MADISON, Wis. — A Michigan season filled with obstacles and misadventure took its most dramatic turn late in the third quarter Saturday.
The Wolverines trailed fifth-ranked Wisconsin 14-10 when Brandon Peters was driven into the ground by Wisconsin linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel. It looked nondescript until Peters didn’t get up.
Wisconsin's Kendric Pryor catches a pass in front of Michigan's Josh Metellus during the first half. Wisconsin went on to win 24-10.
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After a lengthy delay, the Michigan quarterback was hoisted onto a golf cart with a head injury. With the energy draining from UM’s sideline, Wisconsin found little resistance in the fourth quarter en route to a 24-10 victory.
“They were able to crack a few runs in the fourth quarter, and we weren't able to get any big chunks in the running game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They made more plays. We had some opportunities, but couldn’t get it done today.”
Harbaugh didn’t provide an update on Peters’ status, only saying that he underwent tests at a local hospital and would reconvene with the team at the airport.
John O’Korn, in relief for the second time this season, completed 2 of 8 passes for 19 yards. Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) gained 34 yards on 14 offensive snaps after Peters’ injury.
Peters was 9-of-18 for 157 yards.
“In the huddle, we felt like we were going to do it for [Peters],” running back Chris Evans said. “O’Korn said it himself, ‘We have to do this for B.P.’ In our hearts, we were playing for him. I don’t know what happened after that.”
The 81,216 in attendance were saddled up for an old-fashioned Big Ten slugfest during the first three quarters. Viewers may have been worried that they climbed into a time machine and woke up in 1977, or that there was a glitch with the television dial.
The reality was No. 19 Michigan and Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) seemed to punt as frequently as they produced first downs. Sometimes, the punts were more exciting than the offense. The totals: 27 first downs, 17 punts.
The game featured 122 total plays, and the Wolverines and Badgers ran on nearly two-thirds of them. Neither team enjoyed sustained success on the ground, but with strong winds and a 27-degree wind chill, putting the football in the air was suboptimal.
Michigan ran 37 times for 58 yards, and 10 yards came on the first play of the game. Wisconsin had 182 yards rushing on 40 carries, with 84 coming on two plays. Jonathan Taylor, the country’s fourth-leading rusher, finished with 132 yards on 19 carries. His longest run was 52 yards.
Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters throws a pass against Wisconsin. Peters would later suffer a head injury in the third quarter.
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When asked why the run game was ineffective, Evans couldn’t come up with an answer.
“I don’t know,” said Evans, who had 25 yards on 11 carries. “Honestly, we had the looks we wanted. The way that they were playing, they’re the No. 1 defense in the country. They gave us their best. It all folded.”
A mistake-filled first half plagued Michigan during a 30-minute segment where it looked like the better team. Michigan had nine first downs compared to Wisconsin’s four and limited the Badgers to 1-of-6 on third down. The Wolverines also had 70 more total yards.
They had exactly nothing to show for it in a 7-all tie at halftime, thanks to a Wisconsin punt return for a touchdown and Peters fumbling on the 1-yard line. The fumble — Peters’ first turnover of the season — came one play after a replay review ruled Donovan Peoples-Jones out of bounds on a touchdown catch, even though the replay showed his first foot coming down inbounds.
“I thought I was in,” Peoples-Jones said. “I thought the replay showed I was in. There’s not much I can do but come back the next play and try to score again.”
Michigan’s defense continued its assault on the undefeated Badgers in the second half, forcing consecutive three-and-outs before quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw an interception on the third possession. It was Hornibrook’s 13th interception of the season — a dozen coming in conference games.
It caused a hush to descend on Camp Randall Stadium. But even great field position — Michigan’s drive started at the Wisconsin 29 — the Wolverines couldn’t turn it into a touchdown. Instead, Quinn Nordin ended his field goal miscues with a 39-yarder for a 10-7 Michigan lead.
On the ensuing drive, Hornibrook answered his legion of critics, which have been unrelenting this season, with two straight 3rd-and-long completions — both to wide receiver A.J. Taylor — including a 24-yard touchdown pass.
Wide receiver Kendric Pryor scored on a 32-yard end-around when Wisconsin regained possession. The Badgers scored 14 decisive points in three minutes, seven seconds.
“Sometimes adversity helps us play even harder and better,” said Hornibrook, who’s now won 17 consecutive starts. “We were able to do that today.”
Hornibrook finished 9 of 19 for 143 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Wisconsin was limited to 325 total yards.
Peters was injured on Michigan’s next possession, and the lights quickly dimmed on Michigan’s sideline.
“Give Wisconsin credit, they made more plays and won the game,” Harbaugh said. “This one hurts. But we’ll keep fighting, keep battling.”
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