Rapid Reaction: Wisconsin ends layoff by routing Michigan
Wisconsin came into Saturday’s game at Michigan off of an unwanted two-week break because of COVID-19 cases that popped up throughout the program, causing two games to be canceled.
But at The Big House, the Badgers looked like they hadn’t lost a step on the field or a rep in practice.
No. 13-ranked Wisconsin pounded Michigan, racing to a 28-0 lead on the way to a 49-11 victory. The Badgers piled up more than 300 yards rushing — the second straight year that they had at least 300 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground against UM.
Michigan started to execute a bit on offense in the second half but it was way too late. Backup quarterback Cade McNamara entered in the third quarter with UM trailing 35-3, replacing struggling starter Joe Milton. On his first drive, McNamara went 3-for-3 for 74 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Mike Sainristil. McNamara also hit Giles Jackson for a 2-point conversion.
Milton was 9-of-19 for 98 yards and two interceptions when he was pulled.
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz had no such concerns. He didn’t have big numbers (just 12-of-22 for 127) but unlike Milton he avoided turnovers and threw for 2 touchdowns.
After getting blown out in all phases in the first half, the Wolverines got on the scoreboard with Quinn Nordin’s 46-yard field goal to cap a 7-play, 47-yard drive. But Wisconsin kept its foot on the gas, driving 44 yards in 5 plays capped by Mertz’s 13-yard TD pass to Jake Ferguson.
Wisconsin showed a willingness to open the playbook early — a double reverse and a couple of end-around plays got the ball in the hands of the team’s outside playmakers even as Mertz struggled early.
But really, the Badgers didn’t need their trademark grind-it-out style anyway. The Badgers defense simply forced mistakes early and Wisconsin outgained Michigan 129-1 in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, Wisconsin did turn to its smashmouth tradition as fullback Mason Stokke bulled in for a 1-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
On the next Badgers drive, Nakia Watson was barely touched until he flattened a defender at the goal line on a 10-yard run to cap a 74-yard drive. Just like that, Wisconsin led 28-0 before Michigan even had a first down.
The Wolverines finally put together a good drive late in the second quarter, going 74 yards in 13 plays, only to get stopped on a fourth-and-goal run by Milton.
In the first quarter, on the first Michigan offensive play after a Badgers punt, Wisconsin safety Scott Nelson picked off a deflected pass from Milton — intended receiver Nick Eubanks couldn’t hold onto the pass — to give the visitors possession at the Michigan 33-yard line. A 30-yard double reverse run by Chimere Dike helped set up Watson’s 2-yard dive into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.
The second UM drive ended just as badly.
Milton’s pass on 3rd and 16 went right to Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal, who was sitting down in coverage. Chenal returned it 31 yards to the UM 14 and Wisconsin scored 4 plays later on a 1-yard toss from Mertz, on a rollout to the left, to Stokke.
Mertz was one of the Badgers players who tested positive for COVID-19 in recent weeks and was questionable even late in the week after waiting out the required protocols. Wisconsin hadn’t played since beating Illinois on Oct. 23 because of the nearly two dozen coronavirus cases that the program reported.
Michigan was hurting on both lines going into the game. Defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, both preseason All-B1G picks, were out injured; Hutchinson has been ruled out for the season. UM was also missing offensive tackles Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield, both starters.