The Michigan Wolverines proved in their win over Wisconsin that their defense is good enough to get them past Ohio State and closer to a Big Ten championship.
Air Jordan stepped onto the field at the Big House as Michigan’s honorary captain for its season opener Sept. 3, an icon representing the new silhouette appearing in maize on the Wolverines’ classic blue jerseys.
The subtle alteration ushered in the Jumpman era for Michigan, yet no one could’ve realized the connection it would help form nearly a month later to the day.
Jourdan Lewis – not Michael Jordan – would soar on that overcast October afternoon. He’d leap, a bit prematurely, hang in mid-air, reach up with his right hand, snatch victory from the opponent and cradle it, securing a Michigan win fittingly: with a stellar defensive play.
Air Jourdan, they’d call him, forming a homonym representing Lewis’ poetry-in-motion interception that sealed No. 4 Michigan’s 14-7 victory over No. 8 Wisconsin. The nickname would trend on Twitter. The play would be compared to former Wolverine Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson’s one-handed pick nearly 19 years earlier.
And the victory would help make the case that Michigan – not Ohio State – should be considered the team to beat in the Big Ten.
Lewis, Jabrill Peppers and company held the Badgers to 159 total yards, their fewest since 1996. The Wolverines intercepted three passes, registered a pair of sacks and pressured Wisconsin’s redshirt freshman quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, throughout the day. The only score they allowed came because of a short field the Michigan offense provided following a rare mistake of its own.
It was beautiful defensive football, a complete performance that put Michigan at the top of the list of the nation’s best units – if it wasn’t there already.
Nevermind that Lewis could’ve saved the Wolverines tens of yards in field position had he simply swatted the ball to the ground on that fourth-down play. It punctuated the all-around effort the Michigan defense displayed all afternoon.
“We love it when it’s low scoring, tied up, going into the fourth,” said Channing Stribling, who had an interception of his own.
Love it or hate it, the Wolverines are winning every type of way. They can dismantle overmatched opponents to the tune of a plus-153 point scoring margin as they did through their first four games, or they can thrive with classic, grind-it-out Big Ten football and capitalize on the slim openings provided.
Michigan wouldn’t have beaten Wisconsin without that 11-play, 77-yard drive in the first quarter that De’Veon Smith capped with a 1-yard touchdown run. Nor would it have been victorious if Wilton Speight hadn’t lofted a perfect pass to Amara Darboh for a 46-yard score that broke the tie with 7:56 left in the game.
Then again, the Wolverines might’ve won more comfortably had it not been for three missed field goals that stood out as eye sores on an otherwise perfect masterpiece.
That’s neither here nor there, because the day belonged to the defense – one that is good enough and determined enough to carry Michigan past Ohio State and to an outright Big Ten championship that’s eluded the program since 2003. There’s a good chance both teams are undefeated when they meet Nov. 26 in Columbus.
The Buckeyes scored 58 points Saturday against Rutgers – a team that gets to see how good Michigan is next week – but they aren’t going to be nearly that successful against this pack of Wolverines.
Not as long as Air Jourdan looms in the secondary.