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'Not in a good place': Michigan in disarray after being walloped by Wisconsin

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — The losses are snowballing for Michigan, which had a jumble of mistakes against Wisconsin as the Wolverines continue to reach new depths.

The Wolverines sunk quickly in the first half against Wisconsin, a team that had missed the last two games because of COVID-19 issues and played without a handful of starters Saturday night at Michigan Stadium, and could never climb its way from a deep, deep hole.

Wisconsin fullback Mason Stokke celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter.

Just as was the case last year when the Badgers battered Michigan in the Big Ten opener, they took a 28-0 lead into halftime. Two of the Badgers’ touchdowns came off interceptions of first-year starting quarterback Joe Milton in their dominating 49-11 victory. Milton was intercepted on the Wolverines’ first offensive play of the game when it deflected off the hands of tight end Nick Eubanks.

Michigan is 1-3 for the first time since 1967 when Bump Elliott was coach, having lost three straight, to Michigan State, Indiana and Wisconsin, and is 0-2 at home in this abbreviated Big Ten-only season.

BOX SCORE: Wisconsin 49, Michigan 11

Jim Harbaugh, in his sixth season coaching the Wolverines, did not mince words after the game.

“We were thoroughly beaten in every phase and didn’t really do anything well,” Harbaugh said. “Did not play good, did not coach good. Not in a good place with the execution, not in a good place adjusting and what we were doing schematically. Not in a good place as a football team right now and that falls on me.

“And gotta get after really going back to basics and everything that we do and look at everything we’re doing. Everybody, everybody’s gotta do better and as I said, I’m at the front of the line with accountability.”

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Missing starting defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye — Hutchinson is out for the season with a broken ankle and Paye missed the game with an undisclosed injury — and starting offensive tackles Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, who missed their second-straight starts because of injuries, there were problems across the board for Michigan.

The defense sagged again, but this time it wasn’t about the cornerbacks getting burned — the Wolverines gave up 644 passing yards the last two games. Instead, Wisconsin, which has long been run-focused, tore into Michigan’s defense rushing for 341 yards. Of the Badgers’ seven touchdowns, five came on the ground — Nakia Watson scored two, and Danny Davis, Mason Stokke, and Jalen Berger each had one.

Meanwhile, Michigan’s offense, which ran 28 fewer plays than Wisconsin, was stagnant yet again. The Wolverines got a spark late in the third quarter when backup quarterback Cade McNamara entered the game with 4:45 left. He connected with Ronnie Bell for a 23-yard reception the first play and three plays later, gave Michigan its only touchdown, a 23-yard pass to Mike Sainristil. McNamara and Giles Jackson connected for the two-point conversion.

“Every part is not close to where it should be,” Harbaugh said. “Stopping the run, stopping the pass, running the football offensively, throwing in the passing game. All things thoroughly not where they need to be in terms of execution. So that starts with me, starts with our coaches, and also every person here. Understanding what we’re supposed to do and then going and executing it.

“If somebody’s not executing it, then why is that? Are we communicating? Are we coaching it well enough? There’s nothing right now to say that an acceptable job is being done right now, players or coaches.“

The Wolverines entered this game having given up one turnover, on an interception, through the first three games. But on the Wolverines’ first possession against the Badgers, Milton’s pass deflected off the hands of intended receiver tight end Nick Eubanks into the hands of Scott Nelson.

Wisconsin started its next drive at the Michigan 33-yard line and scored four plays later to take a 7-0 lead. The Badgers built a 14-0 lead after picking off Milton again, this time on a 3rd-and-16 play. At that point, Michigan had 1 yard of offense and had possessed the ball 1:49.

Milton finished 9-of-19 for 98 yards.

“That’s something we really have to look at — did Joe understand the keys, where he was looking,” Harbaugh said. “Threw a ball right to another guy (on the second interception). I think the first one, he was rolling out of the pocket, I thought he threw a good ball, it was a contested catch, but should’ve been made. Ball got tipped up and they were very opportunistic and made the interception. Second one, threw it right to (them). Didn’t have a lane to throw and made the throw anyway and it got intercepted.”

The Wolverines spiraled after getting in a quick hole, down 14-0.

“Things just happened, things played out like that,” defensive lineman and captain Carlo Kemp said. “The game started out with two turnovers and we as a defense had a chance to get stops, stop them and hold the field position, and that’s something we didn’t end up doing. We had those turnovers that led to 14 points. We had to overcome that deficit the rest of the game. Looking back at it, something going forward is, when those things happen, sudden change, adversity strikes, you’ve got to take it upon yourself, we’ve got to get those stops and hold them to as little points as possible in those moments.”

But as Harbaugh pointed out, it wasn’t just one area that was lacking. For the second straight game, Michigan could not get anything going running the ball. Last week at Indiana, the Wolverines had 13 yards on 18 carries. Against the Badgers, Michigan had 47 rushing yards. Sure, Michigan was playing catch-up, but the run game was abandoned early. The running backs, considered the strength of the offense entering this season, combined for 32 yards on 11 carries.

With four games left before the final crossover game during the “championship week”, Harbaugh said it’s about making sure the players understand what they’re being asked to do.

“And therefore they can go for it, because there seems to be hesitation, there seems to be some confusion, some lack of communication on both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively,” he said. “And getting things adjusted to, getting things fixed, just identifying how to improve in those areas are some of the first things that we’re gonna address.”

angelique.chengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com: @chengelis