Michigan football’s historically bad first half and relating it to a trip to the dentist

Football

When I was a kid, I hated the dentist.

My dad knew that, so he used to tell me we were going to Disney World. At five years old I had a short-memory and was easily deceived. I had no reason but to believe him.

I also had no sense of direction and no idea how far Orlando, Fla. was from the suburbs of Detroit. Nonetheless, I packed my bag and was ready for Disney. But every time I thought we were headed for the Happiest Place on Earth, we ended up at the dentist’s office.

That’s one of many ways to describe the theme of Michigan football over the past 11 years. Constant promises of the ultimate destination only to end up in a completely different landing spot. But still, year-after-year the fan base comes back with those same expectations.

Michigan fans were packing their bags in 2016 for Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship, only to lose to its arch-rival Ohio State in overtime. The fan base did the same a year ago, heading into Columbus as favorites. The Buckeyes would pounce Michigan 62-39. You could say the dentist’s office was my Ohio State. And Disney World was my Big Ten Championship.

Every time my dad said, ‘Disney,’ I popped up like a Jack in the Box.

Every time the Michigan fan base hears, ‘Big Ten Championship,’ it does the same.

Another preseason filled with lofty expectations including Big Ten Championship aspirations and College Football Playoff goals, that theme of high hopes and lowly results continued Saturday afternoon as the No. 11 Wolverines dropped their first game of the 2019 season at No. 13 Wisconsin, 35-14. 

In searching for the moment this game showed its trajectory, look no further than the very first drive. Wisconsin went 75 yards in six-and-a-half minutes, getting its largest push from a fourth-down conversion on its first set of downs.

That first drive also established the best player on the field and the disparity from him and everyone else in the game. Star running back Jonathan Taylor, in limited time due to cramps in the second quarter, tallied 203 yards on 23 attempts along with two touchdowns. That’s good for a ridiculous 8.8 yards per carry. 

Following the tone-setting first drive for Wisconsin, it seemed Michigan was onto something as senior quarterback Shea Patterson connected with sophomore wideout Ronnie Bell for 68 yards. With first-and-goal and down a touchdown, it was as if Michigan was going to throw a punch back at the Badgers. 

Instead, fifth-year head coach Jim Harbaugh trotted out Ben Mason — a former fullback-turned-defensive-lineman-turned-fullback-defensive-lineman-hybrid — who hadn’t carried the ball since the 2018 season until practice this week. 

On his first carry of the game, inside the 10-yard-line, Michigan native Reggie Pearson forced Mason to fumble. 

Wisconsin would recover the ball and so began the worst half of Michigan football in the Jim Harbaugh era. And according to Wolverine Digest’s Michael Spath, the worst of any team dating back to the infamous Rich Rod era.

Wisconsin would score 28 unanswered points in the first half. No team had scored more than 21 points on Michigan all season. More importantly, no team ever put up that many points in the first half against a Brady Hoke or Rich Rodriguez led team. Both were relieved of their duties at Michigan.

Michigan’s first-half drives went, in order: fumble, punt, punt, interception, punt.

Wisconsin’s first-half drives went, in order: touchdown, punt, touchdown, touchdown, punt, touchdown.

The Wolverines totaled 96 yards in the first half. Only nine of those yards came from rushing the ball after handing the ball off to Zach Charbonnet 33 times in its previous game.

The Badgers totaled 312 yards, three-and-a-quarter times the yardage Michigan had in the half.

Michigan ran 22 plays in the first half. No drive ended in points and its longest sustained drive lasted only six plays.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin ran 43 plays in the first half, including two drives in which it scored a touchdown in less than two plays.

“We were outplayed, outprepared, and outcoached … the whole thing,” Harbaugh said following the game. “It was thorough.”

Hard to disagree as Wisconsin ended the game seemingly out of the tunnel.

The U-M fan base and locker room expected a trip to the Big Ten Championship with aspirations for the College Football Playoff.

With one loss, that could still be Michigan’s route but following a game that included the worst half of football this program has seen in years, it looks like they’re headed towards disappointment.

Sort of like, when my dad took me to the dentist’s office instead of Disney World. Over and over again.

(My dad ended up taking me to Disney World a few times. Thanks, Dad.)

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