MADISON – For Wisconsin, everything is about blocking out noise from the outside and sticking to their plan. While it has many twists, and turns along the way, the plan hasn’t failed the Badgers to this point, and it didn’t Saturday when the Michigan Wolverines visited Camp Randall, either.
The Badgers have been a team that hasn’t always looked superior to their opponents, even though they have been the better team each and every week on the field. They’ve dealt with slow starts and costly turnovers but found a way to overcome them with strong second halves and outstanding defense.
That’s exactly what they did against Michigan. The Wolverines came in and thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin in the first half. They had 169 yards in the first half compared to only 99 for Wisconsin. The Wolverines fell victim to either bad luck, or carelessness with the football, depending on your viewpoint.
In the second quarter, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters threw a fade to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the left corner of the north end zone on second down. The play was called incomplete on the field. Moments later, the replay booth signaled down for a second look at the play. Upon further review, the call was upheld, forcing Michigan to try things again on third-and-goal from the five. Whether or not the replay officials got the call correct is subject for debate.
On the next play, Peters scrambled to his left, tucked the ball and attempted to reach the end zone himself. Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs not only made sure that Peters wasn’t going to reach the end zone, but that Michigan had blown their chance at putting points on the board. He knocked the ball out of the signal-callers’ hands, and defensive back Derrick Tindal fell on the ball at Wisconsin’s own one-yard-line.
To that point, Wisconsin had been unable to generate any offensive momentum, and Michigan had just moved the 35 yards down the field on three plays.
Michigan was able to continue their momentum on the next drive offensively with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive after they forced Wisconsin to punt thanks to a replay going in their favor after a Danny Davis catch on third-and-14 was overturned.
After that touchdown, Wisconsin was content to go in to halftime with a 7-7 tie. After the break, they looked like an entirely different team. This has been the recipe for the Badgers all season. Stay afloat in the first half, and dominate in the second half.
“I just think it’s starting to get a better feel for your opponent, I think that’s part of it,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said after the win. “I think we just gain confidence as games go on. You get a better feel for what the team you’re going against is doing defensively. I think we’re doing a good job of gaining confidence as the game goes by.”
The kicker against Michigan was that they weren’t dominant from the start of the third quarter. Wisconsin opened up with back-to-back three-and-outs. On the third possession of the half quarterback Alex Hornibrook fired a pass across the middle of the field that was picked off by Michigan’s Devin Bush deep inside of Wisconsin territory.
Wisconsin has played eight Big Ten games and there have been two constants about them, they have won them all, and Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of them. This was the first bad mistake he made on the day, and it came at a critical time.
Luckily for the Badgers, their defense continued to do what they have done all season, stand up in a tough situation. After Michigan took over at Wisconsin’s 29-yard-line, they were only able to gain eight yards before kicker Quinn Nordin nailed a 39-yard field goal.
While it wasn’t the ideal scenario, it went down as a win for the Badgers. It was at that moment the momentum seemed to flip, and things clicked for Hornibrook.
“I was really proud of the stop that the defense made,” head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.
When Wisconsin got the ball back, they trailed 10-7. This was their first deficit in the second half of a game since trailing Northwestern 10-7 to start the third quarter in their Big Ten opener, on September 30.
That lead for the Wolverines lasted for a whopping 3:05 on the game clock. Hornibrook masterfully constructed a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated on a 24-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor. Throughout the drive Hornibrook made throws he hadn’t previously on the day, including a 51-yard bomb to Taylor on third-and-13.
“We’re resilient, for two-and-a-half quarters it wasn’t going our way,” Deiter said. “We were stalled and we weren’t doing a whole lot but I just think we kept battling and made plays go later in the game.”
Those were moments Hornibrook needed to step up, and he did. He continued the momentum from that drive when Wisconsin got the ball back after forcing another three-and-out. The Badgers went 61 yards over five plays and scored again on a Kendric Pryor 32-yard end around to grasp control of the game and led 21-10.
“Quarterbacks they have the most pressure on the team,” Pryor said about Hornibrook. “They get praised when they’re good and anytime they do something wrong, they’re always the first ones to get blamed when something goes wrong. With him, just forgetting he threw the interception. So what, he forgot about it, came back and made those big time passes down the field. It’s great when your quarterback can do that because we all just trust in him. Trust what he sees and we just play off of him.”
Wisconsin’s defense continued to turn up the heat, only allowing one first down by Michigan’s offense the rest of the afternoon. The Wolverines gained 23 yards of offense in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. A true testament to Wisconsin’s defense.
After taking the lead, Wisconsin never turned back, and they haven’t all season.