Michigan football: Three things we learned vs. Wisconsin

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Three takeaways from Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News following Michigan's 38-17 win against Wisconsin on Saturday.

Still mistake-free

Michigan's Cade McNamara throws a pass during the first half against Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

Cade McNamara is 50-of-81 for 731 yards and five touchdowns. He has completed nearly 62% of his passes.

He isn’t the flashiest guy and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has said several times how much he likes the way McNamara manages and moves the team.

But what might be the most important aspect of his game is what he hasn’t done. McNamara hasn’t thrown an interception or fumbled since he took over last season at Rutgers when Michigan trailed 17-0 and he led the triple-overtime comeback.

“My decision-making is something I take a lot of pride in, and I think going into this game, especially when you’re playing better teams, any momentum that another team can get can be a difference in the game,” McNamara said. “I think me taking care of the ball is my contribution to the team in terms of us playing complementary football. When we have a good defense like this, and I don’t give the other offense any momentum, that’s my contribution.”

First-year difference-maker

When playing on the road, having a strong defensive performance is key, and that’s what Michigan got on Saturday at Wisconsin, with the exception of a lull late in the first half.

Mike Macdonald is a first-year coordinator, hired from the Baltimore Ravens where he spent the last seven years. He has fit the pieces together well through five games.

Michigan had seven three-and-outs, six sacks, including 2.5 from David Ojabo, who also forced a fumble for the second straight game.

Macdonald's objective heading into the season was to make edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson and safety Dax Hill the focal points, accentuating their strengths. Hutchinson is a high-energy leader and leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Hill was impactful against Wisconsin with an interception against Wisconsin and is second on the team in tackles with 24. He also was credited with a half-sack on Saturday and has four pass breakups and three quarterback hurries this season.

But Macdonald deserves plenty of credit for getting this group in sync.

“Mike, the entire defensive staff was really dialed in,” Harbaugh said. “The communication was a lot better when you’re playing on the road defensively it helps a lot. Just continually getting better in specific areas and really put it all together (against Wisconsin).”

Getting aggressive

 Michigan looked more creative on offense against Wisconsin, in large part because the assignment going into the game was to figure out how to run against a defense that wasn’t yielding many rushing yards and how to be aggressive and keep the Badgers on their heels.

“We threw the ball on the first play of the game,” Harbaugh said, drawing laughs.

After all, this has been a run-first offense, and therein was the joke. And yes, Michigan broke form and threw on the first play of the game, but the offense was looking for balance.

The Wolverines remained committed to running the ball and had 112 yards rushing, while throwing for 253 yards. They also used freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy in smart ways, and he finished with rushing and passing touchdowns.

And Michigan scored on a flea-flicker and converted on 4-of-5 fourth-down attempts.

“We really believe in our quarterbacks. We believe in our receivers, tight ends,” Harbaugh said. “We believe we can throw the ball well. We believe we can run it well. We’re going to do both.”

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis