No doubt about it. If Bo Schembechler had his choice of any Big Ten team—aside from Northwestern, that is—to feed his No. 1-ranked Michigan Wolverines in their season opener last Saturday, Wisconsin would have been high at the top of the list.
Bo tried to convince his players that the Badgers were no pushover, telling them he thought Wisconsin would finish third in the Big Ten, but as everyone knows, No. 3 in the Big Ten is like No. 98 in the U.S. Why, these Badgers were even known around the state of Wisconsin as "The Bad Guys," and for good reason. In keeping with recent Wisconsin tradition—two winning seasons in the last 17—they weren't supposed to be very good.
Bo didn't think the final score was very good: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 14.
Last year Wisconsin didn't score a touchdown until its fourth game. On Saturday in Madison, against a Michigan team that hadn't yielded a touchdown in 5½ games, Wisconsin scored two touchdowns in the second quarter and the gamer—on a 71-yard pass play. Quarterback Jess Cole throwing to Tailback John Williams—in the third. "This win is the best thing that ever happened to me," said Coach Dave McClain, making no attempt to conceal the "thrill" of beating Schembechler, who had been his coaching mentor when McClain was an assistant at Miami of Ohio.
September 20, 1981
Two other Top 10 teams were also defeated—Nebraska losing to Iowa 10-7, and Alabama succumbing to Georgia Tech 24-21—but Wisconsin's shocker was easily the biggest upset of the season's first full weekend. The Badgers, after all, hadn't beaten Michigan since 1962, and in their last four games Michigan had outscored Wisconsin 176 to 0. Michigan hadn't lost an opening game on the road since 1881, at Harvard.
Certainly McClain and his players had no reason for optimism before Saturday's kickoff. In fact, McClain has been more of a morale lowerer than morale booster since he came to Wisconsin in 1977. The Badgers went 13-18-2 in his first three seasons, and after practically every loss McClain would utter this stock line: "We don't have any skilled players. We've got more unskilled players." He even called one of his players a "dodo."
Some frustrated Wisconsin players said McClain is more like a camp counselor than a football coach. McClain has fed his players cookies and milk, and leads them on what he calls "The Victory Walk" before games. Imagine the sight of burly Badgers walking around and around and around the parking lot of the Yahara Center hotel in Madison Saturday morning. McClain maintains the mile walks "create a unity."
McClain has other problems, too. The NCAA is investigating an alleged stashing incident that took place when Wisconsin was recruiting Offensive Guard Carlton Walker, now a sophomore; Walker has said that an alumnus took him to a Florida hotel and forced him to sign with Wisconsin. Also, it was recently disclosed that McClain and his assistants have been giving complimentary tickets to dealers in return for the use of new cars.
On the player front, Williams has argued with McClain over what position he should play, and McClain has been getting low marks for his handling of his star player. Running Back Chucky Davis, who had been Georgia's high school player of the year before Herschel Walker won that honor.
To say the least, Davis has had a checkered academic and athletic career in Wisconsin. He played for the Badgers as a freshman in 1979, but subsequently failed to meet the Big Ten's eligibility requirements and didn't play in 1980. Badger coaches enrolled Davis in summer school at Wisconsin. That fall the coaches enrolled Davis in Madison Tech, a local junior college. But he withdrew, and remained out of school entirely until this past summer when Badger coaches again got him to take some courses at Wisconsin. This time he stayed in school and completed whatever courses he needed to return to Wisconsin in the fall, regain his eligibility and play for the Badgers this season.
But whatever pent-up animosities existed on the Wisconsin squad, they were directed solely at Michigan on Saturday. Davis did his part for McClain by rushing for 69 yards on 15 carries, catching two passes for 48 yards and scoring one touchdown. Williams took a screen pass from Cole out of the shotgun, about five yards behind the line of scrimmage, and bolted down the left sideline for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. As for McClain, he opened up his drab, predictable offense—and won some friends among the crowd of 68,733—by using the shotgun, which had been what long-suffering Wisconsin fans wanted to use on McClain.
In all, Wisconsin ran 78 offensive plays to Michigan's 53 and stuffed 439 yards in total offense down Bo's vaunted defense. "We were lucky we lost by only seven points," said Bo. "Our offense wasn't good, our defense wasn't good, our kicking game wasn't good [Ali Haji-Sheikh missed field-goal attempts of 41 and 46 yards] and our coaching was poor." That about covered it.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, did most things right, which definitely was an unusual happening in Madison. On the game's first series the Badgers gave Bo and his boys a taste of things to come. On first down Michigan's Stan Edwards was halted at the line of scrimmage for no gain. On second down Butch Woolfolk was stopped in his own backfield for a loss of one yard. On third down Steve Smith threw an incompletion. On fourth down Don Bracken punted. After Wisconsin ran seven plays, Michigan tried its luck again. Woolfolk gained three yards. Woolfolk lost one yard. Smith threw incomplete. Bracken punted. A pattern was developing.
Michigan, however, scored first, taking a 7-0 lead shortly after recovering a Wisconsin fumble at the Badgers' 33-yard line early in the second quarter. But before you could write out the name Schembechler, Wisconsin tied the score at 7-7 following a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cole to Marvin Neal and Mark Doran's conversion. And moments later—two seconds before the half—Davis scored from a yard out and the Badgers led 14-7.
Woolfolk's 89-yard touchdown run, the second longest in Michigan history (he had a 92-yard romp against—you guessed it—Wisconsin in 1979), gained the Wolverines a 14-14 tie in the third quarter, but then Williams did his thing for the winning touchdown and the Badger defense took over.
Tim Krumrie, Wisconsin's outstanding noseguard, who participated in a team-high 13 tackles, almost twice as many as any other Badger, scoffed at Michigan's attack after the game. "Their philosophy was to run the ball down our throat," he said. "When they wanted to pass, it was a little late."
And whither Michigan? Were the Wolverines overrated, as Schembechler claims, or a victim of the classic upset situation—looking past a supposedly inferior opponent to an important game the following week, that is, this Saturday's matchup against Notre Dame at Ann Arbor? For sure, Schembechler now knows, if he didn't beforehand, that he has a quarterback problem; freshman Smith may run a 4.5 40, but he completed only three of 18 passes for just 39 yards and threw three interceptions—all by Safety Matt Vanden Boom. And if Schembechler can't find a quarterback who can get the ball to Anthony Carter, who caught only one pass for 11 yards against Wisconsin, well. Bo may not visit Pasadena on New Year's Day after all.
Quite understandably, there was bedlam in Madison Saturday night. During last year's game with Michigan at Madison, which the Wolverines won 24-0, Badger fans booed so noisily during one Michigan offensive series that Wisconsin was assessed three time-outs and drew five penalties. On Saturday night, though, State Street, the main drag, was loaded with people. Many were loaded; many were hanging from lampposts; all were singing the Badgers' theme song, whose tune is that of the Budweiser ditty: "When you've said Wisconsin, you've said it all."
As far as Bo Schembechler's concerned, the Badgers really did say it all. Michigan's not No. 1.