By Will Burchfield
No. 4 Michigan got its first big win of the season on Saturday, knocking off No. 8 Wisconsin 14-7 at the Big House. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Wolverines made the plays that mattered, including a 46-yard touchdown pass to Amara Darboh with eight minutes left and a sensational interception by Jourdan Lewis that sealed the game.
Here’s what we learned from the Wolverines’ victory:
Michigan’s defense has garnered heavy praise in the season’s early goings, and the Wolverines justified every word of it on Saturday. They were forceful on the line and all but impeccable in the secondary, holding Wisconsin to just 159 yards of total offense. Cornerback Channing Stribling had a terrific game in particular, with two interceptions and two pass break-ups. Michigan will likely have to win with its defense against the top opponents on its schedule, and that star-studded unit looks up for the challenge.
If the Michigan defense lived up to the hype on Saturday, its offense confirmed much of the skepticism. The Wolverines gained 349 yards over the course of the game, but in stop-and-go fashion, rarely able to sustain any momentum. It’s clear that the offense has to succeed by committee, mostly because Michigan lacks a bonafide star on that side of the ball.
The passing game was particularly uninspiring on Saturday, and it must be acknowledged that quarterback Wilton Speight, for all his positive attributes, simply isn’t much of a thrower. It’s improbable that the Wolverines find themselves in a shootout down the line, but they’ll have a hard time keeping up if they do.
If Michigan had lost on Saturday, it would have had its kicking game to blame. The Wolverines missed three field goals, the first two by Kenny Allen, the third by Ryan Tice. None of the attempts were particularly long – Allen missed from 31 yards and 43, Tice from 40 – and all of them were set up cleanly.
Jim Harbaugh indicated afterward that there will be a kicking competition in the coming week of practice. Whether or not that involves Quinn Nordin, the top kicker in last year’s class who famously hosted Harbaugh for a sleepover, remains to be seen. Harbaugh said the freshman is “working through something” from an injury standpoint.
For all the strongpoints of Michigan’s defense, it is the secondary that stands out the most. That unit is flat-out loaded. And it showed up in grand fashion on Saturday, recording three interceptions and holding the Badgers to just 88 yards in the air. True, Wisconsin depends on a red-shirt freshman quarterback and isn’t much of a passing team to begin with, but the Wolverines must be given credit for their swarming, smothering effort in the secondary. The defensive back trio of Stribling, Lewis and Jabrill Peppers could darn well be the best in the country.
Ice Cream For All
Harbaugh is a noted dairy lover, and that includes ice cream. Eating it is like practicing football, he said earlier this season, in that it’s something you want to do every single day. And apparently he enjoys it after games as well, describing his plan for the team after its biggest win of the season in the following fashion: “Get back to work with humble hearts and go eat some ice cream right now and celebrate for a little bit.”
His favorite flavor?
“I like the chocolate kind. I like to get together after the game with the team and eat a little ice cream,” he said.