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  • The Badgers had their issues but they got what they needed when they needed it to remain firmly in the playoff conversation
By Joan Niesen
November 18, 2017

In the first two quarters of Wisconsin’s 24-10 win over Michigan Saturday, the Badgers’ offense looked like a massive liability. The score at halftime was 7-7, and Wisconsin had just 99 yards of total offense. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had just 28 yards of passing, and the Badgers’ touchdown came on special teams with a 50-yard punt return. Michigan wasn’t moving the ball much better, but it looked as if Wisconsin was one error away from squandering its playoff dream.

But that hope will live another week.

In the second half, the Badgers offensive line struggled at times, and Hornibrook faced intermittent pressure—but when he had time, he showed why he’s the Badgers’ guy. With 4:38 remaining in the third quarter, he completed a 51-yard pass to A.J. Taylor on third down, setting up the touchdown that would put Wisconsin ahead for good, 14-10.

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Both defenses excelled early Saturday, and Michigan linebacker Khaleke Hudson may have been the star of the day on that side of the ball, looking unblockable on several second-half passing plays. But in the game’s final 20 minutes, Wisconsin buried the Wolverines as its running game hit its stride. On their final four drives, the Badgers put up 232 yards and scored 17 points. On the day, Jonathan Taylor finished with 132 rushing yards, averaging 6.9 per carry, and freshman receiver Kendric Pryor scored the Badgers’ only touchdown on the ground on a 32-yard run in the third quarter. On the day, Wisconsin’s offense netted 325 yards despite struggling on third down, where it converted just five of 15 attempts.

Hornibrook’s arm figured big in Wisconsin hitting its offensive stride after halftime, but the quarterback was still relatively inconsistent. He completed just nine of 19 pass attempts and threw a pick; in fact, he leads all FBS quarterbacks in interception rate. As Wisconsin finishes the regular season and sets its sights on playing in January, its quarterback play will be the biggest question mark—but with a defense like the Badgers’, there’s still plenty of cause to hope for a playoff spot. On the afternoon, the unit allowed Michigan just 234 yards—and only 58 on the ground, where the Wolverines averaged just 1.6 yards per carry. Losing quarterback Brandon Peters in the second half didn’t help Michigan’s cause, but by the end of Saturday’s game, its attack looked completely at the mercy of Wisconsin’s physical defense.

With the win, the Badgers moved to 11-0 for the first time in program history. They’re one of three remaining undefeated teams in FBS; UCF and No. 3 Miami won in the early slate of games. With the Hurricanes’ win, No. 2 Clemson and No. 1 Alabama thumping nonconference opponents, and No. 4 Oklahoma’s afternoon matchup with one-win Kansas, it seems unlikely Wisconsin would move up into the top four. But beating its second straight ranked opponent works in Wisconsin’s favor before it faces Minnesota, which was shut out by Northwestern on Saturday, next week. For the Badgers, everything rides on the Big Ten championship in two weeks against Ohio State. A win should still get the Badgers into the final four, no matter how soft their schedule was before mid-November.

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