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Top 10 games of the Jim Harbaugh era, No. 7: Michigan tops Wisconsin in Top 15 showdown

The Revenge Tour had begun

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 13 Wisconsin at Michigan

In 2018, the Big House hosted some special games and two wins over Top-15 opponents. The first was No. 8 on our list as the Michigan Wolverines punished Penn State for 60 minutes. Now, we welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to Ann Arbor in a win that started a stretch of games now affectionately known as the Revenge Tour. Let’s remember one of the top games from Jim Harbaugh’s career at Michigan.

Season Significance: 7, Pre-Game Hype: 8

2017 was a down season for the Michigan Wolverines as they lost their four most important conference games against Michigan State, Penn State, Ohio State, and these Wisconsin Badgers.

Paul Chryst and company got the closest they ever have to a College Football Playoff appearance as they beat Michigan 24-10 on their way to a perfect regular season. Their only loss of the year was to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game where they lost by less than a touchdown.

Now, in 2018, they had another strong start opening the year going 4-1 with their only loss coming to BYU. Coming to Ann Arbor, they were about to see their first ranked opponent of the season on the road.

Michigan had lost to Notre Dame to open the season and played a rather cupcake schedule after that to start the year 5-1 with the Badger being their first compatible opponent in weeks. No one knew what this team was, or who they could become. But that was all about to change after this night game in the Big House.

Highlight Play Score: 8, Individual Performance: 5

Michigan’s defense was one of the best in the country, but they would be challenged against a physical Wisconsin offense led by future NFL superstar Jonathan Taylor at running back.

The good news was that the Badgers did not have a competent quarterback and the pressure that Don Brown created off the pass rush forced Alex Hornibrook to have one of the worst games in his career. He would be sacked just twice, but was 7/20 from the field, with 2 interceptions and -13 rushing yards for the game.

The scoring opened up in the second quarter after Michigan missed a field goal following a 13-play, 55-yard drive that killed most of the first quarter. They opened their second drive of the ball game with a read-option keeper for Shea Patterson who had no one in front of him:

81 yards later and the Wolverines were inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Karan Higdon punched it in to put Michigan up 7-0.

Wisconsin answered right back after Taylor picked up 23 and Kendric Pryor ran for 33 a play later to tie up the game after just a 4-play drive.

After a punt, the Badgers had the chance to take the lead. But Hornibrook fumbled a snap on 2nd & 1. Then, Josh Uche happened:

It was one of two sacks on the day for the Michigan defense, but Hornibrook was under all kinds of pressure all game long.

The Wolverines took over in great field position after a poor punt. Nick Eubanks made a wide-open catch for 28 yards, but Michigan would have to eventually settle for a field goal to take a 10-7 lead.

On the first play of the ensuing Wisconsin drive, Hornibrook was looking deep and David Long made a nice play on the ball. Safety Josh Metellus just so happened to be in the area and he snagged a pick, nearly taking it to the house:

But again, the Wolverines only walked away with a field goal after not picking up a single yard on the possession. Still, Michigan went into the break up 13-7. They would get the ball to open the second half.

Higdon broke loose for a 25-yard pick-up that put Michigan in the redzone early in the second half. A couple plays later, Patterson struck gold as Wisconsin bit on another read-option that even fooled the cameraman:

After a two-point conversion, the Wolverines were in control up 21-7.

Michigan began to pile on late in the third quarter as they ran the ball on 10-straight plays before an incompletion from Patterson resulted in the third field goal of the game for Quinn Nordin.

Wisconsin, desperate for some offense, looked to the air to try and get back in this one. Hornibrook saw a wide-open receiver on a crossing route, but Lavert Hill was hiding underneath in coverage. Hill lept, snagged the interception, and took it to the house for a pick-six:

After another three-and-out for Wisconsin, it was Dylan McCaffrey time. The four-star prospect had a lot of hype around his name, and he delivered on yet another QB keeper on a read-option, this time for six on a 44-yard run:

The Badgers would finally get some offense going with the reserves in the game as Hornibrook picked up 75 of his 100 yards on the final drive of the game. It resulted in Wisconsin’s only touchdown of the second half, and Michigan would go on to win 38-13 under the lights in the Big House.

After the game, Chase Winovich was at the microphone and called this next stretch of games “the Revenge Tour”. It got the fans unbelievably excited for what this team could do if they continued on with this kind of success over the next couple of games. Boasting one of the toughest schedules in the country, Michigan would need any motivation they could get to rebound and make a push for a Big Ten title and more.

Historical Significance: 8

Michigan beating down as good of a program as Wisconsin is always going to be memorable. But if it weren’t for those reserve moments, Alex Hornibrook would have had maybe the worst game ever for a starting quarterback. Even with it, his QBR was a 2.9 in this one. Don Brown had every answer for a Wisconsin offense that nearly took the Badgers to a Big Ten title the year prior.

But that quote from Winovich will be what is truly remembered for this game. It still would have been a hell of a run for Michigan in 2018 beating Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State in consecutive contests. However, adding that Revenge Tour title to it, and having the fan base and team rally behind it, made the time even more special.

Total Score: 36/50

The win over Wisconsin finished one point higher than the wins over Penn State and the Citrus Bowl victory over Florida on this list.

This was a team win where Winovich came out and made a bold statement at the end of it that will be remembered for quite some time. It was the inauguration of one of the best times in my life to be a Michigan fan. The hope was real and it was strong, but eventually, it would come crashing down.

Michigan’s loss to Ohio State at the end of the year puts a damper on this win and the moments that transpired after. However, they still shellacked a really good opponent in one of the few games played in the Big House at night.


Check out the other games in this series released every Sunday:

No. 10: Michigan escapes Bloomington in 2OT thriller in 2015

No. 9: Michigan tops Florida in 2016 Citrus Bowl

No. 8: Michigan throttles Penn State in 2018