Michigan vs. Wisconsin score, takeaways: No. 13 Badgers dominate, make Big Ten statement
Wisconsin made a statement on Saturday that it, not Michigan, is the real challenger to Ohio State
Consider this a message sent. No. 13 Wisconsin dominated No. 11 Michigan on Saturday, beating the Wolverines 35-14. The game was every bit the blowout that the score suggests as Wisconsin went 75 yards for a touchdown on its opening drive of the game and never took its foot off the gas in jumping ahead 35-0 before allowing a couple of late touchdowns.
Wisconsin put together a mix of efficiency, aggressiveness and brutality that set the tone for the entire afternoon. The Badgers went for it on a fourth down on their first possession and did so twice more during the game. They converted every single time as Michigan's defense looked helpless. Whether it was Heisman Trophy hopeful Jonathan Taylor, the burly Garrett Groshek or even Jack Coan, the Badgers were able to get whatever they wanted in the ground game.
Taylor, who missed a large portion of the first half while dealing with cramps, still managed to finish with 203 yards rushing and two touchdowns. It was likely a 72-yard touchdown run that led to the cramps. As a team, Wisconsin averaged 6.4 yards per carry.
On defense, the Badgers swarmed and choked the life out of the Michigan offense early. The Wolverines offense averaged 5.1 yards per play on the day, but those numbers are misleading. Michigan's first play on offense in the game covered 68 yards, and there were some plays made late in the game when the outcome had been decided. Between then, it was a whole lot of nothing, which is accurately reflected in the 2.0 yards per carry the Wolverines averaged on the ground.
Here are four main takeaways from Saturday's game.
1. Wisconsin might be the second-best team in the Big Ten. The Badgers came into this game with a record of 2-0 and had outscored opponents 110-0. The problem was their first two games were against South Florida and Central Michigan, and nothing those two teams have shown so far suggests they'll be very good in 2019. So, coming on the heels of an 8-5 season last year, while people were optimistic about what the Badgers had shown through two games, most people were only dipping their toes in the water.
Saturday likely changed that.
Wisconsin didn't just beat Michigan on Saturday -- the Badgers simply dominated. It was a performance that didn't look much different from what the Wisconsin had done to both USF and CMU as it grabbed control of the game early and never let go. Now, based on how it played, I'm sure some will question whether it was a case of Wisconsin being good or Michigan being bad. I don't think I'm making a bold statement by saying Michigan isn't nearly as good as its rank coming into the game would suggest, but Wisconsin did exactly what good teams do to inferior opponents. If you look at the Big Ten right now, the Badgers look like the best team in the conference behind Ohio State. They are the only two programs which have been dominant through three games this year.
2. Jack Coan is a difference-maker for the Badgers. I wrote about it earlier this week, but Coan makes the Wisconsin offense more dynamic. The last few years with Alex Hornibrook handcuffed what Wisconsin could do in the passing game, and that's no longer the case with Coan. He doesn't have a cannon for an arm, nor is he ever going to be asked to utilize it all that often, but Coan's efficiency and accuracy make this offense so much more dangerous.
Coan threw only 16 passes on Saturday but completed 13 of them for 128 yards. He also made plays with his legs while rushing for two touchdowns, one of which came on a 25-yard scramble up the middle after evading the pass rush. Jonathan Taylor is the star and the offensive line is the key, but Coan makes an impressive offense even more difficult to stop. You can't just load the box against this Wisconsin offense any longer.
3. Michigan's offense is just as inept as ever. Things were supposed to be different. Josh Gattis was brought in as the new offensive coordinator, and he was going to modernize the Michigan offense while making it more explosive. Through three games, that hasn't happened. Now some of it can be pinned on injuries to offensive linemen and other key skill players, but that excuse only goes so far. The Wolverines have now played three games, and the offense has looked bad in all three of them.
One of the biggest problems is Shea Patterson, who is rattled. He's spent a large portion of the first three games running for his life from pass-rushers, which has led to him developing happy feet. Even when there isn't pressure, Patterson looks like he's ready to pull the ripcord, and it's led to a lot of bad throws. The other major problem is Michigan cannot run the ball. So what seems to be the common theme here? An offensive line that is doing this team no favors. I don't care what kind of offense you're running -- if you can't block, you can't move. If you can't move, you can't score. Until Michigan gets its problems solved up front, it's going to struggle against everybody.
4. Oh, and Michigan's defense is a problem, too. When Michigan was giving up chunk yardage on the ground against Army, it was somewhat understandable. Army does what it does on offense so efficiently that it gets just about everybody. I suppose you could say the same thing about this Wisconsin offense if you want, but Michigan's defense was just bad in Madison. The Wolverines were getting pushed around, and Wisconsin was able to get anything it wanted.
Jonathan Taylor is a fantastic running back, but it didn't matter who carried the ball for Wisconsin. Everybody was eating against this Michigan defense. Right now there isn't a phase of the game in which Michigan is playing well, and that's a huge problem going forward. If Michigan's offense struggles, it will need its defense to keep it in games. If the Wolverines can't do that, then things could get ugly quickly.
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