ANN ARBOR - With one week to go before The Game, the University of Michigan still had a game left to play yesterday against Wisconsin.
And while early on it didn't look like it was going to be any game at all, the 12th-ranked Wolverines ultimately needed to find their A-game defensively to survive with a 21-14 victory before 110,412 at Michigan Stadium.
“It's a good win, but there are certainly some things we have to get shored up here quickly,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who was asked how much time he had before looking to Ohio State. “Not much!”
Michigan (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) grabbed a 14-0 lead just 4:19 into the game, watched the resilient, hard-luck Badgers tie it by halftime, then needed perhaps its best drive of the season to set up Saturday's showdown in Columbus.
The UM defense yielded 195 rushing yards but just 60 through the air to the Badgers, who fell to 6-6, 1-6 after a 5-0 overall start.
“My hat's off to Wisconsin,” Carr said. “They got down 14-0 in the first five minutes and found a way to fight back. It was a great football game. Defensively, it was as good an effort as we've had all year.”
Offensively, UM junior tailback Chris Perry delivered a career-best 175-yard rushing effort on a career-high 27 attempts. Included was an 11-yard, first-quarter touchdown run and a 43-yarder to the Badger 19 in the final minute to ice things for Michigan, which topped the Badgers 352-255 in total offense.
The game was ultimately decided by the Wolverines' monster 16-play, 78-yard drive in the third quarter which took 8:43 off the clock and put UM ahead to stay on an eight-yard TD pass from quarterback John Navarre to wideout Braylon Edwards.
Edwards caught the ball over the middle, then dragged Badger safety Ryan Aiello the final three yards before stretching over the goal line with the ball in his right hand with 2:15 left in the third quarter.
The Michigan defense forced Wisconsin punts on its next three drives, then saw Badger quarterback Brooks Bollinger's final three pass attempts of the day fall incomplete on the last possession.
From the UM 31, Bollinger found Jonathan Orr in the left corner of the end zone behind Markus Curry, but the ball slipped through a falling Orr's hands. A fourth-down pass eluded Darrin Charles with 1:29 to play.
Michigan needed just five plays plus a five-yard Badger penalty to move 75 yards and score on its first drive of the game.
Perry broke a 28-yarder on a cutback run to his left, and B.J. Askew's impressive, 27-yard TD burst was topped off by his dive inside the left cone 2:46 into the game.
Badger tailback Anthony Davis ended with a solid game, gaining 154 yards on 26 carries, including a two-yard TD run to tie the game 4:31 before halftime. But his first attempt of the day proved costly.
Davis fumbled on a hit from Michigan cornerback Marlin Jackson, and senior linebacker Victor Hobson recovered at the Badger 19.
Perry scored three plays later to put UM ahead by 14.
“We dug a hole for ourselves in the first quarter,” Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said. “We could have just rolled over, but I thought my kids really competed and showed resilience. We had our chances in the game.”
The game's momentum turned in Wisconsin's favor with 1:27 left in the first quarter when Jim Leonhard fielded a 30-yard Adam Finley punt in stride toward the right sideline, cut left at the Michigan 25, and continued on for a 39-yard punt-return TD.
“We've been really close to breaking one all year and we finally got one,” Leonhard said. “It gave us a big boost that we really needed at the time. We just couldn't come through at the end.”
Michigan's next two possessions ended on turnovers, with Askew fumbling on a 19-yard pass play and Navarre being intercepted by LaMarr Watkins.
“They made adjustments and we fumbled and threw an interception,” Navarre said of Wisconsin's comeback. “That stalled us. That was a swing in the game, and they're going to feed off that momentum. They're a good ballclub.”
The Badgers actually could have led at the break, but Mike Allen missed on a chip-shot 26-yard field goal attempt 9:03 before halftime, and Bollinger's desperation pass on the final first-half play found the hands of wideout Orr in the end zone, only to be jarred loose by UM safety Ernest Shazor.
“We had our hands on the ball in the end zone at least three different times and didn't come up with the play,” Alvarez said. “When you want to upset a good football team, you need to make some of those plays.”