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Wisconsin vs. Michigan: 3 things we learned from the Badgers' 14-7 loss

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Thoughts after a tough loss in Ann Arbor.

Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

It was a defensive slugfest in Ann Arbor on Saturday, but the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (5-0) ultimately pulled away from the No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (4-1) in a 14-7 win.

The deciding score came in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Wilton Speight found wide receiver Amara Darboh for the eventual game-winning, 46-yard touchdown. After that, Wisconsin’s offense could not move the ball as the momentum shifted Michigan’s way.

Here are three things we learned from Wisconsin’s first loss of the season:

This game came down to the passing games of both teams, and Michigan’s won out.

The Wolverines’ defensive unit is legit, allowing only 159 total yards, eight first downs and four of 15 third-down conversions against Paul Chryst’s offense. At times, Wisconsin looked like it could move the ball, but on all but one of the Badgers' drives, Michigan’s defense came away with stops.

The Wolverines contained the Badgers’ ground game, holding them to only 2.5 yards per carry on the afternoon. Running back Corey Clement ran for 68 yards on 17 carries, including a couple of runs over 10 yards, but Michigan’s defense dominated the line outside of those Clement runs and a fly sweep to Jazz Peavy.

That forced redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook to win the game. Unlike last week, Hornibrook looked like a freshman starting his second game, completing only nine of 25 passes for 88 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. He appeared rattled at times, but that was also due to Michigan defenders laying in some hits on the first-year starter.

In the long run, this will be a great learning experience for the young signal caller.

Speight completed 20 of 32 passes for 219 yards and the one touchdown that decided the game. Wisconsin contained tight end Jake Butt (three catches, 31 yards), and wide receivers Darboh and Jehu Chesson combined for 11 catches for 139 yards—not necessarily backbreaking by any stretch. Michigan did move the ball through the pass game just enough to win, especially that game-deciding play, while Wisconsin’s couldn’t muster much.

Wisconsin had to capitalize on opportunities when given. It didn't.

Despite that, there were opportunities the Badgers could have taken advantage of. With over two minutes left in the third quarter, Hornibrook could had Peavy for a 77-yard touchdown after a Michigan defender fell down. He over-shot it and fell incomplete in what was the Badgers’ one true opportunity for an explosive play and a 14-7 lead, despite the lackluster efficiency.

Defensively, it looked like Wisconsin could have had three separate interceptions in the first half. One could have stopped Michigan’s first touchdown drive, and the third opportunity may have led to an even larger turnaround. Though the Wolverines missed a 31-yard chip shot of a field goal, cornerback Lubern Figaro could have picked off a pass and taken it for a long return back. Of course, he could have stepped out of bounds as well, but Wisconsin has been fairly good at taking advantage of those shots in previous games (its one turnover on Saturday did lead to its only touchdown).

The defense, without Vince Biegel, is still an excellent squad and will keep Wisconsin in every game this season.

Giving up only 14 points to an offense averaging 52 heading into Saturday’s game, Justin Wilcox’s squad performed quite well without its emotional leader and team captain in Vince Biegel.

Three linebackers—Jack Cichy, T.J. Watt and T.J. Edwards—all recorded double-digits tackles, and they held an offense averaging about 230 yards per game on the ground and 240 through the air to 130 and 219, respectively. The Wolverines only converted three of 15 third downs, and Speight got away with some throws the Badgers wish they had back. Wisconsin also recorded four sacks and six tackles for loss against a solid Michigan offensive line.

Having Biegel back in two weeks against Ohio State would be huge for this unit, but Garret Dooley asserted himself nicely on Saturday, registering seven tackles, one sack and one quarterback hurry.

The 46-yard touchdown pass against Tindal was disappointing, but for the most part, the Badgers contained Michigan’s offense in an area (the passing game) where many felt they’d be exploited.

As long as this unit continues to play at the level it's at, the Badgers will be in every game this season (and outside of Ohio State, probably favored).