UM stuffs Badgers with ‘lights out’ defense, Darboh

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Michigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis  (26) celebrates a big defensive stop late in the fourth quarter along with teammates Michigan linebacker Mike McCray (9) and Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton (33).

Ann Arbor – Michigan was looking to make a statement against a top-10 opponent, something the program has sought the better part of the last decade.

The fourth-ranked Wolverines, 0-11 against top-10 teams since beating Wisconsin in 2008, missed three field goals, lost their starting left tackle, struggled to convert on third down and often failed to take advantage of field position. But an impressive showing by the defense – and a game-saving interception by Jourdan Lewis – was the difference.

Michigan defeated No. 8 Wisconsin, 14-7, on Saturday before 111,846 at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines are 5-0 – all games played at home – and are 2-0 in the Big Ten.

Channing Stribling had two interceptions, but Lewis made a phenomenal one-handed interception on fourth-down near at the Wisconsin 46-yard line with just more than two minutes left to preserve the win. Lewis said he jumped a bit early and because of that couldn’t use both hands to defend the throw intended for George Rushing.

BOX SCORE: Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7

“The ball was in the air, and I knew I had to make a play on it, either knock it down or do what I did,” Lewis said. “I jumped too early so I couldn’t go get it with two. So I put my hand up there and see what happens.

“It was a great play. I’m just glad I could seal the deal for my team.”

The defense held Wisconsin to 159 yards, including 71 rushing. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was 9-of-25 for 88 yards and had one touchdown and the three interceptions.

“Our defensive line was lights out,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “It was a game ball for (defensive coordinator) Don Brown kind of a game. Very impressed with our defense, our defensive coaches and with the character of our defensive players and their talent.”

Wisconsin’s only score followed Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight’s lone interception. Derrick Tindal returned it 46 yards to the Michigan 31-yard line. Dare Ognubowale scored on a 17-yard reception. But like Michigan, Wisconsin struggled on third down. The Badgers converted 4-of-15, while Michigan converted 3-of-15.

“They’ve got a good defense,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said after the game. “I’ve always had a lot of respect going up against Coach Brown. It’s a good scheme with really good football players. It presents some challenges. They played us a lot of man. How many of those did we win? Not enough.”

It was the first time this season Michigan’s defense had all its top players, with the exception of Jeremy Clark, who suffered a season-ending injury last week. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone was back after suffering an injury in the season opener, joining Taco Charlton and Lewis, who returned last week.

Speight was 20-of-32 for 219 yards and had one touchdown and an interception. Khalid Hill scored Michigan’s first touchdown, his fourth of the season.

The Wolverines had not scored since the first play of the second quarter. But they got the go-ahead touchdown with just less than eight minutes in the game on a 46-yard pass from Speight to Amara Darboh. The two connected on the previous play, a third-and-7, for a 15-yard gain.

“Pre-snap coach (Jedd) Fisch dialed up a good one,” Speight said. “We all really love that play. It’s a play-action where I can take a shot. I saw a single high one-on-one with Darboh. That’s probably the best scenario as a quarterback I could hear – one-on-one with Amara Darboh. It was still solid coverage. I knew I needed to put it in one spot and one spot only, and he made a great play.”

Said Darboh: “It was perfect. It was one-on-one coverage, the safety was in the middle. I got inside my guy, and Wilton threw a perfect ball and I just had to run underneath it.”

Harbaugh said the play was designed to go to tight end Jake Butt.

“I saw Wilton wheel and throw it to Amara and I saw Amara had a step on him or two,” Harbaugh said. “And you just kind of hold your breath the last split second to see that it doesn’t get deflected. I really felt good when the ball was in the air. Wilton has been extremely good throwing the deep ball, extremely accurate throwing the deep ball. It was a tremendous play.

“The slant a couple plays before that, also to Amara, was another excellent throw. We didn’t give Wilton the pass protection today we would have liked and he deserves, but when he had protection and he was able to set his feet and throw the football, I thought he was very effective.”

Speight took four sacks from the Badgers.

Michigan left nine possible points on the field with two field-goal misses by Kenny Allen, who is 4-of-8 this season, and one miss by Ryan Tice on his only attempt. The offense also endured a blow with the loss of left tackle Grant Newsome, a sophomore and first-year starter. Harbaugh said Newsome likely will require surgery for a leg injury.

Ty Isaac, who rushed for 48 yards on eight carries, said it was exactly the kind of game the Wolverines expected from Wisconsin.

“We talked about it all week – it’s probably going to be a close game, it’s probably going to be physical, it’s probably going to come down to the end,” Isaac said. “We didn’t put as many points on the board as we wanted to, but this was a game we expected to go a 14-7 game, something like that. Any time you can beat a top-10 team and let the world know we’ve got something going on here … we’ve got a great defense and it’s special. Especially when you can win one like this, it’s special.”

The Wolverines now head to Rutgers for their first road game.

“It’s not like fluke stuff,” Isaac said of the 5-0 start. “We’re playing physical. We have a really a good defense, the offense is playing well. We respect everybody’s game in this conference, but we have that confidence in knowing each man next to you is going to play as hard as they can for as long as they can.”

Michigan wide receiver Amara Darboh and the Wolverines are 6-0, ranked No. 3 in the polls and a heavy favorite to beat rival Michigan State on Oct. 29.