NCF Nation: Ann Arbor 0805

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Tony Ding
 Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (53) dumps a bucket of water on head coach Rich Rodriguez after the Wolverines stunned No. 9 Wisconsin, 27-25, on Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Part of the credit for Saturday's historic comeback goes to the Michigan Stadium FieldTurf.

Unlike real grass, FieldTurf can't be penetrated by gophers, moles and other subterranean creatures. That's a good thing, because Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez wanted to join his furry friends at halftime.

"If there was a hole to crawl into, a bunch of us, including myself, would want to crawl in that hole," Rodriguez said.

Many of the 109,833 in attendance wouldn't have minded if Rodriguez had gone underground after Michigan's miserable first half. As the first-year coach and his players walked to the locker room trailing Wisconsin 19-0, the fans let them know exactly how they felt.

Coaches often talk about living in bubbles and ignoring distractions, but the boos bouncing around the nation's biggest stadium were impossible to block out.

"If you were anywhere in the Ann Arbor vicinity, you heard 'em," Rodriguez said, smiling. "The fans are frustrated. They want to play at a high level here, and that's OK. I hope they're not booing the kids, they're booing the coaches. We have to take it as coaches.

"But I didn't see a lot of people leave."

Michigan's new uniforms are embroidered with Bo Schembechler's famous saying: "Those who stay will be champions." Those who stayed at the Big House on Saturday afternoon were witnesses to history.

The Wolverines went from incompetent to inspired, from hopeful to heartened, from futile to unstoppable, all in a blink of an eye.

They rallied from a 19-0 halftime deficit to beat ninth-ranked Wisconsin, 27-25, completing the biggest comeback in Michigan Stadium history in the 500th game played at the Big House. They avoided a disastrous 1-3 start and won their 23rd straight Big Ten home opener.

"It [was] a defining game for this team," nose tackle Terrance Taylor said. "If we had lost, it would have been a setback. ... Now that we've won, we've got momentum going for the rest of the season. It's who we are."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Allan Evridge and the Badgers know they let a few opportunities get away from them on Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A 2-point conversion attempt with 13 seconds left on the clock encapsulated the type of day Wisconsin had.

Opportunity presented. Opportunity lost.

And the Badgers could only blame themselves.

After wide receiver David Gilreath atoned for several dropped passes with an acrobatic touchdown grab, Wisconsin tried to tie the score at 27. The Badgers succeeded. And then they didn't.

All-American tight end Travis Beckum, a player the Badgers hoped to hold out of the game because of a lingering hamstring injury, hauled in the conversion from Allan Evridge. But officials flagged Beckum for being an ineligible man downfield. The senior should have lined up off the line scrimmage rather than next to another tight end, Mickey Turner.

"It was improper alignment on our part, which was kind of the story for us all day," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We missed opportunities on our end."

Most of those opportunities took place in the first half, when the Badgers had chances to bury Michigan.

They converted only one of Michigan's five first-half turnovers into a touchdown. Twice they took over at the Wolverines' 27-yard line following takeaways and had to settle for field goals.

Those chances ended up costing Wisconsin its top 10 ranking, its undefeated record and its hope of ending a four-game slide at Michigan Stadium.

"There were so many opportunities lost," Evridge said. "It's going to be even more frustrating to see on film the opportunities you let go."

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Tony Ding
 Michigan cornerback Morgan Trent (14) pulls down Wisconsin receiver Kyle Jefferson (7) during the second quarter of the Wolverines' stunning 27-25 win Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- They're called sudden-change situations, and Michigan defenders have grown quite accustomed to them during the first four games this season.

"It's when we have to run on the field unexpectedly when the ball's on our side of the 50," Wolverines defensive coordinator Scott Shafer explained.

Shafer's defense entered five sudden-change situations in the first half Saturday against No. 9 Wisconsin. Five times the Wolverines kept the Badgers out of the end zone.

The defense's damage control bought enough time for a sputtering offense to stage an incredible second-half turnaround and rally to a 27-25 victory at Michigan Stadium. The constant back-to-the-wall jams usually take a mental toll on a defense, but the opposite effect holds true for the Wolverines.

"That's what's different from last year," said nose tackle Terrance Taylor, who had eight tackles and a fumble recovery in the comeback win. "We want to be out there when it's crunch time. It's fun. We like situations like that, sudden change and we've got to stop them for a field goal. The game's on the line. Stuff like that, that's what we play for."

Michigan's transitioning offense has repeatedly put the defense in compromising positions. In the opener against Utah, the defense limited damage and gave the offense a chance in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago at Notre Dame, the Wolverines committed six turnovers, including two first-quarter giveaways in their own end that the Fighting Irish converted for touchdown drives of 11 yards and 14 yards.

