Michigan’s loss to the Wisconsin Badgers was a tough one to sink in. After 2.5 quarters of hard-hitting football, in which Michigan seemed to have the edge, any chance of a win quickly slipped through the Wolverines’ fingers. Yes, there were several factors to the loss that need to be taken into consideration, including a controversial call against a Donovan Peoples-Jones touchdown, a couple weak pass interference calls, several non-calls against Wisconsin, and, most importantly, Brandon Peters’s game-ending injury.
But the fact of the matter is that even with these difficult circumstances, Michigan still had multiple opportunities to win the game. The defense allowing back-to-back touchdowns right after the Wolverines took the lead was disastrous, especially since Brandon Peters left the game in-between those drives. However, even with those slip-ups, the team still could have won due to field position.
Seven times the Michigan offense was passed the 50-yard line and in Wisconsin territory. The final result of those seven drives: 1 touchdown, 1 field goal, 1 turnover, 4 punts. That is a horrible waste of opportunities for Michigan to put points on the board, especially since three of those seven drives began in Wisconsin territory. Sure, the young Michigan offense was facing a stout and dynamic defense. But, in comparison, out of Wisconsin’s three trips into Michigan territory, they scored two touchdowns. That is taking advantage of opportunities when they are presented. That is how you win big games.
Sadly, Michigan’s offensive production in Wisconsin’s territory was even worse when taking a closer look. Not counting punts, Michigan had 26 snaps passed the 50-yard line, which resulted in only 79 yards (3.04 YPP). Of those 26 snaps, only 11 plays resulted in positive yardage. 4 plays ended with loss of yards and 11 were incomplete passes or no gain.
10 of those 26 plays were runs, the other designed passes. And of those 10 runs, Michigan accumulated only 15 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground - this does not include carries by Brandon Peters because those were on designed pass plays. That is 1.5 yards per carry, which is made even worse considering DPJ had a 12 yard run. Take that away, and Michigan had 3 yards on 9 runs for 0.3 YPC. A horrendous performance by a running attack that looked significantly improved over the past several weeks.
But everyone in Ann Arbor and Madison knew Michigan would have a tough task running against the Wisconsin front seven. So why were 7 of those 10 handoffs up the middle? Eddie McDoom had one sweep, DPJ received a toss to the outside, and Chris Evans bounced an inside run outwards. But all the other runs were designed to go between the tackles. They were absolute momentum killers and failed to provide any sort of balance to the offense to open passing lanes. In fact, the run game only seemed to display Michigan’s inability to win the game, like this play call on 3rd and 13:
As the running game struggled in the Wisconsin half of the field, the Michigan passing game did not perform better. The Wolverines had 16 pass plays. Of those, 4 resulted in Brandon Peters scrambling for yardage and 1 was a sack. Out of the 11 plays in which the ball was thrown, Michigan completed only 3 catches for 68 yards. Two of those completions were on the drive Michigan scored its only touchdown of the game.
Being in the opponent’s side of the field seven times in one game is a successful feat, especially considering it is more than twice the number of times Wisconsin was in Michigan’s territory. It is the result of a stout defense and a productive offense, both of which Michigan had throughout the majority of the game. But the Wolverines’ inability to turn those opportunities into points is what ultimately cost them the game.
So, what does this result indicate for Michigan’s last two games of the season? First, it shows that U-M’s offensive woes have not taken significant corrective steps, even this late in the season. The same problems from September still plague this unit: poor pass protection, inability to assert a run game, lack of separation by receivers, and inconsistent quarterback success. The fact Brandon Peters will most likely not suit up next week will only further these issues. And though fans can ascribe Michigan’s offensive stagnation this week to Wisconsin’s exceptionally great defense, the Buckeyes will not be much easier.
There have been flashes of success by this offense this season. Even against the Badgers, it looked as though the passing game was opening up as Brandon Peters became more comfortable in the pocket and began dissecting the defensive secondary. And there is no doubt the Michigan running attack has all the capability to be explosive. So hopefully the Wolverines will find a way to put the pieces together, take advantage of opportunities, and sustain success on Saturday.