and burying what little hope they still held for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
It snapped a 17-game regular-season conference win streak for the Badgers and marked UW’s first defeat in a true road game since its loss to the Wolverines in this stadium more than two years ago.
“We got beat tonight,” Chryst said. “There’s things to learn from it, but you go forward, and this group will do that.”
The Badgers were without four potential starters to begin the game — defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk (left leg), cornerback Caesar Williams (left leg) and safeties D’Cota Dixon (right leg) and Scott Nelson. Nelson was suspended for the first half after being ejected for targeting last week against Nebraska and exited with a left leg injury in the third quarter. Cornerback Faion Hicks also suffered a left leg injury on UW’s first defensive drive.
The Wisconsin Badgers lost to the Michigan Wolverines 38-13 on Saturday night at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Two true freshmen, safety Reggie Pearson and cornerback Rachad Wildgoose, started in the secondary. It served as the first career game action for Pearson, who left with an injury in the fourth quarter. Sophomore safety Eric Burrell also made his first-ever start. With Loudermilk out, two more redshirt freshmen, Kayden Lyles and Matt Henningsen, started at defensive end.
That depleted defense kept the Badgers in the game for as long as it could.
The first instance came during the Wolverines’ first possession of the game, where they connected on passes of 15 and 11 yards and converted two third downs as they drove inside the Badgers’ 25-yard line.
Burrell and outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel combined to stop quarterback Shea Patterson on a third-and-6 scramble after just one yard, though, leading to a missed 41-yard field goal that kept the game scoreless.
Those 13 plays were Michigan’s only snaps of the first quarter — a fast-moving start that initially aided the Badgers’ attempt at surviving without Nelson.
UW didn’t slow the Wolverines down the next time out, however, as Patterson ran 81 yards on a read-option keeper. Two plays later, Karan Higdon pushed his way into the end zone from 2 yards out to give Michigan an early advantage.
UW responded quickly. Jonathan Taylor, who finished with 101 yards on 17 carries, rushed three times for 38 yards, including a 23-yard gain in which he used a cutback lane to break free. Kendric Pryor then scored on a 33-yard jet sweep. Wide receiver Jack Dunn’s chip block allowed Pryor to find the edge and win a foot race to the end zone, tying the game at 7 with 11 minutes, 26 seconds left in the first half.
As the Badgers’ offense began to sputter thereafter, UW’s shorthanded defense fought its way out of tough spots on three more occasions in the second quarter.
Michigan worked its way into Badgers territory with about 7 minutes left in the half when Wildgoose and Pearson took the same receiver downfield, leaving tight end Nick Eubanks wide open for a 28-yard gain.
Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards brought Patterson down for a seven-yard sack two plays later, however, bringing up third-and-16. The Wolverines went on to kick a 42-yard field goal to take a 10-7 lead.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw an interception on UW’s first play after the ensuing kickoff. Defensive back David Long came off his man to step in front of the pass intended for A.J. Taylor. Long tipped the pass in the air, allowing defensive back Josh Metellus to intercept it and return it 31 yards to the Badgers’ 15-yard line.
Van Ginkel, starting his first game since suffering an ankle injury against BYU, applied heavy pressure and forced a throwaway on the next play, Edwards burst through a gap to make a stop for no gain on second down and Wildgoose defended a pass in the end zone on third. Michigan didn’t gain a single yard after the interception and settled for a 33-yard field goal and a 13-7 advantage.
After UW failed to pick up a first down for the third straight drive, Wolverines wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones returned an Anthony Lotti punt 26 yards past midfield. Peoples-Jones then caught a 17-yard pass, but Ryan Connelly’s strip-sack killed the drive and forced Michigan into a missed 54-yard field-goal attempt to end the half.
“We felt like we were in it (at halftime),” Chryst said. “We knew we had to make some plays. We had to be better on third down. But at that point, I thought defensively we had risen up.”
Eventually, the Badgers’ defense couldn’t keep holding.
A defensive holding call and a roughing the snapper penalty on a punt kept the Wolverines’ first drive of the third quarter alive, and five plays later Patterson kept the ball on a read-option to score from 7 yards out. A successful two-point conversion gave Michigan a 21-7 lead.
Wisconsin State Journal reporter Jason Galloway collected some of the best tweets after the Wisconsin Badgers fell to the Michigan Wolverines,…
The Wolverines drove 63 yards on 11 plays to add another field goal early in the fourth quarter before Hornibrook, who finished 7-of-20 passing for 100 yards with two interceptions, threw a pick-six to defensive back Lavert Hill with 9:55 remaining that extended the Wolverines’ lead to 31-7.
Michigan backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey added the Wolverines’ final score on a 44-yard run with 5:16 left before Hornibrook found A.J. Taylor for a 3-yard touchdown pass in the game’s meaningless final minutes.
“I think we’ve just got to come together more as a team,” Van Ginkel said. “We’ve got to feed off each other. If they make a play, we’ve got to be able to bounce back, and I don’t think we did that tonight. They got the momentum, and we couldn’t flip the script.”