Taylor and his teammates weren't about to give away another game.

"The good defenses that I've coached have all been the same," Shafer said. "It's been, 'Just put the ball down. Put it down wherever you want and we're going to come after you hard.' ... You look at the first couple games, we had a ton of sudden-change opportunities and we stuffed 'em. I'm proud of those kids. Those percentages are way up there on our board. They are getting a good sense of pride in those tough situations."

The pride, Taylor said, comes from being in superior condition, which has shown in the second half.

Wisconsin's desperation touchdown with 13 seconds left marked the first offensive touchdown Michigan has allowed after halftime this season. Several Wolverines players felt they were in superior condition to Wisconsin down the stretch.

"It's not just the shape, it's also a mind-set," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "The way we practice lends itself to getting in better shape as the season goes along. Sometimes it takes a win like this to maybe prove that and verify that, that, 'Hey, the reason we run so much and our practices are up-tempo is so the games are easier."

It was only fitting that the defense, which allowed just 34 yards in the third quarter, put Michigan on top for good. Linebacker John Thompson, who received stitches in his chin after a first-half injury, returned an interception 25 yards to the end zone.

"A swing can happen at any time," Thompson said. "Sudden change is part of the game. We've got to fight."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez talked this week about how a young team can make a dramatic jump in a short period of time.

He probably didn't think it would happen in 12 minutes. During a game. When all hope seemed to be lost.

The 500th game at Michigan Stadium turned out to be a memorable one, as Michigan produced the biggest comeback in stadium history.

Wisconsin appeared to tie the game after a phenomenal touchdown grab by David Gilreath and a 2-point pass to Travis Beckum, but an ineligible receiver downfield penalty negated the conversion. I'm sure Bret Bielema will have something to say about that.

Michigan scored four times in a 12-minute span and overcame a 19-point halftime deficit to win its 23rd consecutive Big Ten home opener. The Big House continued to be a house of horrors for No. 9 Wisconsin, which dropped its fifth straight here and confirmed its perception as being overrated.

The Wolverines' defense was simply spectacular in the second half, as it has been all season, flustering Allan Evridge and the Wisconsin offense. From the veteran linemen to the young linebackers, everyone stepped up. Quarterback Steven Threet rebounded from a rough start, but the defense gave him a chance.

Perhaps the Badgers started looking ahead to Saturday night clashes with Ohio State and Penn State. Now those games have a lot less meaning.

I'm headed down to do postgame interviews. Check back later for more updates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The 109,833 fans who mockingly cheered Michigan for holding onto the ball on kickoff returns now have a different reason to be excited.

Michigan's defense has completely flustered Allan Evridge, P.J. Hill and the Wisconsin offense, buying enough time for Wolverines' redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet to get going. Threet led Michigan on scoring drives of 80 and 85 yards, settling into a nice rhythm with Greg Mathews and Martavious Odoms. A more creative passing attack has opened up rushing lanes, and Brandon Minor converted for a touchdown.

If Michigan holds on, all credit goes to a defense that hasn't allowed an offensive touchdown in the second half this year. John Thompson's interception return for a touchdown put Michigan in front for the first time today. Wisconsin is doing nothing right now. Where's John Clay?

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- As usual, Wisconsin is not winning any style points, and the Michigan offense has started to show a pulse.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez rotated veteran running backs Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady with freshman Sam McGuffie, and the combination seemed to work on a 14-play, 80-yard scoring march.

After a miserable first half, quarterback Steven Threet settled into a mini-rhythm, moving better in the pocket and making more authoritative throws. Threet threw a nice ball to freshman tight end Kevin Koger for a 26-yard touchdown, and Michigan avoided its first home shutout since 1967 against Michigan State. Starting tight end Carson Butler has yet to play and still could be in the doghouse for the punch he threw against Notre Dame.

The Wolverines probably don't have enough firepower to come all the way back, but their defense is keeping them close. Wisconsin doesn't have top tight ends Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham, but the offense gained only 34 yards in the third quarter, all on the ground.

Quarterback Allan Evridge has shown a greater willingness to run, though an option call on third-and-1 from the Michigan 37-yard line was a head-scratcher. He's also getting no help from his receivers, who have continued their preseason habit of dropping passes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A bye week clearly didn't teach Michigan how to respect the football.

After giving away the Notre Dame game with seven turnovers, the Wolverines have fumbled six times in the first half today, losing three. Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet topped off the turnover spree by tossing two interceptions within the final two minutes. That's absolutely pathetic, especially after a two-week break in which I'm sure Rich Rodriguez and his staff stressed the importance of limiting turnovers. And it's not just young players. Senior Morgan Trent fumbled a kickoff return.

