No. 14 Michigan ran through Wisconsin 38-17 on Saturday after taking control of the game in the second half, outscoring the hosts 25-7 over the final two quarters. The win marked the first for the Wolverines in Madison, Wisconsin, since 2001 and their first straight up as an underdog under coach Jim Harbaugh.
Neither offense showed much life during the game, but Michigan seemed to be in control early until the Wisconsin offense mounted a rally late in the second quarter to cut the lead to 13-10 heading into the break. Wisconsin began the second half with the ball, and seemingly the momentum, but quarterback Graham Mertz was knocked out with a rib injury on a sack. Michigan's Daxton Hill blitzed from the slot and leveled Mertz on his left side. Mertz was forced to leave the game and never returned. Shortly after his departure, Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson was seen on the sidelines without his pads.
Without two of their key offensive players, the Badgers offense stalled. Chase Wolf replaced Mertz and promptly fumbled on one drive before tossing an interception on the next. Those turnovers put the game out of reach as Michigan expanded its lead to 31-10.
Michigan QB Cade McNamara completed 17 of 28 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns. Both touchdown tosses were to Cornelius Johnson, the only balls Johnson caught on the afternoon aside from a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Michigan imrpvoes to 5-0 with the win, while Wisconsin falls to 1-3 to start its season for the first time since 1990.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday's game.
1. Michigan gets the monkey off its back
It has been nearly eight years since Michigan did what it did today: win a game straight up as an underdog. Yes, you read that right. The last time the Wolverines won a game they weren't expected to by oddsmakers was on Nov. 16, 2013, when they beat Northwestern, 27-19.
It had been 18 straight losses since, including 0-11 under Harbaugh. Now, Michigan fans can point to the fact they've only been an underdog in 19 games over the last eight years, but the inability to win any of those games was still a reflection of where the program has been during that time.
Perhaps this win Saturday is the start of a turnaround ... or maybe Michigan shouldn't have been the underdog against a Wisconsin team that's been awful this season. We'll let history decide!
2. The Wolverines are still limited offensively
The good news for Michigan is that it won't face many more defenses like Wisconsin's this season. The bad news? Wisconsin showed that if you take away Michigan's run game, it's not nearly as effective offensively. Don't let the 38 points the Wolverines scored fool you. They finished the day with only 365 yards, averaging only 4.9 yards per play.
The average length of its three touchdown drives was only 53.7 yards, and the longest was a 67-yard drive that ended with a 56-yard touchdown pass from J.J. McCarthy to Daylen Baldwin late in the fourth quarter when both teams had sent out the reserves. Don't be surprised if you see McCarthy get more snaps going forward. Michigan was working him into the game more this week, and he brings a dynamic to the passing attack this team lacks right now.
3. There's not much left to say about Wisconsin
It's the same story every week. The quarterbacks have been inaccurate, and the receivers don't help much with an inability to get open consistently. The run game is struggling as well with Wisconsin's offensive line not being nearly as strong as we're used to seeing from the Badgers.
Injuries to Mertz and Ferguson only made things worse in the second half, but it's not as if the Badgers had been playing well with them. The defense is still phenomenal, but with an offense like this, it's not going to matter against any team with a pulse.
4. An ironic day to celebrate Barry Alvarez
Wisconsin spent the weekend celebrating the man who built the program into what it is today, announcing a name change to their playing surface, which will now be known as Barry Alvarez Field at Camp Randall Stadium. It's a deserved honor for the person who put Wisconsin football on the map.
Unfortunately, Saturday's loss is the first time since 1990 that Wisconsin has started a season 1-3. That 1990 season also happened to be Alvarez's first in Madison. The Badgers finished 1-10 that year before Alvarez turned the program around. I'm sure he's hoping this team can do the same in 2021.