MADISON, Wis. — There were positives at Camp Randall, laying about in bits and pieces like the orphaned parts of a jigsaw puzzle. The hard part for Michigan was stringing them together against a Wisconsin side that delights in sledgehammering away until you break.
Badgers 24, Wolverines 10 was closer than the scoreboard, for whatever that’s worth. Another sign of a team not yet good enough to win its division but just good enough, tantalizing enough, to break your heart.
Which begs the question as you know who beckons next weekend:
Is there another gear?
One more chance to try to make the pieces fit?
“Oh yeah, I think we’ll definitely be ready to get as prepared as possible for this Ohio State game,” senior defensive tackle Maurice Hurst offered after the Wolverines (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) fell at Camp Randall for the fourth straight time since 2005.
“It’s just one of those games where you put everything on the line, and it’s a one-game season for us. So, you know, just focus on that game and put our efforts and everything we have into that.”
It’s amazing how quickly the page turns, but few moments, few weeks, skew the overall the picture, tilt the horizon, the way The Big Game does.
A 9-3 record with a win over the Buckeyes (9-2, 7-1) leaves a glow, an asterisk, the kind of singular, feel-good result that magically wipes away weeks of sins.
An 8-4 mark with a sixth straight defeat to Urban Meyer leaves a bruise.
More bruises, more questions, more ennui.
Sooooooooooooooooooooooo much ennui.
“We’re going to treat them like any other opponent,” said Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan’s gifted but mercurial freshman wideout.
No. 9 corrected himself, quickly cutting on a dime.
“We want to win,” Peoples-Jones continued. “We’ve got to come out of there with a win.”
“It’s a must,” interjected freshman defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, who already gets it. “We’ve got to. No ifs, ands or buts about it.”
Saturday wasn’t Penn State — the Wolverines got 83 all-purpose yards out of Peoples-Jones; led 10-7 midway through the third quarter; and sacked Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook three times.
A stick of College Football Playoff dynamite was in their mitts … if they could only figure out how to light the fuse.
And keep poor Brandon Peters upright.
Michigan’s offense is in the sunken place and it can’t get out.
— Torben Rolfsen (@vanguy) November 18, 2017
Michigan’s offense vs Ohio State better be all fullback runs.
— SteveM (@stevey19) November 18, 2017
More the point, is there enough in the tank to ugly it up for three-and-a-half hours? The Wisconsin offense isn’t nearly as multi-faceted as what the Lions trotted out during a 42-13 whupping in State College on Oct. 21.
The Buckeyes and the unholy trio of quarterback J.T. Barrett plus tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are the only cogs in the league that come remotely close to the toys Penn State coach James Franklin gets to play with on a weekly basis. We’ve seen that movie already.
The post-credits scenes ain’t pretty.
“Ohio State is one of those games where we’ve got to capitalize on every opportunity we get,” noted linebacker Devin Bush, whose interception of Hornibrook set up Michigan’s last points of the afternoon. “It’s one of those games where you want to put [everything] on the line.”
Is there another gear?
One shining moment?
“I haven’t beaten them since I’ve been here,” Hurst mused. “I think it’s such a big opportunity just to get to play them and try to grind out a win by any means necessary.”