Michigan: Five things we learned vs. Wisconsin
O-line issues continue
Quarterback issues, running game issues — sure and sure — but those stem from a bigger issue, and that’s the offensive line. While it looked like it had taken a step forward in recent weeks, that progress came against some of the weakest teams in the Big Ten. The line was exposed against by Wisconsin, the nation’s top-ranked defense, and it cost another quarterback, this time, Brandon Peters, to get pounded and, eventually, knocked out of the game. Michigan has had two quarterbacks injured and forced to leave the game, with starter Wilton Speight suffering three fractured vertebrae at Purdue on Sept. 23.
“Brandon I thought was very good,” coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game. “We can’t get him hit as much. I thought we needed to get better at that. They played a three-man pick stunt that was effectively holding our center and we weren’t able to slide off of that, and that got us beat a few times.”
Wisconsin had two sacks, five quarterback hurries, and held the Wolverines to 58 rushing yards (1.6 yards per carry). There’s been a new starter at right guard, Cesar Ruiz, but he isn’t the issue. There is inconsistency across the board in pass protection, veterans included. The line play was the question mark position group going into the season and has remained so the entire year.
A week after Harbaugh and kicker Quinn Nordin had an exchange after the redshirt freshman missed his third straight field-goal attempt in three games, Nordin made a big kick on the road. He had a 39-yarder in the third quarter that gave Michigan a 10-7 lead. He had made 10 straight field goals when he had the lull, missing three field goals and two extra points in the previous four games.
“It was really good to see Quinn make that field goal with a backup snapper,” Harbaugh said. “Andrew Robinson was in the game after Camaron Cheeseman went out, so … good to see that.”
Hill’s absence noticeable
Cornerback Lavert Hill suffered a concussion in the game at Maryland and was held out of the Wisconsin game. Brandon Watson started in place of Hill, Michigan’s best corner, but freshman Jaylen Kelly-Powell got some playing time. Michigan had just taken a 10-7 lead on Quinn Nordin’s field goal when the Badgers came right back with a 77-yard scoring drive. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook hit A.J. Taylor for 51 yards on a third-and-13 and Kelly-Powell was on the coverage.
On the Badgers’ next possession, Hornibrook made another big third-down completion to Danny Davis III for 27 yards. While Michigan’s defense had been playing well, giving up those key third-down conversions were significant.
“We just didn’t execute on third down,” senior tackle Maurice Hurst said. “We got them there twice, and we didn’t follow through like we should have. That led to them getting points, and getting on the board.”
So now what at quarterback?
Peters was showing signs of getting very comfortable in the offense and was getting into a rhythm before taking the big hit that knocked him out of the game. Just as he seemed to give the entire offense a lift the first time he came in late in the first quarter of the Rutgers game, the offense seemed to deflate when he exited.
If Peters isn’t able to go against Ohio State, more than likely John O’Korn will get the start.
“John is completely capable of running our offense,” Hurst. said. “He’ll do a fine job for us. He treats every week like he’s going to be the starting quarterback. He’ll be ready to go for next week.”
Is Speight a legitimate option to get in at quarterback? He needs to be cleared medically, but he did start throwing last week in practice. Because he hasn’t played in a game since Sept. 23, though, he seems like a long shot.
Still remaining upbeat
While a certain edge seems to be missing from this team as a whole, the players do keep remaining positive each week. The regular-season finale against Ohio State is on Saturday, and they all said it is a must-win. Will they catch an Ohio State team that already has clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game perhaps taking the game for granted? Doubtful.
Michigan has tried all season to prove something significant in a big game, and here’s the last chance before the bowl game. A nine-win season would be a plus with the opportunity to play for a 10th in the bowl game. Do the Wolverines have it in them? Offensively, particularly the line, seems far from consistent performances, but can they get it together for one game? The players seem to think so, and that’s a start.