ANN ARBOR, MICH. – Two years ago, the Wisconsin Badgers saw a 19-0 halftime Michigan Stadium lead become a stunning 27-25 upset at the hands of the Michigan Wolverines. Just six weeks ago, the Badgers ventured to East Lansing and seemingly had any hopes for a BCS bowl crushed by Michigan State.
Saturday, No. 7 Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1) returned to the Great Lakes State and left with a much better result and BCS hopes intact after a 48-28 victory over the Michigan Wolverines (7-4, 3-4). Behind a dominant running attack, efficient passing game and a resilient defense, the Badgers maintained their composure and outgained the Wolverines 357-168.
“None of those teams of the past were going to play today,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said.
Indeed, Wisconsin was a much different team than the two that suffered those crushing defeats. Running backs James White and Montee Ball dominated the Michigan defense, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns and 173 yards and four touchdowns, respectively. After receiver Isaac Anderson fumbled with 9:45 remaining in the third quarter, the Badgers ran 28 consecutive run plays. The strategy proved effective, as Wisconsin held the ball for 36:59, compared to only 23:01 for Michigan.
“I give credit to Michigan, they’re a really good football team,” Ball said. “We just imposed our will on them and the offensive line did a great job of gluing up the blocks.”
Quarterback Scott Tolzien was nearly perfect on the day, with his only incompletion a second-quarter interception by UM defensive back James Rogers. Tolzien finished 14-15 for 201 yards.
“If there’s anybody at that position that’s playing better than him, I’d like to see who it is,” Bielema said. “He has unbelievable composure, ability to manage – even there in the fourth quarter to milk the clock down to the final seconds, which gave Michigan no time at the end is just one of those little pieces of the puzzle that makes him very, very special.”
Wisconsin didn’t score until 3:15 in the first quarter, after Ball capped off a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive that consumed 5:07 with a one-yard run. On the second play of the second quarter, Michigan kicker Seth Broekhuizen missed a 30-yard field goal, the Wolverines’ ninth missed kick of the year. On the next drive, the Badgers took the ball 72 yards on 12 plays and kicker Phillip Welch connected on a 25-yard field goal to extend Wisconsin’s lead to 10-0.
“It’s obviously nice when a team misses a field goal because that’s a little bit of momentum swing,” defensive end J.J. Watt said. “We just take it one play at a time and do our jobs, and that’s what led to success.”
After forcing a Michigan three-and-out, Wisconsin increased its lead once again with a quicker five-play, 75-yard drive that consumed only 2:28. Ball took the handoff up the middle, broke two tough tackles and ran 27 yards to make it 17-0 Badgers. That was at the 3:50 mark in the second quarter, and little more than a minute later, White broke a 61-yard touchdown run and the score was 24-0.
Michigan came out of halftime and finally got on the board with a 24-yard pass from quarterback Denard Robinson to receiver Darryl Stonum after a 10-play, 71-yard drive. After Anderson’s fumble, Robinson completed a 34-yard pass to Stonum, and on the next play, he ran for a four-yard touchdown to make the score 24-14. Wisconsin began the next possession with a five-yard scramble by Tolzien and then began its streak of 28 consecutive runs. White capped off the eight-play, 69-yard drive with a 23-yard touchdown run, and the score was 31-24.
The Wolverines crept back to within 10 after Robinson ran for an 11-yard score with 3:12 left in the third quarter. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Ball completed a seven-play, 45-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run. On Michigan’s next possession, J.J. Watt brought the dagger, deflecting a pass at the line of scrimmage and intercepting as it came down.
Welch added a field goal on the next drive, and Michigan scored on a 28-yard pass from Robinson to receiver Roy Roundtree, but Wisconsin sealed the win with a nine-play, 40-yard drive and a four-yard Ball touchdown run. The Wolverines could not move the ball on their final possession, and Tolzien kneeled twice to end the game.
“It was confidence,” Watt explained as the key to the Badgers keeping their composure. “We knew we gave up a couple touchdowns, which was an issue, but we fixed our problems and we came out and everybody did their job, everybody calmed down and we just played our assignments and it led to success.”