MORRY GASH / AP Enlarge
MADISON, Wis. - The same outcome with the same issues has backed the University of Michigan into the same deep corner, only deeper.
To extend their season, the Wolverines now need to do something not so familiar - beat Ohio State.
It will be a lonely winter in Ann Arbor if UM cannot buck a five-game losing streak to its chief rival next week as all of its bowl prospects rest on The Game's outcome after the Wolverines again failed to snatch a sixth win yesterday at No. 21 Wisconsin.
The second half disk is scratched and continues to skip for the Wolverines, who were once again overwhelmed in the final two quarters in a 45-24 setback at Camp Randall Stadium. In a trend that has probably induced unhealthy addictions among a few of its fans, UM has been outscored 99-19 in the second half over its past four games, including a 24-7 difference yesterday.
Stuck on five wins for a month, UM now has a losing record - 5-6 overall, 1-6 in the Big Ten - to match its poor play. A win at home over OSU seems as if it would be as shocking as it would be therapeutic for the Wolverines.
"I've never liked Ohio State, so I'm going to do what I can do and hopefully we can come out with a victory and get these guys to a bowl game," said Tate Forcier, who ended an argumentative week with his coaches by throwing two touchdowns.
Results of a defensive scheme to counter the Badgers' powerful rushing attack were at times passable. But there was one problem - UM also has a porous pass defense. Scott Tolzien threw for four touchdowns and 240 yards on 16 of 24 passing and added a one-yard score to put the Badgers (8-2, 5-2) ahead 42-24 with 11 minutes left. John Clay, the 248-pound running back on whom UM's scheme centered, carried 26 times for 151 yards and a touchdown. He was held to just three yards in the first quarter and 42 in the first half against a defensive look that had reserves like Will Campbell, Brandon Smith, and J.T. Floyd playing regularly.
"Defensively we're really reaching to find an answer to try to stop people," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez' boss, UM athletic director Bill Martin, chimed in with his dismay over the Wolverines' recent second halves.
"Yeah. You know, the second halves, the [snaps] over the center," Martin said. "[Rodriguez and I] talk about that. I know the coaches talk about that all the time."
UM played reasonably well for much of the first half and took a 17-14 lead with 3:46 to go when Brandon Graham sacked Tolzien, forcing a fumble that was scooped by Ryan Van Bergen and returned 14 yards for a touchdown. But Wisconsin scored on all five of its possessions after that point, including a one-yard run by Clay that finished a six play, 74-yard drive with 1:09 remaining in the half.
For the game, UW outgained the Wolverines 469 to 265. It was 286-106 in the second half as the Badgers ran twice as many plays (42) as the visitors (21).
"I wish I had an easy answer for that," Rodriguez said. "In the second half it seems like defensively we're not able to get off the field. Our offense needs to be in a rhythm and we're not on the field much offensively."
Forcier, who admitted after the game that Denard Robinson took most of the snaps with the first-team offense this week in practice, threw for 188 yards on 20 of 26 passing. Both he and Tolzien threw an interception. Roy Roundtree followed his breakout game against Purdue with a seven catch, 56-yard, one-touchdown performance. Reserve running back Vincent Smith, who played significantly when Brandon Minor was sidelined in the first half with a shoulder injury, nearly mirrored Roundtree's stats, catching seven passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.
Two first-half sequences really hurt the Wolverines.
A first-quarter drive that made its way to UW's six yielded zero points following three run plays and a blocked 19-yard field goal by J.J. Watt.
"It's something you just have to deal with," Forcier said. "It could be play calling, it could be anything."
A strong defensive showing was wasted in the second quarter when on fourth-and-20 Brandon Smith was penalized 15 yards for roughing the punter. UW made the most of its extended opportunity, scoring a touchdown from Tolzien to Nick Toon - the first of their two scoring hook ups - to take a 14-10 lead.
"That was really disheartening," Rodriguez said. "That's the same as a turnover."
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The same outcome with the same issues has backed the University of Michigan into the same deep corner, only deeper.