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Almost nobody beats Wisconsin like Michigan just did

The Wolverines have done everything they can to earn top-five bona fides since losing to Notre Dame. But now the big games begin.

Wisconsin v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Wisconsin loses games, like everyone else. But the Badgers don’t lose games like this.

Their last seven losses had come by three, six, seven, seven, seven, six, and four points. The teams that have beaten them by more than 10 points since 2009 heading into Saturday: Ohio State twice, Alabama once, and that’s it.

Alex Hornibrook has bad games, like everyone else. But he doesn’t play like that.

For most of the last two seasons, he has been one of the country’s more underrated passers. He finished 2017 with a 148.6 passer rating, top-25 in FBS. He struggled earlier this year in the upset loss to BYU, but his passer rating heading into Saturday was still 151.7.

Hornibrook’s passer rating on Saturday night in Ann Arbor during a 38-13 Michigan win: 73.5. Before a garbage-time touchdown drive, it was 9.2.

Nine point two! In Michigan backup quarterback Dylan McCaffrey’s first snap of the evening, he gained 44 yards on a touchdown run. Third-stringer Joe Milton ripped off a 23-yarder late. But in his first 15 pass and rush attempts of the evening, Hornibrook netted 12 yards.

This was a massacre, the type of result that just doesn’t happen to Wisconsin. The last time it happened, in fact, was against an Ohio State team that plowed through the first College Football Playoff to win the national title.

Michigan was already up to fifth in S&P+ heading into Week 7. And in a week in which almost every good team in the country looked vulnerable, Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines dominated.

Quarterback Shea Patterson completed two-thirds of his passes and gained 113 yards in six non-sack carries, including an 81-yard second-quarter keeper.

Karan Higdon rushed for 105 yards. The defense didn’t let Hornibrook even breathe until the Wolverines were up 31 points.

On a bloody day in which No. 2 Georgia got blown out, No. 3 Ohio State looked sketchy against Minnesota, and No. 5 Notre Dame barely got by Pitt, and No. 6 WVU, No. 7 Washington, and No. 8 Penn State all lost, and No. 9 Texas even thought about losing to Baylor — Michigan took on a top-15 team and made it look like a mid-major.

Since losing to Notre Dame in week one, the Wolverines have looked the part of a top-five team. They could be as high as third or fourth in S&P+ when the ratings are updated on Sunday.

Now, the obvious question: does this matter?

Michigan indeed lost to Notre Dame, just as it lost to rivals Michigan State, Penn State, and Ohio State last year. Losses to rivals have defined Harbaugh’s three-and-a-half-year tenure, and here come the rivalry games.

The Wolverines travel to East Lansing next Saturday. They are 1-2 against Mark Dantonio and Michigan State in Harbaugh’s tenure. Michigan State lives to disturb and disrupt teams that think they have their shit together, and Michigan definitely qualifies at the moment. After a bye week, they then host Penn State. A few weeks later, they head to Ohio State.

Michigan has done everything it possibly can to round into form for these rivalry games. But now the season begins.