The Michigan Wolverines have been playing home football games in The Big House since 1927, and tonight Big Blue suffered their largest ever halftime deficit at the historic venue.
There was no magical comeback on Michigan’s behalf. Rather, the University of Wisconsin football team’s commanding 28–0 halftime lead evolved into a 49–11 final score. The game was over well before time expired.
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For No. 13 Wisconsin, it wasn’t a question of how capable this team was coming into tonight’s game, but how these Badgers would respond following a two-week layoff due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Evidently, Head Coach Paul Chryst’s team didn’t miss a beat.
Fresh off the COVID-19 list, touted redshirt freshman Badger quarterback Graham Mertz got some early help from his defense to jumpstart the first-half onslaught. Over the course of Michigan’s first three offensive drives, the Wolverines totaled a miserable one yard of offense as quarterback Joe Milton served up two interceptions in their own territory.
The short fields allowed Wisconsin to open up their play calling, taking the pressure off Mertz early by utilizing end arounds and double reverses to beat Michigan outside the hashes. Sideline-to-sideline tonight, Wisconsin was quicker on both sides of the ball.
Capitalizing on Michigan’s early mistakes, Wisconsin found themselves up 14–0 before anyone could even bat an eye.
Does anyone have senior fullback Mason Stokke on their college fantasy football team? Stokke found the endzone twice in the first half, once on the ground and once through the air. Redshirt sophomore running back Nakia Watson joined Stokke as the team’s co-leader in touchdowns with two. In total, the Badgers scored seven touchdowns, including five on the ground and two through the air. The offense amassed 341 rushing yards with four players totaling over 60 yards each.
As if Wisconsin’s 28–0 lead nearing half wasn’t soul-crushing enough, Michigan’s only chance at first-half points resulted in an overturned touchdown, followed by a stuffing of Milton on fourth and goal. At that moment, I swore I saw a few of Michigan’s cardboard cutouts make a break for the exit. If you were looking for a defining moment in this game, that sequence certainly ranks near the top.
Beyond complete domination from start to finish, Badger fans were excited to see key freshmen making big contributions. That’s right, Mertz wasn’t the only freshman phenom involved in the Badger offense. Receiver Chimere Dike and running back Jalen Berger both stepped up.
Dike set up two touchdowns tonight, once with a 30-yard reception and another with a 30-yard carry. Berger totaled 100 all-purpose yards while leading the team with 15 rushing attempts and 87 rushing yards. Berger even found the endzone in the second half for his first career Badger touchdown.
As for the Badger defense, the 11 points surrendered speaks for itself. From physical cornerback play to constant pressure in the backfield, suffocating is the primary adjective that comes to mind.
For those wondering what happened to the Wolverines tonight, you have to go back to each of their past few games. This is Big Blue’s third consecutive loss after falling to Michigan State and No. 10 Indiana. For a team that was once ranked No. 15 coming into the season — one spot ahead of the Badgers — the list of concerns continues to grow. The Wolverines are beyond any quick fix. This team is experiencing an identity crisis, and Head Coach John Harbaugh is right in the thick of it.
The Badgers remain unbeaten after their long-awaited second game. Looking ahead, they will have to play the remainder of their schedule to qualify for a Big Ten title and beyond. It won’t be easy.
Next week, it’s a showdown in Evanston against a resurgent No. 23 Northwestern team. The Wildcats improved to 4-0 after their 27–20 victory over Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Wisconsin-Northwestern matchup will likely represent a de facto Big Ten West title game, similar to Wisconsin’s Thanksgiving weekend game against Minnesota last season.
Stay tuned, more coverage on that matchup to come later this week. Until then, rejoice in the Badgers’ triumphant return to the gridiron.