ANN ARBOR, Mich. –
If this game was turned into a roller coaster, the ride would have so many peaks and valleys that it could be construed as a safety hazard.
Seeing the momentum snowball against the Badgers from the beginning of the fourth-quarter on, Wisconsin had a chance to salvage its conference opener when, with 13 seconds left, the Badgers were finally able to punch the ball in the end zone and give themselves a chance to force overtime.
Down 27-25, Allan Evridge thought he did just that, hitting tight end Travis Beckum just inside the goal line to send the UW sideline into a jubilant frenzy.
But a yellow flag on the far end of the field was a fitting conclusion to the Badgers' day.
An illegal procedure penalty called on tight end Mickey Turner wiped out the two-point conversion and forced Wisconsin to try again from the Michigan 8. When Evridge's attempt for Isaac Anderson sailed over his head, the crumble was complete.
"It was a tough day," Evridge said. "You have to go high with the pass in the back of the end zone and I didn't even see where it went. It was all the small things that killed us."
While the penalty was signaled on Turner, it was a misalignment by Beckum that drew the flag. Travis was originally lined up on the right, moved to the left and accidentally lined up on the line of scrimmage, making the other tight end in the set (Turner) ineligible to proceed downfield.
"It was a sign of all signs when we lined up improperly," Bielema said. "It was an improperly alignment on our behalf and the story of the whole day when we basically took opportunities of our own hands."
After missing the first two weeks of the season with a hamstring injury, Beckum re-aggravated his hamstring a week ago Thursday and missed all of this week's prep work for Michigan. Only catching two passes for 17 yards, Beckum was only a factor in the end and in not the way he had hoped.
"If you don't practice, you can't play and nobody it can discount how much it means to Travis to compete," Bielema said. "I know it's very frustrating for everyone involved."
Gilreath's first score
The Badgers never would have had their opportunity to tie the game if it weren't for an airborne, acrobatic catch by sophomore David Gilreath, giving the Badgers a glimmer of hope on his 22-yard touchdown catch.
Though Gilreath wasn't pleased with his play, as he dropped several catchable balls, he was able to take pride in scoring his first touchdown. The young receiver/returner has used his big play ability plenty during one and a half seasons, but had talked eagerly of finally getting into the end zone.
"Yeah, I can personally enjoy it, because, yeah, I got my first one," Gilreath said. "But at the same time, we lost, and man, if we could have gotten that two-point conversion, I would have been way up, I don't even know how that would have felt."
The only saying goes that whichever team wins the turnover battle, usually wins the game.
Wisconsin's defense played pretty well during a 3-0 start, with an outstanding performance last week at Fresno State. But one thing was missing: making the opponent turn the ball over, because that's the quickest way to get the offense back on the field.
Hard to believe this is true, but nothing a little trip to Michigan Stadium, UW's personal house of horrors, couldn't fix, right?
Five first-half turnovers helped Wisconsin build a 19-point lead that seemed larger than it actually was. The Badgers scooped up three Michigan fumbles – two on returns, and another by UM quarterback Steven Threet on an ill-advised scramble – and grabbed two Threet interceptions.
"If there was a hole to crawl into (at halftime), I'm sure a bunch of us, including myself, would have liked to crawl into it," UM coach Rich Rodriguez said. "(Threet) was just pressing a little bit; he did not play well the first two and a half quarters."
But then Threet picked his play up, along with the rest of the Wolverines. The Badgers, who allowed just 21 yards in the first half, didn't follow suit.
The key was not getting off the field on third downs, which has been a chronic problem for UW this season. Michigan didn't convert any of its first nine 3rd-down chances; but did connect on five of its last seven attempts.
"Late in the third quarter, that's the point that broke us," linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "There was a 3rd-and-10, we give them 12 yards; then a 3rd-and-15, and we draw a penalty and they got it.
"I think that just kind of deflated us, and we weren't able to get back up."
Wisconsin could not create any turnovers in the second half, while committing two costly giveaways themselves; the touchdown interception that bounced off receiver Kyle Jefferson's hip and into the arms of UM linebacker John Thompson, and quarterback Allan Evridge's fumble on Michigan's four-yard-line that killed a long drive in the final two minutes.
The biggest difference: Michigan increased their yardage tenfold after halftime, with 257 yards.
By the numbers
46: John Clay's 46-yard run in the second quarter was the longest of his career and tied for the longest run by a Badger this season.
52: Phil Welch nailed a career-long 52-yard field with 10 seconds left in the first half. For the game, Welch went 4-of-5 in his field goals with three coming over 40 yards.
500: Michigan Stadium celebrated its 500th game by watching Wolverines earn their greatest come-from-behind home victory in its history.
Quote of the Day
"When you fail at the opportunities as many times as we did offensively, to put this game in a situation where it began to build from the other side, just shows that we aren't quite where we need to be from a killer instinct standpoint and the end result is obviously defeat." – Bielema on not being used to having a big lead on the road.
Aaron Brenner contributed to this report
Even after all the issues Wisconsin had faced in the fourth quarter, a successful two-point conversion with 13 seconds left gave the Badgers second hope in overtime. That was a dream, as an illegal procedure penalty wiped the score off the board, adding to the missed opportunity theme for Wisconsin.