When will it end? That’s what Michigan fans have to be asking themselves after watching yet another embarrassing loss. No. 13 Wisconsin crushed Michigan 49-11 at The Big House on Saturday night. It was a game that felt over only a few minutes after it began. The beleaguered Michigan defense managed to force a Wisconsin punt on the first possession of the game, but the Wolverines turned the ball over on their first play of the night. Joe Milton’s pass was deflected before being picked. A few plays later, Wisconsin took a 7-0 lead.
Milton was intercepted again on Michigan’s second possession. This one was his fault, however, as he failed to spot Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal and fired a pass directly into his numbers. Chenal’s return set up another Wisconsin score shortly after.
Fortunately for Michigan, it would not turn the ball over again. At least not in the traditional manner. Unfortunately, taking care of the ball wasn’t nearly enough to get the Wolverines back in the game.
The Badger onslaught would continue, with Wisconsin running up a 28-0 lead at halftime. It was the largest deficit Michigan faced at halftime of a home game since 1927. The Wolverines would show some signs of life in the third quarter, putting 11 points on the board, but it was a short-lived burst. Wisconsin would respond by burying the Wolverines further in the fourth quarter with two more touchdowns.
The Badgers move to 2-0 on the season with the win and it sets up a huge game against 4-0 Northwestern next week. Both teams are the only remaining unbeatens in the Big Ten West Division. As for the Wolverines, they’re now 1-3 on the season, and will face another 1-3 team in Rutgers next week.
Here are the four takeaways from another blowout win for Wisconsin over the Wolverines.
1. Graham Mertz wasn’t sharp, but it didn’t matter
It’s not a surprise considering how much time Mertz had to miss due to testing positive for COVID-19. Nor was it a surprise that the rest of the Badgers looked a bit rough early in the game before Michigan made their lives a lot easier and allowed them time to settle into the game. Still, the first time we saw Mertz in his first career start against Illinois, he cut the Illini apart with surgical precision. Mertz looked like the greatest QB of all time, completing 20 of his 21 passes with five touchdowns.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night. Mertz completed only 12 of his 22 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Even as the night progressed, while the rest of the Wisconsin offense found a rhythm, Mertz seemed a half-step slow. He was inaccurate with some throws and slow with the reads on others. But, again, this was to be expected with the long layoff and lack of practice time. Odds are that the real Graham Mertz will be found somewhere between that Illinois game and this Michigan game, and I’d bet on it being closer to the Illini performance.
2. Wisconsin still dominating Michigan on the ground
The effectiveness of the ground game helped overcome Mertz’s shaky play. The Badgers rushed for 341 yards on Saturday night, averaging 6.7 yards per carry and rushing for five touchdowns. It was a dominant performance from a Wisconsin offensive line that allowed only two tackles for loss on the night.
This wasn’t anything new. Last season when these teams met in Madison, Wisconsin rushed for 359 yards on 57 carries against the Michigan defense. So, in the last two seasons, Wisconsin has rushed for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns against the Wolverines, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
3. This bewildering stat
Michigan didn’t record a sack or a turnover in the first half of the game, meaning the Wolverines defense had gone five straight halves of football since without one of either. According to ESPN Stats and Info, it was the first time a Big Ten defense had gone so long without a single sack or turnover in at least the last 15 seasons.
Now, it’s not all bad news as the Wolverines would record a sack in the second half. Sure, it came well after the game was decided, but it still counts! It did not help that the Wolverines were without their two top defensive linemen Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye tonight. Though, honestly, the way the Wisconsin offensive line dominated this one, I can’t say for sure their presence would have mattered much.
4. The Harbaugh speculation will only grow louder
I’ve said numerous times that I don’t believe Jim Harbaugh will be fired, especially during the season. Michigan doesn’t like firing coaches at any time, let alone while the season is happening. Neither Rich Rodriguez nor Brady Hoke was let go during the season, and both fared far worse than Harbaugh has to this point. Toss in the fact that we’re currently in a pandemic, and I don’t see a scenario in which Michigan pulls the trigger on the prodigal son right now.
Nor, however, do I see Harbaugh being fired after the season. There might be a mutual decision to part ways, or maybe one of those NFL jobs everybody loves to pretend Harbaugh is interested in does interest him this year. Whatever the case, he’s not going to be fired. But that won’t stop everybody from asking if he will be or talking about the possibility of it happening.