How bad has it gotten for the Maize-and-Blue faithful? They sarcastically cheered kickoff returner Martavious Odoms for simply hanging onto the ball on a short runback with five minutes left in the half. I just walked by several "Old Blues" in the press box who are saying this is the worst they've ever seen Michigan play at the Big House, and it's the 500th game.

Can Michael Phelps start taking snaps for Michigan?

And it's not like the Wolverines are doing anything when they keep the ball. Michigan finished the half with 21 total yards and minus-7 passing yards. Can you say Notre Dame of 2007?

Barring a dramatic turnaround after halftime, Michigan will find itself at the bottom of the Big Ten power rankings on Monday.

Wisconsin is doing what Wisconsin does best: dominating the line of scrimmage and capitalizing on an opponent's mistakes. The Badgers don't get much respect nationally because they aren't flashy, they don't run a spread offense and their quarterbacks are fairly anonymous. But this defense should start generating some buzz. They're laying the wood to Michigan right now on almost every play. LinebackersJonathan Casillas and DeAndre Levy have been fabulous. Sam McGuffie has no room to run, and Threet is constantly under duress.

John Clay is healthy, by the way. The Badgers' third-string running back sat out several practices with back spasms but looked just fine on a 46-yard scamper that set up a P.J. Hill touchdown. Clay could be Wisconsin's most talented back, but Hill is the established starter and has another year of eligibility left. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin uses the two backs as Clay gains more experience. Nice problem to have.

Credit the Michigan defense for hanging in there. Linebacker Jonas Mouton is having a solid game, and the veteran-laden line had done its best. But when the offense gives the defense no chance, there's only so much you can expect.

All-American tight end Travis Beckum remains on the sideline, his helmet now no longer on his head. The Badgers don't need Beckum the way they're dominating this game. Save him for Ohio State next week. This one looks like it's over.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- With all four starters returning, Michigan's defensive line was considered the strength of the team coming into the season.

It will have to be today.

Wisconsin has dominated play so far, particularly on defense, and should be leading by much more than six points. A veteran Badgers' defensive front is absolutely manhandling Michigan's patchwork offensive line. Freshman running back Sam McGuffie has no chance to run up the middle, and Badgers linebackers DeAndre Levy, Jonathan Casillas and Jaevery McFadden are sealing off the edges.

The last play of the quarter summed it up for Rich Rodriguez's sputtering offense, as quarterback Steven Threet got hit as he threw the ball away and Michigan still got called for holding. Michigan managed just 22 yards and one first down in the quarter. This is beginning to look a lot like Notre Dame in 2007.

The Badgers have had some success with the run game, but Michigan's front four has done a nice job so far. Wisconsin couldn't convert a Threet fumble into a touchdown and settled for three points. The Badgers held the ball for 10:17 but couldn't get in the end zone. Not good.

A potential problem for the Badgers is the passing game. Star tight end Travis Beckum is dressed for the game but has yet to appear. Guess that hamstring is still a problem. The All-American is just standing on the sideline right now.

Without both Beckum and Garrett Graham in the game, quarterback Allan Evridge is looking more to his wide receivers, most of whom are unproven.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Some ominous clouds have given way to sunshine here at Michigan Stadium, where No. 9 Wisconsin and Michigan will kick off in a few hours.

Wisconsin enters the game 3-0 and comes off a bye week after a big road win against Fresno State. The Badgers, who have dropped their last four games at the Big House, face an unranked Michigan team for the first time since 1967. Junior running back P.J. Hill headlines a Badgers offense that ranks 13th nationally in rushing (238.7 ypg). A veteran defensive front seven has helped Wisconsin rank among the top 25 in both points allowed and rushing yards allowed. Wisconsin becomes the first team ever to open Big Ten play with traditional powers Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Michigan has started 1-2 for the second straight season. Last year, the Wolverines rebounded and took an 8-2 record to Madison before falling 37-21. Rich Rodriguez's team also comes off a bye week, which should benefit the Wolverines after three mistake-filled games. "If you have a young team that hasn't played a lot, you can improve immensely [after a bye week]," Rodriguez said this week. Despite an unsightly loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, the Wolverines appeared to settle on their starting backfield with quarterback Steven Threet and running back Sam McGuffie. Michigan ranks 105th nationally in total offense and needs a much sharper performance to have a chance against the Badgers. Today marks the first time since 1957 an unranked Michigan team faces a ranked Wisconsin squad.

A good atmosphere around the stadium today. I was tempted to stop by the house parties on State Street, especially the one bumpin' the old-school rap and playing beer pong, but I wisely opted not to. The Michigan Stadium field has two logos commemorating the 500th game played here.

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