Michigan Wolverines vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Instant Classics from the Rivalry
Michigan hosts Wisconsin Saturday in the 64th meeting between the two teams. The Wolverines have dominated the series over the years, but the last six games are even—with each side holding serve at home.
The Badgers (9-1, 5-1), winners of last season's contest 45-24, are listed as four-point favorites (down from seven) since it was reported that star running back John Clay is “questionable.”
The Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) are hoping to win their third straight after discouraging losses to Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State..
Despite Michigan holding a commanding 49-13-1 advantage, there have been several intriguing matchups. A glance at five of the better games follows:
2008: Michigan 27, No. 9 Wisconsin 25
Michigan (1-2) was also the underdog two years ago, and it was no surprise that Wisconsin (3-0) jumped out to a 19-0 halftime lead. In fact, it could have been worse if the Badgers hadn’t run out of time (at Michigan’s eight) after intercepting a Steven Threet pass.
Probably the key play of the game occurred just after Michigan cut the lead to 19-14, by scoring first on a 26-yard pass from Steven Threet to Kevin Koger, then on a 34-yard run by Brandon Minor.
On Wisconsin’s first play from scrimmage, John Thompson intercepted an Allan Evridge pass and rumbled 25 yards into the end zone. The comeback put Michigan on top 20-19 with 10:24 left in the game.
The Wolverines extended the lead to eight on Sam McGuffie’s three-yard touchdown run. Michigan figured they had a victory when Terrence Taylor recovered a fumble with 1:42 remaining. Unfortunately, a three-and-out gave the Badgers one last shot with 1:19 on the clock.
Evridge hit David Gilreath with a 22-yard TD pass, but missed on the two point conversion.
Wisconsin players are still miffed by the upset.
1998: No. 15 Michigan 27, No. 8 Wisconsin 10
This was a game the Badgers were actually supposed to win. Wisconsin was sporting a 9-0 record and had thoroughly dominated the Big Ten. Madison fans were talking national title and were also pushing running back Ron Dayne for the Heisman.
In Ann Arbor, Wisconsin was disrespected. Many wondered which was Wisconsin’s toughest opponent, San Diego State or UNLV.
Michigan was also undefeated in the conference, but began its defense of their national title by opening the season with losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse.
But the Wolverines turned their season around, winning seven straight going into the Wisconsin matchup.
Michigan set the tone of the game early, when Andre Weathers intercepted a Wisconsin pass on the second play from scrimmage. The Wolverines would eventually display its balanced offense, but Wisconsin scored first as Mike Samuel hit Chris Chambers on an 80-yard play.
That would be Wisconsin’s only touchdown as the Michigan defense forced 10 Wisconsin punts and held Dayne to 53 yards on 16 carries.
Both Michigan running backs, Clarence Williams and Anthony Thomas, had over 100 yards rushing by the end of the third quarter.
Tom Brady, who was destined to achieve some success in the NFL, threw for 202 yards, including a six-yard score to Jerame Tuman.
1997: No. 1 Michigan 26, No. 23 Wisconsin 16
Michigan’s undefeated season in 1997 was not without good fortune. While the Wolverines smothered super back Ron Dayne in 1998, a sprained ankle kept him totally out of the 1997 game.
Michigan (9-0, 6-0) faced Wisconsin in a raucous Camp Randall Stadium, but it didn’t take long for the Wolverines to silenced the crowd. A flawless opening drive, including a bit of razzle-dazzle between Brian Griese and Charles Woodson did the trick.
With the ball on Wisconsin’s 29, Griese threw what appeared to be a flanker screen to Woodson.
Woodson then tossed it back to Griese, who ran up the right side to the Wisconsin one. Chris Howard punched it in from there and Michigan never looked back. The trick play was a staple in coach Lloyd Carr’s arsenal, as several Michigan quarterbacks ran it.
Griese later hit Tai Streets for a 38-yard score before Howard’s four-yard touchdown run with six minutes remaining clinched it for Michigan.
The Wolverines completed the season undefeated, sharing the national crown with Nebraska. Woodson was the 1997 Heisman Trophy winner, while Dayne eventually won his Heisman in 1999. Dayne finished his career with an incredible 7,125 rushing yards.
1981: Wisconsin 21, No. 1 Michigan 14
The No. 1 ranked Wolverines were shoved into a conference road game to begin the 1981 season. The opponent was Wisconsin, but not to worry; Michigan had beaten the Badgers 14 straight times.
The Wolverines failed to show up, however. QB Steve Smith completed three passes to his Michigan teammates and three passes to Wisconsin. Anthony Carter, a future NFL all-pro receiver and a three-time all-American, caught just one.
Fortunately, tailback Butch Woolfolk rushed for 119 yards on 14 carries and Michigan wasn’t completely embarrassed.
Woolfolk’s 89-yard yard touchdown run made the very short highlight reel, while Wisconsin's celebration lasted long into the night.
1968: No. 4 Michigan 34, Wisconsin 9
Ron Johnson’s record day against Wisconsin is still a part of Michigan football history.
Johnson rushed for 347 yards and five touchdowns--a pair of Wolverine records that still stand 41 years later. Unfortunately, the records were set before a crowd of just 51,000—mostly due to the inclement weather. Johnson also holds the Wolverine mark for most rushing touchdowns in a season with 19.
The 1968 season was also known for a particular play in the final game at Columbus. Ohio State had just scored to take a 50-14 lead. Woody Hayes’ decision to go for the two-point conversion was even a surprise to Buckeye fans. The attempt failed, but many say the stunt did nothing but awake the sleeping Michigan football program.
When asked why he went for two, Woody bellowed, “Because we couldn’t go for three.”