No. 14 Wisconsin leaves no doubt in domination of Michigan

Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The days of Michigan football treating Wisconsin like a freshman team appear to be over. 

Based on what transpired Saturday night in Ann Arbor, the roles have been reversed. 

The 14th-ranked Badgers, playing for the first time since the opener on Oct. 23 because of a COVID-19 outbreak in the program, dominated the Wolverines from start to finish in a 49-11 victory. 

Combined with their 35-14 victory over the Wolverines last season, the last two meetings have showcased the ability of Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and his staff to prepare thoroughly and execute exquisitely. 

Wisconsin wide receiver Danny Davis III (7) runs the ball in for a touchdown against Michigan during the second half at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The margin of victory was the largest for the Badgers against the Wolverines. 

"I’m really proud of the way that everyone worked through what we have gone through," Chryst said. "It was great to get back.

"I thought the coaches put together a heck of a plan and most important the players made it come to life. They did a nice job of starting fast." 

Wisconsin built a 28-0 halftime lead for the second consecutive season as the defense set up two early scores and then made a late goal-line stand with Michigan one yard away from pulling within three scores. 

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Chryst and his players had to move past two cancellations and wait 22 days to play their second game. 

Interceptions by safety Scott Nelson and linebacker Leo Chenal set up the first two scores by the Badgers and a 14-0 lead with 6 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the first quarter. 

The offense, getting contributions from up and down the lineup, parlayed that quick start into touchdown drives of 60 and 74 yards for the 28-0 lead and the Wolverines finished the half with 94 total yards. 

Next up for Wisconsin is a critical road game against unbeaten Northwestern, a 27-20 winner over Purdue earlier Saturday. 

Michigan suffered its third consecutive loss and could be headed for its worst season under Jim Harbaugh, who was fortunate only family members were allowed in Michigan Stadium. 

The performance by the the Badgers was more impressive because they were without four potential starters and six other players. 

Wisconsin's status report did not list the reasons, but according to multiple people, tailback Garrett Groshek, defensive end Garrett Rand and offensive lineman Josh Seltzner were out because they had tested positive for coronavirus. Reserve quarterback Chase Wolf was also out for the same reason.

No matter. 

Nakia Watson rushed eight times for 40 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Freshman wide receiver Chimere Dike had a 30-yard run to set up the first touchdown. He added a 10-yard catch to the Michigan 1, on third-and-7, to set up the second score.

Freshman tailback Jalen Berger rushed five times for 31 yards and added two receptions for 13 yards in the half. He added a 23-yard touchdown in the final quarter. Fullback Mason Stokke contributed a 1-yard touchdown catch and a 1-yard touchdown run. 

Quarterback Graham Mertz, who tested positive for coronavirus one day after the opener, was rusty early but appeared to settle in as the game progressed. Mertz started just 1-of-5 for 5 yards but finished the half 8-of-15 for 84 yards and a touchdown. He finished with 127 passing yards and two scores. 

"A lot of guys contributed and that is what we thought coming in," Chryst said, "that it was going to take everyone’s effort." 

The Wolverines opened the second half by driving from their 25 to the Wisconsin 28 but quarterback Joe Milton threw three consecutive incompletions and Michigan settled for a 46-yard field goal with 12:52 left in the quarter.

Each team added a touchdown, with reserve quarterback Cade McNamara sparking the Wolverines on a 75-yard drive for a touchdown and a two-point conversion to pull the Wolverines with 35-11 with three minutes left in the third quarter.

Wisconsin capitalized on a Michigan penalty (running into the punter) to fashion a 75-yard drive to push the lead to 42-11 in the final quarter.

The domination, which started in the opening quarter, was complete. 

"We were thoroughly beaten in every phase, really did not do anything well," Harbaugh said. "Did not play good, did not coach good. Not in a good place with the execution, not in a good place with adjusting...

"Not a good place as a football team right now, and that falls on me."