No. 13 Wisconsin routs Michigan 49-11 in 1st game in 3 weeks

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Nakia Watson and Mason Stokke each scored two touchdowns in the first half, helping No. 13 Wisconsin build a big lead in a 49-11 rout of Michigan on Saturday night.

The Badgers (2-0) returned to competition after canceling two games of their all-Big Ten schedule due to a COVID-19 breakout within the program and didn’t look rusty at all against a hapless team.

“I’m really proud of the way that everyone kind of worked through what we’ve gone through,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It was great to get back to playing.”

The Wolverines (1-3) fell behind 28-0 at halftime, their largest deficit at home since the Big House opened in 1927, and are off to their worst start since 1967.

“We were thoroughly beaten in every phase,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “We didn’t do anything well. We did not play good. We did not coach good.”

Early on, it appeared Michigan might put up a fight before getting knocked out in front of friends and family in its mostly empty stadium.

The Wolverines forced the Graham Mertz-led offense to punt after the game’s opening possession, only to give the ball back on the next snap when a dropped pass was picked off by Wisconsin linebacker Leo Chenal.

Wisconsin’s first two touchdowns — Watson’s 2-yard run and Mertz’s 1-yard pass to Stokke — were four plays after Joe Milton’s passes were intercepted. The running back and fullback scored their second touchdowns on runs in the second quarter, giving the Badgers a 28-0 lead that was large enough against an offensively challenged team.

The Badgers finished with 341 yards rushing and five scores on the ground.

Mertz was 12 of 22 for 127 yards with two touchdowns.

The redshirt freshman wasn’t as spectacular as he was in his first career start, when he completed his first 17 passes and matched a school record with five touchdown passes, but the team was just thankful he was cleared to play.

Mertz tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 24, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. As of last week, the Badgers had 27 active COVID-19 cases involving 15 players and 12 staffers.

Chryst said Mertz had just a couple days to prepare for the game after being cleared.

“For what he had and the time he had, that was a good job of coming back,” Chryst said.

Milton was 9 of 19 for 98 yards with two interceptions and was replaced when the Wolverines were down 35-3 late in the third quarter. In relief, Cade McNamara completed 4 of 7 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.

MISSING AT MICHIGAN

While Wisconsin did have Mertz on the field, it was without some key players such as running back Garrett Groshek. The team announced that 10 players would not be available to play at Michigan, but didn’t say why they were out of the lineup. Wide receiver Kendric Pryor, who had two catches for 27 yards, left the game with an upper-body injury

The Wolverines were missing their starting offensive tackles, Jalen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, along with defensive ends, Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye, due to injuries.

THE TAKEAWAY

Wisconsin: The program scored a victory when its test results were good enough to resume the season. The Badgers must hope to play, and win, their final four scheduled games because teams must play at least six games to qualify to play for the league championship in the pandemic-shortened season.

Michigan: Harbaugh’s sixth season, the state of his program is being scrutinized and he doesn’t seem to have answers to fix many problems for a team that was ranked No. 16 in the preseason. Harbaugh fell to 0-11 as an underdog at Michigan, where he has one year left on his contract. His next chance to pull off an upset might have to wait until Dec. 12 on the road against No. 3 Ohio State

WARMING UP

While Wisconsin warmed up to play, quarterback Jack Coan was throwing passes and seemed to move around a month after having surgery on his right foot. Coan has started 18 games, including all 14 games last year while he had a school-record 236 completions and the Badgers won 10 games.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Badgers might up a little after slipping in the two weeks they were idle after rising to No. 9 in the AP Top 25 with the win over Illinois.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin plays at No. 23 Northwestern (4-0) in a possibly pivotal division game.

Michigan travels to Rutgers (1-3) desperately needing a win.

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.