Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Wisconsin

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
From left, Michigan tight end Zach Gentry, quarterback Shea Patterson, and offensive lineman Ben Bredeson celebrate after Patterson ran for a touchdown in the third quarter.

Five takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 38-13 win over Wisconsin on Saturday.

More strides on the OL

So maybe the offensive line is getting better.

The five men up front helped Michigan gain 320 rushing yards against Wisconsin, including 90 from quarterback Shea Patterson. Left guard Ben Bredeson, a three-year starter, said the linemen were inspired by the large group of former Michigan offensive linemen who were honorary captains. Some spoke to the team Friday night.

“Having them out there for this game and for the offensive line to have a great day like we were able to do, it was the only way we could say thank you to them,” Bredeson said.

More: Harbaugh: Wolverines will be ‘really intense’ against Spartans

Michigan has made strides on the offensive line because of first-year position coach Ed Warinner, the architect of some great Ohio State lines. He also knows how to make adjustments. Michigan gained 83 yards rushing on 16 carries in the first half, then adjusted and the run game flourished.

“We really felt like we were grinding them down through the game and the running game really clicked in the second half,” Bredeson said. “As an offensive line we did a good job finishing this game.”

That might be the most significant accomplishment for the UM offensive line.

“We’ve been in those big games and I’ve personally seen us not be able to finish them,” Bredeson said. “That was a big focus for us this offseason -- changing the culture of the offensive line room. We were going to finish games. We needed a first down to win or a touchdown to win it, we were going to be able to deliver.”

Take no prisoners

The way the defensive players have been talking the last few weeks, they pretty much feel like no opponent should gain a yard on the Wolverines. Certainly, they should never score a point.

Linebacker Josh Uche said after the Wisconsin game that the Wolverines enjoyed stifling the Badgers.

“We just kept pounding. We didn’t even look up,” Uche said. “We didn’t care what they were doing, we just kept pounding, kept doing what we had to do. If they gave up, that’s on them. That’s a personal problem on their side, but we’re going to keep pounding until the clock runs out.”

More: Niyo: Patterson provides the juice as Wolverines are electric under the lights

This goes to the defensive mantra that linebacker Devin Bush shared last week earlier -- that Michigan was not going to beat itself.

“We don’t care who we play,” Uche said. “It doesn’t really matter. We don’t care. You're playing us. You gotta go through us. That’s how we look at it. It doesn’t matter what your accomplishments are, whatever, you’ve got to play us. We’re going to see how good you are when you play us.”

Michigan’s defense is ranked No. 2 nationally and No. 1 against the pass. The Wolverines held Wisconsin back Jonathan Taylor, who was leading the country in rushing entering the game, to 101 yards on 17 carries.

Higdon is the run game

Chris Evans returned after missing three games but was limited, as expected. He had five carries for 18 yards as the coaches eased him back into game speed. Karan Higdon missed a game early this season because of injury, but in five games has rushed for 100 yards or more each time, including a 105-yard, one-touchdown performance against Wisconsin. He’s been the Wolverines go-to back.

“Karan, he’s a horse. He’s our horse,” Shea Patterson said. “He’s our leader on the team on the offense and we follow him, and he sets the tone for the game. That opens up everything else.”

With Michigan State coming up and then Penn State a week after the bye, Evans will be needed for contributions in the run game along with Tru Wilson. But as it stands now, Higdon is the main threat.

Key kicks

When Wisconsin tied the game, 7-7, kicker Quinn Nordin made kicks from 42 and 33 yards to give Michigan a 13-7 lead. He missed a 41-yarder at the end of the Wolverines’ first possession of the game and a 54-yarder before halftime, but he was 3-for-5 in the game, giving them critical points at critical times. Patterson blamed himself for putting Nordin in a tough spot with the 54-yarder because he was sacked and fumbled for an enormous loss during the drive. Nordin is 11-of-14 this season and has a long of 50 yards. He had made seven straight before the first-quarter miss. He has missed one extra point this season.

Confident going to MSU

There is a swagger with this team, and the players and coaches were saying a week ago that this was starting to feel like a special season. And that was before the start of this tough three-game stretch that began with the win over Wisconsin. Jay Harbaugh said it’s not arrogance but confidence and trust.

Michigan will need plenty of that heading to Michigan State. The Spartans have struggled but scored a big win at Penn State and have dominated the in-state rivalry the past 10 years. Michigan players said all the right things after the win over Wisconsin, and Shea Patterson, who will make his first appearance in the rivalry, said he understands what’s at stake.

What we keep seeing from this team is a sense that it’s more complete, not just a defense-only team. The defense is gaining confidence from the offense, and special teams have contributed.


Twitter: @chengelis