Dienhart: Badgers 'Wisconsin-ed' Michigan in huge 24-10 victory
It wasn’t pretty. When is it ever for Wisconsin? In fact, at times, it’s was downright ugly, the kind of game only the football cognoscenti could appreciate. But, it was a win. And that’s all that matters to Wisconsin.
The No. 5 Badgers (11-0 overall; 8-0 Big Ten) fought and kicked. They blocked and tackled. Heck, they even bumbled and stumbled at times. And they also played a whole heck of a lot of defense as they prevailed in an oh-so-Wisconsin way. The final: Badgers 24, Michigan 10.
Call it “Wisconsin-ing,” the act of winning ugly.
This victory means Wisconsin’s playoff dreams are still alive. Next up is a visit to Minnesota in a battle for the Paul Bunyan’s Axe next Saturday. Win that, and the only thing standing between the Badgers and their first playoff berth is a win in the Big Ten title game.
No. 24 Michigan is now 1-6 vs. AP Top 10 teams under Jim Harbaugh, whose third Wolverine team is 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the Big Ten and looking up at Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State in the Big Ten East standings. But today wasn’t about Harbaugh or Michigan. It was about the Badgers and the continuing evolution of this program under Paul Chryst, who doesn’t get enough credit.
The offense couldn’t get on track in the first half, as running room was limited for the Badgers and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was often misfiring. In fact, the only Wisconsin touchdown in the opening 30 minutes came on a 50-yard punt return by Nick Nelson. But finally, in the third quarter, the Badgers came alive. Or, more specifically, Hornibrook found his groove.
The sophomore has battled inconsistency this season. Some felt he was the weak link on an otherwise bulletproof Wisconsin team. The stats said so, as Hornibrook has had a knack for throwing interceptions. He was at it again today, tossing another when the game hung in the balance. On the season, he now has a Big Ten-high 13 interceptions and has thrown at least one in each Big Ten game. Will this bugaboo end up costing Wisconsin? It hasn’t so far.
After that pick by Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, Hornibrook settled down and made a few nice throws, including a beautiful 24-yard TD toss to A.J. Taylor late in the third quarter to give UW a 14-10 lead.
On the next drive, Hornibrook delivered a beauty 27-yard pass to Danny Davis to set up a Kendric Pryor 32-yard TD dash at the end of the third quarter to give Wisconsin a 21-10 lead that essentially ended this game.
Once Hornibrook got going, Badger star running back Jonathan Taylor came to life and did what he does so well: shred defenses. Taylor finished with 132 yards on 19 carries vs. a Michigan defense that was allowing 116.8 yards per game.
No way was Michigan coming back, not on this afternoon and not vs. this Wisconsin defense—especially after starting Michigan QB Brandon Peters got knocked out of the game late in the third quarter and John O’Korn took over.
How good was the Wisconsin defense? Really good. Michigan was rationed just 234 yards, running 37 times for 58 yards. The Wolverine quarterbacks hit just 11-of-26 passes for 176 yards. It was a thing to behold for those who love defense. And coordinator Jim Leonhard’s crew is No. 1 in the nation in total defense today. A defense like that can cover up mistakes by Hornibrook.
Hornibrook’s final numbers were classic Hornibrook: 9-of-19 passing for 143 yards with one touchdown and one pick.
But Hornibrook, as he always seems to do, got the win, registering his 17th straight victory, the longest active streak in the FBS. And that’s all that matters in November, when the shadows grow long and the drama gets bigger with each passing week.
It’s playoffs or bust for the Badgers.