Michigan gets the 'jump' on Wisconsin, improves to 5-0
Madison, Wis. — Michigan was looking for a lot of things going on the road for the first time this season. The Wolverines, obviously, wanted to preserve their unbeaten record, but they wanted to make a statement in a stadium that had been a house of horrors for them.
The 14th-ranked Wolverines had not won at Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium the last five meetings, and they wanted to prove they could silence a rowdy crowd by showing their mettle, being aggressive both defensively and offensively.
With that in mind, Michigan relied on a stout defense, the offense had some different looks with Cade McNamara starting at quarterback but five-star freshman J.J. McCarthy seeing more calculated playing time in the second half, and the Wolverines also wanted to prove they could run when needed against the nation’s top-ranked rush defense.
The Wolverines ended a losing streak that lasted through two decades, defeating the Badgers, 38-17, before 74,855 Saturday at Camp Randall on three passing touchdowns, a rushing score and three field goals from Jake Moody. Michigan is 5-0, while Wisconsin (1-3) got its final touchdown with 32 seconds left.
“They had that kind of vibe about them when they first stepped in the locker room when we got here early this morning, and the vibe was they weren’t gonna flinch when the punches were thrown,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Wisconsin starting quarterback Graham Mertz was knocked out of the game early in the second half, as was tight end Jake Ferguson, both with what was called a “chest injury.” Mertz lingered on the field appearing to grab at his ribs after taking a big hit on a sack by Josh Ross and Dax Hill.
The Badgers entered the game minus-7 in turnover margin, mostly because of Mertz’s six interceptions and two fumbles, and in the fourth quarter, with backup Chase Wolf in the game, the turnovers dinged the Badgers again. They lost a fumble on a sack by David Ojabo that was recovered by Chris Hinton, and on the Badgers’ next series, Hill got an interception, the Wolverines' second of the season.
Michigan’s defense, which held the Badgers to four straight three-and-outs to open the game before sagging late in the half and allowing them to pull within 13-10 at halftime, had six sacks, including 2½ credited to Ojabo, and had the fumble recovery and interception. Michigan held Wisconsin to 210 yards, including 43 rushing.
Harbaugh raved about the intensity of Michigan’s blitzes and the pressure applied to the Badgers.
“Thought we had a lot of really good push in the middle, which was great to see (from) Hinton, Mazi Smith, Donovan Jeter,” Harbaugh said. “The edge pressure was getting home. I thought we did a really good job disguising those blitzes. Just a great job of getting the quarterback off his spot in the pocket.”
Michigan has been a strong-starting team this year and had not committed a turnover this season until the final series of this game when backup Alan Bowman was intercepted. The Wolverines had 365 yards of offense against a defense that was ranked third nationally yielding an average 210.3 yards. The Badgers boasted the nation’s top-ranked rush defense and had held opponents to an average 23 yards a game, but Michigan gained 112 on 44 carries. Hassan Haskins had 47 yards on 19 carries (2.5 per carry) and Blake Corum had 46 on 15 (3.1).
There had been talk entering the game that because Michigan had been so reliant on the run, could McNamara be asked to throw the ball and carry the team on the road? He was 17-of-28 for 197 yards and had two touchdown passes to Cornelius Johnson, the first on a flea-flicker for 34 yards in the first quarter. Johnson said they had been working on the play since camp.
“I kinda knew going into this game it would be difficult to run the ball,” McNamara said when asked if he had heard doubts about his ability to throw. “I accepted the challenge, and we got the dub. That’s all I got.”
It was an opportunity to work in McCarthy, who gives Michigan a different look at quarterback with his ability to run, and his big arm. He had three carries for 7 yards and a touchdown, and on his only pass connected with Daylen Baldwin for a 56-yard touchdown. The two had combined for McCarthy’s first collegiate touchdown, a 69-yarder in the season-opener.
“He’s really athletic,” Harbaugh said of McCarthy. “We thought we’d have some looks for him to be able to pull the ball and try to get the ball in the perimeter. We got one where he had a nice gain, a 9-yard gain. He can throw the ball really good, too. Trying to get him in there as much as we can, that’s the thinking.”
The Michigan players were feeling good about themselves particularly after taking over in the second half. during Wisconsin’s famed “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters when the fans jump up and down to the music and the stadium shakes, the Wolverines were also jumping enthusiastically.
“My freshman year, I remember ‘Jump Around,’ they were up third quarter, so we put an emphasis on that,” Hill said. “We wanted to be up the entire game and once that came on, that was going to be our juice. We was going to steal their juice, and that’s what we did, and that carried on the rest of the game.”
Perhaps in response to how he found his team to be so in tune from the time they arrived at the stadium, Harbaugh wanted to be aggressive in offensive play-calling. The Wolverines were four-of-five on fourth-down attempts.
“I really felt like from the time we got here to the stadium early this morning just walking around talking to all the players, it was a vibe they weren’t going to be denied,” Harbaugh said. “Was going to give them every chance to attack. Wanted to bring that to life.”