No. 4 Michigan was able to put September on cruise control, but on the first Saturday of October the Wolverines had to show they could win a defensive tussle. Mission accomplished.
Michigan (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) continued to impress with a hard-fought 14-7 victory over No. 8 Wisconsin (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) in Michigan Stadium. The game was as close to the polar opposite of each of Michigan’s September wins as can be, although continued to suggest this Michigan defense is legit. Michigan held Wisconsin to fewer than 200 yards of offense, making it near impossible for the Badgers to get out of Ann Arbor with a win. Michigan forced three turnovers, all three coming by way of an interception by Channing Stribling off Alex Hornibrook and one more from Jourdan Lewis that was essentially the clinching moment.
Michigan broke a 7-7 tie midway through the fourth quarter when Wilton Speight completed a 46-yard pass to Alex Darboh for a score. Big plays came at a premium in this one. The 46-yard touchdown play finished off a quick four-play, 64-yard drive.
Michigan once again proved they are worthy of being discussed as a legitimate Big Ten contender. There is no other way to sum it up after taking down Wisconsin in the fashion they did. And don’t overlook Wisconsin. The Badgers are still going to be a beast to deal with in the Big Ten West Division, and Wisconsin may still work their way into the Big Ten championship picture, even with some challenges coming up in regular season play.
Michigan will head to New Jersey next week to take on Rutgers. Rutgers just got thumped by Ohio State today, 58-0. Wisconsin gets a week off to prepare for a big home game against No. 2 Ohio State. The Buckeyes will be coming off a home game against Indiana.
Michigan head coach Brady Hoke seems to have a knack for suggesting there is a battle for a starting job at positions that likely already have the starters figured out. After trying to suggest there is a competition at quarterback this offseason, Hoke is also setting the tone for the defensive backs despite having a pair of players that combined for 10 interceptions last season. The message is clear though; there is room for improvement across the board in Ann Arbor.
Fall camps in college football should always be seen as an opportunity to take advantage of a clean slate across the roster, but Michigan has senior cornerbacks Raymon Taylor and junior Blake Countess the likely starters for the upcoming season, whether Hoke confirms that or not. Hoke sees these two players as leaders but goes on the record of saying “they’ve got to play every day.”
“I think Blake and Ray, they’re both older guys, who have played a lot,” Hoke said Friday, according to MLive.com. “Then you’ve got (sophomores) [Jourdan Lewis] and [Channing Stribling], guys who have done a nice job (developing). The leadership from Blake is going to be important, and from Raymon. But there’s also great competition. They’ve got to play every day. … They all know, they’d better have a day, every day.”
Why would Hoke shy away from just leaning on his upper classmen, including one earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall (Countess)? Simple. Michigan’s pass defense needs to improve and cut down on big plays by opposing offenses. Everybody on defense needs to step things up this season in order for Michigan to improve in the win total and Big Ten standings. If Michigan State has a no-fly zone in effect, all air traffic appears to be seeing clearer skies in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines ranked seventh in the Big Ten in pass defense in 2013, the lowest conference ranking since Hoke was named head coach following the Rich Rodriguez era, which ended with Michigan ranked 11th (out of 11 teams at the time) in the Big Ten’s passing defense ranking. The 231 passing yards per game allowed last season by Michigan was the second highest total allowed dating back to 2007.
As for the quarterback situation, Hoke previously has said he plans to have a starter figured out early in camp. Spoiler alert: It will (most likely) be Devin Gardner.