MADISON, Wis. -- Coming into Week 4, Saturday's Michigan-Wisconsin game was a chance for two top-15 teams to answer some serious questions about their programs.
Wisconsin had shut out its first two opponents, South Florida and Central Michigan, but how difficult was the competition? Michigan had struggled with turnovers in wins against Middle Tennessee State and Army, but would the Wolverines be able to turn it on against a top team?
After Wisconsin trounced Michigan 35-14, many of those questions were answered, and the results were not pretty for the Wolverines. Here are the six biggest takeaways from the Badgers' resounding victory.
1. Harbaugh, Michigan at a crossroads
There was concern about whether the Wolverines were headed in the right direction under Harbaugh after they were throttled 62-39 against Ohio State last season, dropping Harbaugh's record to 0-4 against his rival. But with new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis coming in to modernize the offense, things were supposed to be different in 2019.
The Wolverines' offense looked anything but modern against Wisconsin, rushing for 9 yards in the first half against the Badgers and fumbling the ball for the sixth time this season -- that's three more than in all of last season. Harbaugh's road isn't going to get any easier either, as his team still has to take on Iowa, Penn State, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State. None of those games seems like an easy win, and if Harbaugh can't figure out a way to at least beat Ohio State, the problems are only going to increase.
2. Wisconsin is a serious playoff contender
The Badgers shut out South Florida and Central Michigan to start the season, but after a disappointing 2018, the question was whether Wisconsin was the real deal or the beneficiary of weak competition. That has been answered after the Badgers dismantled the Wolverines, shutting Michigan out for three quarters.
"Yeah, we were outplayed. Out-prepared and out-coached, outplayed, the whole thing," Harbaugh said after the game. "Both offensively and defensively ... it was thorough. We knew it about their team: They've got the ability, they're good enough. If they play good enough, they're good enough to beat you thoroughly, and that's what happened today."
The Wisconsin defense went 14 quarters without allowing a point, going back to last year's New Era Pinstripe Bowl, in which Miami scored a field goal in the first quarter. A balanced attack on offense has proven to be difficult to stop, even for Michigan.
The Badgers gave Michigan its worst first-half deficit under Harbaugh, leading 28-0 after two quarters. With Jack Coan showing accuracy and good decision-making, combined with good offensive line play and Jonathan Taylor at running back, this Wisconsin team should be talked about not just as a Big Ten conference champion contender but also as a team that could have a shot at the playoff.
3. Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman threat
Taylor takes off for a 72-yard Wisconsin TD
Jonathan Taylor shows off his speed with a 72-yard touchdown run.
The junior running back had 143 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter against Michigan. Had it not been for cramps hampering him early in the game, Taylor might have been able to pad those stats even more, as he was moving the ball with ease. Despite the injury, he finished with 203 yards on 8.8 yards per carry.
He has a shot to be one of the most prolific college football running backs of all time, rushing for 4,171 yards and 29 touchdowns in his first two seasons. Entering the game against Michigan, Taylor already had 237 yards and five touchdowns, and Wisconsin has even found a way to get him involved in the passing game.
If Taylor can stay healthy, this can be a special season for him and Wisconsin.
4. Michigan's offense can't find space
The entire offseason, Gattis spoke about the offense creating speed in space and how it will use its playmakers on the outside. Through the first three games, the Wolverines are struggling to do much of anything.
The offense has fumbled the ball seven times and doesn't seem to be finding any kind of groove. The offensive line isn't showing much improvement, and besides freshman running back Zach Charbonnet, the run game is abysmal.
If it were a personnel or recruiting problem that needed time, that would be one thing. But Michigan has the pieces in place and can't find a way to execute on offense.
5. Quarterback questions remain for Wolverines
There was some hope for Michigan's offense when Shea Patterson announced his transfer from Ole Miss prior to the 2018 season. There was hope that a mobile quarterback with the ability to make a big play could help elevate the offense.
Patterson completed 64.6% of his passes, throwing for 2,600 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. In the first two games, against Middle Tennessee State and Army, Patterson threw for 410 yards and three touchdowns, hardly the outcome the Wolverines were hoping for.
Backup Dylan McCaffrey started the second half in place of Patterson but left the game after taking a vicious hit in the third quarter. Harbaugh said after the game that McCaffrey sustained a concussion from the hit, but he would not comment further on the quarterback's status. Patterson returned and made some nice throws late, but the Harbaugh-Patterson duo has not delivered what was hoped.
6. Don't forget about Michigan's defense
Defense has been Michigan's strength the past few seasons, but it has struggled after losing some big names from 2018, including first-round draft picks Devin Bush (LB) and Rashan Gary (DL), plus defensive lineman Chase Winovich.
Against Wisconsin, the unit struggled to contain the Badgers' ground game and repeatedly let Taylor loose on big plays. The defense allowed four rushing touchdowns in a half for the first time in 20 years. (It hadn't allowed four rushing TDs in an entire game, let alone a half, since 2014.)
The defense gave up 21 points against Middle Tennessee State and 21 against Army, and Michigan still needed double overtime to secure a win against the latter. This season's product is not typical of what Michigan's defenses have produced under coordinator Don Brown, and things need to improve if the Wolverines are going to have a shot at a strong finish.