Though they led 13-7 at the half, there was a concern all the points No. 12 Michigan left on the field would come back to haunt them in the second half. There was the missed field goal on the first drive of the game. There was the interception return deep into Badger territory that netted only three points. And then there was the Shea Patterson fumble that saw another promising drive come up empty.
Turns out those concerns were unfounded. Michigan’s defense scored enough on its own to lead the Wolverines to victory as Jim Harbaugh‘s crew cruised to a cathartic 38-13 win over No. 15 Wisconsin at the Big House.
Michigan (6-1, 4-0 Big Ten) accepted the ball to open the second half and marched 75 yards in 10 plays, moving into scoring position on a 25-yard Karan Higdon rush and then finding paydirt on a 7-yard Patterson keeper. Patterson found Nico Collins for a 2-point conversion, putting the maize and blue up 21-7 at the 10:21 mark of the third quarter.
That score would prove to be enough to secure the win, but Michigan wasn’t done there. A 35-yard Quinn Nordin field goal stretched the lead to 24-7 with 11:36 remaining, and then Lavert Hill slammed the door when he intercepted Alex Hornibrook and returned the ball 21 yards for a touchdown. At that point in the game, Hornibrook had completed three passes to Wisconsin (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) receivers and two to Michigan defenders.
The quarterback run game, which earlier sprung Patterson for an 81-yard rush to set up Michigan’s first score, flashed again when backup Dylan McCaffrey broke free for a 44-yard touchdown with 5:16 left in the game.
Though he wasn’t perfect, Patterson was more than enough to win, hitting 14-of-20 passes for 124 yards while rushing nine times for 90 yards and a touchdown. Higdon out-rushed Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, carrying 19 times for 105 yards and a touchdown to Taylor’s 17 carries for 101 yards.
Effective as Taylor was, he couldn’t carry Wisconsin’s offense by himself. Hornibrook completed just 7-of-20 passes for 100 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions; the touchdown and the bulk of those yards came with the Badgers already trailing by 31 points.
Though the Badgers are still the Big Ten West favorites until they’re not, Saturday’s loss eliminates them from College Football Playoff contention and exposed enough cracks to show the Badgers aren’t a real threat to beat whoever comes out of the Big Ten East.
Michigan, meanwhile, now completes Phase 1 of a crucial 3-game stretch over the second half of their season. The Wolverines visit Michigan State on Saturday and then, after an off week, host No. 8 Penn State. Both teams beat Michigan a year ago — just as Wisconsin did.