Top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’, top of the mornin’. (Even though it’s mid-afternoon at this point).
The Michigan Wolverines are 5-0, have never trailed this season and have only committed one turnover (thanks, Alan). While the ‘Blue Pants Beatdown’ quickly changed the narrative from “Wisconsin will be a tough test” to “Wisconsin sucks,” this road win is a significant building block just shy of the halfway point in the season.
This team continues to grow and show improvements across offense, defense, special teams and coaching. Saturday represented the first true road game for much of this roster and only served to motivate the Wolverines in taking the next step in their development.
While we don’t know everything, these are three things we learned from Michigan’s first win in Madison in 20 years.
Offense Finds a Way
All week leading up to the game, one question about the Wolverines rose above all:
“What will happen when Michigan cannot run the ball?”
Answer: Win by three touchdowns.
However, Michigan not being able to run the ball is still 112 yards on the ground. For perspective, Wisconsin had allowed 75 total rushing yards in their first three games combined this season.
The Wolverines committed and did just enough on the ground to ease the offensive burden on quarterback Cade McNamara’s shoulders. After a sluggish start, McNamara delivered to the tune of: 17-of-28, 197 yards and two touchdowns.
McNamara connected with seven different receivers and continued to impress inside the pocket. According to PFF, McNamara was the fourth-highest graded passer (122.1) in the country this week while under pressure. His ability to feel and evade the rush, while always protecting the football, is the biggest reason he will remain the starter this season.
Assisting McNamara was the emergence of Ronnie Bell’s replacement, the partners of Wilson & Johnson. No single receiver could replace what Bell was poised to bring to the table this season, but the duo of Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson will more than suffice.
Wilson did the bulk of the work leading the team in receptions (six) and receiving yards (81). C.J. took care of the scoring accounting for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Combined they finished with eight catches, 137 yards, and a pair of touchdowns.
Michigan will not face a better run defense than the Badgers this season and proved, on the road, they can travel by ground or through the air to secure victory.
Macdonald Turns up the Heat
Entering Saturday, Wisconsin had only allowed four sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss on the season; Michigan racked up six sacks and seven tackles-for-loss in this game alone. It has been a process, but the Wolverines’ front seven is growing before our eyes in defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald’s scheme.
The complexity of this scheme took time for the players to adjust. Lest we forget this is the same front that only generated one sack and three tackles-for-loss against Western Michigan in Week 1.
The Wolverines only had seven sacks on the season before going to Madison, but with the emphatic arrival of David Ojabo and Macdonald growing as a first-time signal caller, Michigan’s front seven is reaching heights even the most optimistic fans did not anticipate.
Ojabo led the team in tackles, tackles-for-loss, sacks and forced fumbles. Playing alongside All-Universe defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, the opportunity arose for production and Ojabo seized it with ferocity against Wisconsin.
Macdonald’s feel for mixing up blitzes, coverages and concepts across the board confused the Badgers and created opportunities for this front to thrive. Long gone are the days of only generating pressure through blitzing and playing man-to-man.
Against the best offensive front they have faced, on the road, Macdonald’s defense served up a six-piece of sacks and ZERO penalties.
I’m loving it.
You saw it during the game, you watched it several times after the game and now you are going to click this link and watch it once more to set the tone for your Monday.
Less than a year ago, Wisconsin handed Michigan its worst home loss in 85 years. This year, Michigan claims victory and commandeers one of the best traditions in college football. The Badgers huddled around their coaches in preparation of the fourth quarter, while these rabid Wolverines let loose on the sideline.
This is significant because this came from the top down. The entire off-season was about Harbaugh changing the culture and this is that change sustained and actualized. There is a universal buy-in from the players and coaching staff.
Wilson spoke after the game, seemingly in awe, when alluding to how different this year’s team is compared to last year’s.
“From last year, this a different team, it’s a new vibe. I mean you could tell from before the game, like, it’s a new year, we’re a new team. Different energy.”
It’s easy to have a new energy and improved culture playing inferior opponents every week at home. But to go on the road and to do what the Wolverines did, overcoming adversity heading into halftime, counter punching and dominating in the second half...That is culture.
Football is supposed to be fun, but can only be fun when coupled with winning. Just ask Florida State.
The Wolverines have never trailed this season and are undefeated; for now, it does not get more fun than that.