Michigan football has meltdown at Wisconsin: First-half observations


Michigan football has meltdown at Wisconsin: First-half observations

Michigan football has meltdown at Wisconsin: First-half observations

UPDATE: Michigan lost to Wisconsin, 35-14, on Saturday. Here's our game story: 

MADISON, Wis. — Free Press sports writer Orion Sang provides halftime observations as No. 10 Michigan trails No. 14 Wisconsin, 28-0 at Camp Randall Stadium.

A nightmare

A complete nightmare for Michigan, and possibly as bad of a first half as it could've played. The Wolverines are on their way to suffering an embarrassing blowout loss and have provided little, if any, resistance.

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U-M was undisciplined on both sides of the ball, despite coming off a bye week. Michigan lost a fumble on its opening possession for the third consecutive game this season, wiping out a nice 68-yard pass from Shea Patterson to Ronnie Bell. Later, Donovan Peoples-Jones drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Wisconsin committed pass interference — costing precious yards. 

On defense, it was somehow even worse. The Wolverines didn’t stick to assignments, lost contain and allowed Jonathan Taylor to run free, as he tallied 143 yards and two touchdowns on his first 12 carries before he left with cramps. Michigan’s defense faced plenty of questions entering the season, including whether the interior linemen would be able to hold up against the run. There should be even more concern after Saturday. The Badgers pushed U-M around up front and opened up plenty of running lanes. Combine that with the blown assignments, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Michigan looked completely unready and was badly outplayed on offense and defense. There’s going to be plenty of soul-searching at halftime, and to be honest, I’m not sure how Michigan gets back in this one. Last fall's 62-39 walloping by Ohio State is probably the worst loss of the Harbaugh era, but this is tracking toward being nearly as bad.

Offense falls flat

The story coming into the season: Would Michigan’s new offense be more reliable in big games? 

So far, the answer is a resounding no. The Wolverines hit a big play out the gates, when Patterson rolled out to his right and hit Bell across the middle for 68 yards. It was all downhill from there, though. 

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Michigan brought in fullback-turned-defensive tackle Ben Mason for the goal-line package. The first play: A run pass option that resulted in an incompletion. The second play: Zone read to Mason, who promptly fumbled. 

That’s getting too cute at exactly the wrong time. The Wolverines have Zach Charbonnet, who was in the game for plenty of snaps, carried the ball in the second quarter and caught a screen pass. They also have Christian Turner and other running backs who have been playing offense. Why give the ball to your defensive tackle who hasn’t spent much, if any, time on offense this year? 

It became apparent that Michigan didn’t feel it could run the ball. But the passing game didn’t pick up the slack, either. Wisconsin played tight coverage and clogged up throwing lanes over the middle. 

Wisconsin playing to win

You have to credit Wisconsin’s coaching staff. The Badgers were composed and played nearly mistake-free football. Head coach Paul Chryst played to win, too. He made three gutsy calls to go for it on fourth down — and all paid off. 

Chryst’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches on the opening drive of the game set the tone for the rest of the game. He challenged his team to gain one yard on the ground. And it did. It was mostly smooth sailing for Wisconsin’s offense from that point on. 

Later, with Wisconsin facing a fourth-and-three near midfield, Chryst once again chose to go for it — even though Taylor was injured and wasn’t in the game. The play-call worked perfectly, springing Quintez Cephus loose down the sideline on a wheel route. Quarterback Jack Coan delivered a perfect pass, and Wisconsin’s drive continued. A few plays later, the Badgers went for it on fourth-and-goal — and Coan burst into the end zone on a quarterback sneak.

Again, Chryst challenged his team to simply be better. And it was. 

Contact Orion Sang at osang@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @orion_sang. Read more on the Michigan Wolverines and sign up for our Wolverines newsletter.

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