ANN ARBOR, Mich. – At first glance, a 14-7 win doesn’t look like a game that either side can control. But at second glance, it was clear that Michigan controlled Wisconsin all game on Saturday afternoon.
The No. 4 Wolverines were 10.5-point favorites against the No. 8 Badgers on Saturday, and, while they didn’t cover the spread, they passed the eye test and had a huge day on paper. While it was a great day, and a great win, the Wolverines have to execute, if they want to beat elite teams such as Ohio State.
After watching the game for a second time, here’s a look at what a second glance gathered.
Wilton Speight, offense must execute
Speight isn’t a superstar, but he wins games. He’s the unquestioned vocal leader of this offense, he very rarely makes mistakes, and he has a good upside headed into the final seven games.
On Saturday, he threw a costly interception that led to Wisconsin’s only touchdown, and points, of the game. That’s not good, obviously, but his 20-for-32, 219-yard performance shouldn’t be considered bad by any means. He’s played mistake-free football, thus far. His ratio of 10 touchdowns to 2 interception is solid, and impressive for a quarterback in just his fifth start. Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson of Clemson has 7 interceptions already, and he’s still got a real shot to win the trophy.
Speight has still been good, and he can keep being that and probably help Michigan win 11 games. But, he needs to turn it up a notch if this team wants to have a dream season. Coaches love when their quarterbacks throw confidently. Speight, though, has been a little too confident, as seen here.
It took a diving fingertip from a Wisconsin linebacker to tip the pass intended for Jake Butt to cause the interception. A great defensive play, but the interception doesn’t look nearly as bad as it did at first glance, like in the frame above.
Speight did set the team up for an easy nine points, but Michigan missed three field goals. The game should have easily ended 23-7. The clear separation Michigan had from Wisconsin in this game can be seen in the numbers: Michigan had 349 yards of offense to Wisconsin’s 159, more than double. Michigan had 21 first downs, Wisconsin had just 8. And Michigan had the ball 11 minutes longer than Wisconsin.
The execution has to be better. Michigan had eight drives on Wisconsin’s end of the field and converted points on only two of those drives.
Speight tried to thread one too many needles, and he nearly saw another pass land in the Badgers’ hands. If he wants to make those throws, he needs to get a little more zip on his ball, a weakness for him.
As expected, Michigan didn’t run that much
After running for 326 yards against Penn State, the Wolverines posted only 130 yards rushing against the Badgers, but it was 40 yards more than Wisconsin had allowed on average. Surprisingly, Michigan played really conservative on offense. Jabrill Peppers didn’t actually get credited with a rushing attempt, or any offensive stat. The flashiest play was a Shane Morris quarterback draw.
Although it was slow, there were still some good rushes, like the longest one from Chris Evans that went for 22 yards.
Evans had a huge hole created by a great pull from Kyle Kalis and all-out great protection from the rest of the line.
This could have been a game-changer early on because Evans was close to being in the end zone. He makes an understandable move to try and switch directions, a strength of his, and move to the right side of the field. But if he would have stayed full speed up the middle, the same way he scored from 43-yards out against Hawaii, it could have been six more points for the Wolverines.
Wisconsin’s No. 7 rush defense nationally gave up more than usual, so it wasn’t a bad day for the running backs group. It certainly wasn’t great, though, but that was the best rush defense they will face all season. The Badgers should have a field day against Rutgers.
Defense wins championships
The subhead says it all. This defense is the reason so many are sold on this Wolverines team’s chances at a title run. Wisconsin certainly doesn’t have a Lamar Jackson, but they could not get even 200 yards against Michigan. The defense is now fully healthy, minus Jeremy Clark, and as scary as ever.
The best defensive moment: Jourdan Lewis’ interception, which is first ballot for “best play ever.” But there were also two more interceptions by Channing Stribling, who had the game of his career with two pass breakups, two interceptions and two tackles.
Hornibrook completed nine of 25 pass attempts for 88 yards and a touchdown. Of those 88 yards, 69 percent (61 yards) came on just three passes. Hornibrook passed for only 24 yards in the second half, where he completed four passes and threw two interceptions. He had a 36 percent completion percentage, and a QBR of 54.8. Last week against Michigan State in East Lansing, Hornibrook went 16-for-25 with 195 yards, and he had a 61.5-percent completion percentage.
As for the run, it was a whole lot of nothing for Corey Clement. The Badgers averaged 2.5 yards a carry, finishing with just 71 yards total. An offensive line that was said to be feared, was beat up all night. Ryan Glasgow and Maurice Hurst stuffed run attempts up the middle like a Chicago Pizza. Glasgow had a career day with five tackles, a half-sack and a half-tackle for loss. He should be seen on draft boards soon.
Michigan is now No. 1 nationally for third down defense, No. 2 in passing yards allowed, No. 4 in points allowed and yards allowed per game.
Michigan is a legitimate contender after beating a top-10 team that will give Ohio State a challenge. Wisconsin has the only defense that could contend with Michigan’s or Ohio State’s. If Michigan can compile 359 yards on a defense as stout as Wisconsin’s, there’s no telling how many it can put up against the rest of the schedule, minus OSU. But, still, the Wolverines must execute, otherwise those yards don’t matter – as they somewhat didn’t Saturday.
The defense could seriously give up even less yards against Rutgers next week. If Speight can get a little more zip, and stop trying to do a little too much, this team has a defense that can carry them all the way.
Other quick notes
- Michigan isn’t going anywhere without a kicker. Coach Harbaugh said the kicking competition is open, something you don’t want to hear in week six.
- Rutgers lost 58-0 to Ohio State, so Michigan can breathe easily this week.
- Wisconsin hadn’t been held to fewer than 200 yards of offense since 2012.
- Wisconsin’s eight first downs were its least since at least 2000.
- Surprisingly, Wisconsin’s 88 yards passing isn’t the fewest allowed by Michigan this season. UCF had just 56 during the second week.