The No. 4 Michigan Wolverines kept their undefeated season alive Saturday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, beating the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers 14-7 and handing the Badgers their first loss of 2016.
Defense was the biggest story of the game, as the Wolverines held Wisconsin to 159 yards of total offense and eight first downs while forcing three turnovers.
Michigan made life difficult for redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook, holding him to 9-of-25 passing for 88 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Michigan kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive and ended a lengthy drought against Top 10 teams, as ESPN Stats & Info illustrated:
While the Wolverines' four-game streak of scoring at least 45 points ended, Wisconsin never threatened on Saturday.
Michigan had trouble finishing drives in the first half, but its second possession of the game was a thing of beauty, as Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com pointed out:
The Wolverines marched downfield on Wisconsin's highly touted defense and finished a 77-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown plunge by senior fullback Khalid Hill.
That score was Hill's fifth of the season, and it led to a prediction from Sam Webb of WTKA:
While Michigan was straightforward on the drive—utilizing multiple running backs and safe throws by junior quarterback Wilton Speight—head coach Jim Harbaugh got tricky with the following odd formation near the goal line, as ESPN showed:
The Wolverines eventually broke that formation into a power setup and ran for the first down, but it was an interesting wrinkle that kept the Badgers on their toes.
Michigan had a couple of opportunities to build on its 7-0 lead, but senior kicker Kenny Allen missed from 31 and 43 yards on consecutive drives.
While Allen was a consistent, reliable force in 2015, Brandon Justice of Landof10.com suggested Harbaugh should seek another option in the kicking game:
Although Allen's struggles left the door open for Wisconsin, its offense couldn't move the ball and spent little time in Michigan territory.
Hornibrook wasn't on his game, but Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel placed much of the blame on his blocking:
The Badgers couldn't put any points on the board in the first half regardless, but they were far from out of it, trailing just 7-0 at halftime.
Michigan got the ball first in the second half with an eye toward extending its lead, but the momentum swung in a big way when Speight's pass was deflected by a diving Jack Cichy and intercepted by Wisconsin junior cornerback Derrick Tindal.
Tindal returned it all the way to Michigan's 31-yard line, and Wisconsin's offense took advantage of the field position when Hornibrook threw a perfect pass to senior running back Dare Ogunbowale on a 17-yard wheel route to help tie the game.
Tom Oates of the Wisconsin State Journal credited Hornibrook after he struggled through the first half:
Michigan looked to bounce back as it moved the ball downfield on the ensuing drive, but the offense stalled after 10 plays and 64 yards.
That led to Ryan Tice's 40-yard field-goal attempt. But like Allen, he missed.
After the teams traded punts on the next five possessions, Michigan got something going on offense.
After finding senior wide receiver Amara Darboh for a 15-yard gain on third down, Speight hooked up with Darboh on the ensuing play for a 46-yard touchdown that put the Wolverines back on top.
Per Pat Caputo of CBS Detroit, Speight stood up to one of his biggest criticisms by making a huge play downfield:
Wisconsin looked to strike back, but Hornibrook failed to come through, as senior cornerback Channing Stribling picked him off a few drives later with just 3:24 remaining.
Benjamin Worgull of Scout.com believed Hornibrook was solely responsible for making a poor decision and pass:
Michigan forced Wisconsin to burn its timeouts on the next drive and pinned it inside the 10-yard line.
Hornibrook made a desperation heave downfield on fourth down, but senior cornerback Jourdan Lewis intercepted it with one hand to kill the drive and put an exclamation point on the game.
CFB National Signing Day 2019 Did Not Disappoint
Martell Is Leaving Ohio St. and Is on His Way to the U
White House Treats National Champions to Fast Food Cheat Day
Northwestern May Have CFB's Most Hyped Coach
Army's Historic Bowl Beatdown Caps Off Epic Season
Purdue Football's No. 1 Fan Is Inspiring the Team
CFB's Creative Entrances Put WWE to Shame
CFB's Walk-on Scholarship Season Has Returned
Tua Continues to Take Hawaiian Football to Another Level
CFB Players Teaming Up to Tackle Hunger in Miami
4'2" WR Will Walk on at Baylor University
Felder's Film Room: Ferocious Front 7's Will Decide National Championship
UAB Is Making CFB Even More Fun and Having Its Best Season at the Same Time
Heisman Hopefuls: B/R Highlights Finalists Prior to Trophy Ceremony
Who Should Be the 2017 Heisman Finalists?
Miami vs. Clemson: Which Elite Defense Will Prevail in ACC Championship Game
College Football Top 25 Upset Alert for Week 11
College Football Top 25 Upset Alert for Week 10
Which CFB Stars Need More Heisman Hype?
College Football Top 25 Upset Alert for Week 9
John U. Bacon of Michigan Radio said the following about Lewis' ridiculous catch:
Although Saturday wasn't a vintage performance by Harbaugh's team, it proved it's capable of winning tough, physical games.
The Wolverines have leaned on their offense in several high-scoring affairs, but they won with defense against Wisconsin and overcame adversity by prevailing despite missing three field goals.
Wisconsin's offensive performance was ugly, but the defense came up big again, which is why it still promises to be a threat in the Big Ten.
Michigan has its eyes on a CFP berth and national title run, however, and after a dominant performance by its defense and a clutch play by its quarterback late in the game, it seems to have the tools needed to contend.
While Michigan's offense had its issues Saturday, Harbaugh had nothing but good things to say about the team's defensive effort, according to Fox 2 Sports.
"Defense was our shining star today," he said.
Despite the Wolverines' struggles on offense, Harbaugh didn't place much of the blame on Speight, pointing out his quarterback didn't get quality pass protection, per Matt Pargoff of Maize & Blue News.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Michigan was the kicking game, and Harbaugh made it clear that he intends to address it, per Baumgardner.
"We'll have a little kicking competition this week," he said.
The win was big for the Wolverines, but Harbaugh was already looking ahead to next week after the victory, according to Mike Sullivan of 97.1 The Ticket.
"We'll celebrate this win but then get ready for a championship-type game against Rutgers," he said.
Although Michigan had a tough time on offense, Wisconsin got nothing going aside from a short field provided by an interception, and head coach Paul Chryst addressed that, per Stephen Watson of WISN 12 News: "Third down, we didn't convert, couldn't get anything going with the run game. ... We can get better and learn from this."
Even though the game didn't go ideally for Chryst, he was still proud of the way his team performed, per Wisconsin Football: "I'm awfully proud of how our kids competed and played. ... They put it all out there."
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.