ANN ARBOR, Mich. – At first, it looked like it was going to be an aerial circus for Wisconsin. Quarterback Scott Tolzien went 13-for-13 passing to start the game and the Badger receivers were open time and time again.
But anyone who follows UW football knows better than that.
So it comes as little surprise that with the game in hand, Wisconsin’s last 29 plays, not counting Tolzien taking a knee twice, were rushes – 28 designed runs in a row after a Tolzien scramble.
“We were setting them up for play action,” head coach Bret Bielema joked. “(Offensive coordinator Chryst) Paul makes those decisions, I got on and said, ‘Hey, they can’t stop your run game.’ Point blank. There wasn’t anything they could do to slow that down.”
Following an Isaac Anderson fumble in the third quarter, Michigan got the ball back at the UW 38-yard line. Two plays later, the score was 24-14 and the game began to look eerily similar to the Badgers’ epic collapse at Michigan Stadium in 2008. Anderson was hit after a five yard gain and lost the ball. It would be the last time Wisconsin would pass for the rest of the game.
So with a 10-point lead, the Badgers decided to do what they do best: Just keep it on the ground.
“That’s awesome… I knew we ran the ball a lot, I didn’t even realize how much we ran it until everyone was saying we passed the ball one time or something like that,” left tackle Gabe Carimi said.
The Badgers finished with 357 yards on the ground, as freshman running back James White had 181 yards and sophomore Montee Ball had 173. The two combined for all six of UW’s touchdowns, White with two and Ball with four.
The UW rushing attack, fresh off a 338-yard day against Indiana, continued to roll in Ann Arbor. In the first half alone, the Badgers had 183 yards rushing and a 24-0 lead.
Not only did UW’s backs get yards in small chunks at a time, they were able to break free for big gains. Wisconsin had 13 runs go for at least 10 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown run by White in the second quarter, where right tackle Ricky Wagner and receiver Nick Toon made key blocks upfield to allow him to score.
“It’s tough, I feel for Michigan’s defense,” UW safety Jay Valai said. “When you’re getting the ball thrown at you like that and just getting ran on, just punish, punish, punish, it’s tough and it’s frustrating.”
Ball credited Tolzien’s early success in the passing game for opening up the running opportunities. He and White were also happy to have been used so much to finish the game.
“We love that,” Ball said. “That’s a great feeling when you know the offense is looking at you to kill some clock or score some touchdowns. I’ve got to give credit to the offensive line for doing a great job up front; they manhandled them up there.”
Watt comes up big again
Big time players make big time plays in big time games. That’s the mantra former UW standout defensive end O’Brien Schofield told current Badger pass rusher J.J. Watt to live by.
It’s evident the 6-foot-6 end is taking his former teammate’s advice to heart.
Watt recovered two fumbles last week against Indiana, blocked a crucial extra point at Iowa and has come up with game-changing sacks of Ricky Stanzi and Terrelle Pryor this season. When UW needed a play against UM, it was Watt who answered the call once again.
After the Wolverines’ offense came alive in the second half, the Badgers’ 24-0 halftime lead looked less and less stable. Although by the early fourth quarter, UW was up 38-17, UM was able to drive quickly down the field and still looked threatening.
Until Watt stepped in.
On a second-and-10, Watt got in the way of UM quarterback Denard Robinson, putting his arms up and tipping a pass high into the air. After what seemed like an eternity, the ball came back down, right into the UW end’s arms. Watt was able to rumble 15 yards before Robinson tackled him.
“It had to have gone 75, 80 yards up in the air, because it felt like forever,” Watt said. “I was just standing there, waiting for it to come down and I was like, ‘Someone is going to tackle me before I get this.'”
Robinson, who broke the NCAA record for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback (he has 1,538 now), is considered one of the fastest players in college football. He and Watt were able to have a laugh about the footrace as they walked off the field after the game, because for a minute, Watt thought he was home free.
“I thought for about two seconds, until I realized, hey, I forgot, they have No. 16 over there and he’s pretty quick,” Watt said with a laugh. “I was talking to him after the game and I said, ‘You got me pretty good.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m kind of fast.’ I said, ‘I’m not.'”