It was both prophetic and fitting the Wolverines chose to have dozens of former offensive line greats as the honorary captains Saturday night, because for the first time in a long time we can finally say Michigan won a big game because of its offensive line instead of in spite of it.
Michigan broke the game open in the second half by out-Badgering the Badgers. Throwing for just 4 yards after halftime, while scoring 25 unanswered points to pull away. Michigan ran for a whopping 234 yards in the second half, to finish with its highest rushing total against a ranked opponent of the Jim Harbaugh era (320). The end result of that physical dominance was the kind of loss a proud Wisconsin program isn't used to. To wit:
- It was Wisconsin's worst regular season loss since 2008.
- It was the first time Wisconsin lost on the road game by more than 7 points in its last 33 road games.
- Alex Hornibrook came into the game with the best career road game QBR in the Big Ten. He finished the game with a 0.7 QBR. No, that's not a misprint.
- A Wisconsin offense with an efficient quarterback, maybe the best offensive line in the sport, and probably the best running back in the sport was held to just 283 total yards. And the Wolverines were without Rashan Gary, who's likely to be a top 10 overall pick in the NFL draft next spring.
- Since 2011, the only other two teams to beat Wisconsin by more than 10 points went on to win the national championship that season.
Remember when we said a couple of weeks ago Michigan will be as good as it permits itself to become? Well, when you're as talented as we are, and you don't turn it over and only commit one penalty like we did Saturday night, you're going to be very tough to beat. The list of teams in the country who would've beaten us tonight is pretty small, and might begin and end with the freak show that is Alabama.
This was winning with cruelty and character. This was the brand of football we've been waiting for. This was a statement.
It's going to be a rough week for the Harbaugh haters. See those who take legit criticism of our program to self-refuting levels of butt hurt and dumb. No names mentioned...
The Bottom Line
This was the identity we've been trying to recapture for a lost decade of Michigan football. It's the first time Harbaugh has won a game with College Gameday present. And we came full circle from one of the most demoralizing losses during that span. On November 20, 2010, Wisconsin came to the Big House and didn't throw a pass in the second half en route to a 48-28 rout, which included future pros James White and Montee Ball combining for 354 yards rushing.
The rest of the schedule is daunting (#1 toughest according to ESPN FPI), and we'll still gladly take 2-1 for this tough three-game stretch. But you're probably not going to reach that goal if you don't win this one, and win it the Wolverines did--convincingly. Now comes the next item on the bucket list -- winning a rivalry game.