The 1998 Expose Bowl was about as definitive as any computer-chip, quartile-crunching mega-poll ever could be.
The Wisconsin Badgers may yet make it to the Rose Bowl this January, but after Michigan’s 27-10 stampede victory Saturday, does anybody want to see them actually do it?
Michigan showed that No. 8 Wisconsin is barely even one-dimensional, and proved that the Badgers’ 9-0 record before this game was, as the skeptics said, a product of a feather-light schedule and a heavy running attack.
The Wolverines, winners of eight straight after starting the season 0-2, stopped the Badger power-running game, and Wisconsin had nowhere to go.
“I don’t know if this sends a message other than, ‘Hey, everybody, Michigan’s for real,’ ” Wolverine fullback Aaron Shea said. “We had our doubters, but we’re back. Here we are.”
Wisconsin is back too. Back behind Ohio State and Michigan and possibly Penn State in the Big Ten Conference pecking order.
This was a high-definition exposure Saturday before 111,217 at Michigan Stadium, beamed in hyper-clarity over four fast quarters.
This was Badger tailback Ron “Wrong Lane” Dayne, the 252-pound Heisman Trophy candidate, heading the opposite direction of his quarterback on three option plays, resulting in a dramatic reduction of Mike Samuel’s options and a combined loss of 12 yards.
“I didn’t know where Dayne was going, I didn’t know where the quarterback was going--I just know they didn’t get any yards,” Michigan cornerback Andre Weathers said of those three strange plays.
This was “Short Gain” Dayne and the huge Wisconsin offensive line getting swamped by the lighter but faster Wolverine defense, resulting in 16 Dayne carries for 53 yards, 17 of those coming in his final two carries.
This was a Wisconsin defense that had been holding opponents to a national-low 62.7 rushing yards a game getting torn apart for 174 Michigan rushing yards in the first half alone, and a total of 275.
“They just overpursue a little too much,” Michigan tailback Anthony Thomas said. “We knew that their linebackers do that, and we knew we could cut back and find some holes.”
Michigan’s Clarence Williams cruised for 121 yards in 22 carries, including a 44-yard burst, and Thomas banged out 102 yards and two touchdowns--including a 59-yarder--in only 13 carries.
Neither will make anybody’s Heisman list, but that did not matter Saturday.
The two long gainers came on the same type of play--a wide toss that both runners cut hard inside.
“I was disappointed that we did not show our best game,” Wisconsin Coach Barry Alvarez said. “We did not play as well as we are capable on either side of the ball. However, Michigan probably had something to do with that.”
No. 15 Michigan (8-2, 7-0), last season’s Big Ten champion and co-national champion, clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, and can win it outright, plus a trip to the Rose Bowl, by winning at Ohio State (9-1, 6-1) on Saturday.
And where is Wisconsin? If Michigan loses to the Buckeyes, the Badgers (9-1, 6-1) can get a partial piece of the Big Ten crown--and, because of tiebreakers, the Rose Bowl berth--by defeating Penn State.
That was not a very warming thought, however, for the Badgers.
“We could’ve done better,” Badger offensive lineman Dave Costa said. “We should’ve done better.”
Michigan was the first ranked team to face Wisconsin, whose most significant game had been a 31-24 victory over Purdue and whose schedule included daring matchups against San Diego State (26-14), Ohio (45-0) and Nevada Las Vegas (52-7).
Saturday’s game, though, started like Michigan’s season--the Wolverines blew a great scoring chance by failing on a fake field-goal attempt, and got behind early, after Samuel threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers late in the first quarter.
Then Michigan answered with back-to-back touchdowns, one on a Tom Brady pass and one on a Thomas run, to make it, 14-7, and Wisconsin faded away in a tumble of one-yard gains and incomplete passes.
Counting sack yardage, the Badgers were held to 58 yards on the ground, and Samuel managed to complete only seven of his 17 pass attempts.
“I never would’ve guessed we would’ve been able to be that successful against them,” said Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr, who raised his record to 9-0 against top-10 ranked teams during his four-year Wolverine tenure.
“The defense did not let Dayne get any big gains today.”
And the offense had something to prove.
“They’ve got a great running game and Ron Dayne and that big offensive line, we knew that,” Michigan tackle Jon Jansen said. “It was a challenge for us, you know, whose offensive line is going to do a better job, which running game will be the best, and I think we answered that today.”