The clear biggest matchup of a Saturday in college football lacking big games elsewhere offered few surprises.
No. 5 Wisconsin was challenged but ultimately had little trouble staying undefeated, beating No. 24 Michigan 24-10 at Camp Randall Stadium to confirm its status as a legitimate playoff contender. The game featured 17 punts, a total pass completion percentage of 42.2 percent and some big plays on defense and special teams as both offenses faced formidable challenges against excellent defensive fronts.
Style points didn't matter. The Badgers have been the better team than the Wolverines all year, and they did exactly what they needed to do in their most high-profile game of their season so far, as they seek to further eliminate doubts about their perfect record and playoff resume.
Wisconsin struggled on offense much of the first half, and its only points before halftime came on special teams, when Nick Nelson returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.
Michigan seemingly tied the game in the second quarter on a Brandon Peters pass to Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone, but officials decided there wasn't enough evidence to overturn what was ruled an incomplete pass when one foot landed in the end zone and the other landed out of bounds almost simultaneously. The next play, Peters took off running and lost a fumble at the one-yard line.
Michigan did end up tying the game on its next possession, and it added a field goal after an Alex Hornibrook interception in the middle of the third quarter. But despite barely being able to move the ball for a significant chunk of the afternoon, the Badgers took control in the final quarter and half. Hornibrook suddenly caught fire after the turnover, connecting with A.J. Taylor for 51 yards on a third-and-13, then firing a 24-yard touchdown to Taylor on third-and-16.
Wolverines QB Brandon Peters subsequently left the game after a hard hit on Michigan's next possession and was replaced by John O'Korn. When Wisconsin got the ball back, Hornibrook hit Danny Davis for 27 yards on third-and-eight, and Kendric Pryor broke off a 32-yard touchdown the next play on a reverse.
REVERSE pic.twitter.com/KsKqRGX3YV— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 18, 2017
After taking that 10-7 lead, Michigan managed a total of 39 yards on its final four possessions. The Badgers held Michigan to just 58 rushing yards in the game, while getting 132 rushing yards from star freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor. Wisconsin got the defensive challenge it expected from Michigan, but it proved to be the more complete team, and it got big throws in big moments down the stretch from Hornibrook to pull away and earn another convincing win.
The mission for Wisconsin has been clear: To avoid its resume getting holes poked in it by the selection committee, the Badgers need to go 13-0, thus leaving little doubt. Last week, they held Iowa to 66 total yards. This week, they beat Michigan by two touchdowns. Take care of business against rival Minnesota next week, and a playoff bid will be on the line when Wisconsin goes to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
Saturday was by no means the prettiest performance, but Wisconsin made all the plays it needed to make to affirm its national standing as a top-five team capable of challenging for the top four.