Previously this week: First Look, Five-Spot Challenge, Tailgate Tuesday: Tomato pie, Week 4 power rankings, The numbers game, Game preview
Both Michigan and Wisconsin enter Saturday’s matchup ranked in the top 10 — the first time in series history that the two have played as top 10 teams. Both earned dominant wins over Big Ten East foes last weekend and both feature defenses that rank among the nation’s best. So what gives?
Once again, Joe was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 42 – Penn State 10. He now has the lead in our staff picks challenge with three wins in four weeks. Here are our picks for this week:
Michigan and Wisconsin feature two of the nation’s best defenses, but I’m not sold on the offenses the Badgers have faced to date. That’s not saying that their defense isn’t great. But Michigan’s offense is light years better than those of LSU, Akron, Georgia State, and Michigan State. Michigan may not score the 52 points it averages, but it will move the ball semi-consistently and put a little bit of humility into Wisconsin’s defense. Look for a lot more Jabrill Peppers as a ball carrier, receiver, and as a decoy as Jim Harbaugh finds ways to neutralize Wisconsin’s linebacker strength.
Defensively, Michigan matches up nicely with Wisconsin’s offense. Alex Hornibrook hasn’t faced the type of pass rush Michigan brings and won’t have the same accuracy he displayed last week. Without a spread threat, the defense will be able to focus on bottling up Corey Clement and forcing third-and-longs where the Wolverines excel.
The first half will remain a close, defensive battle, but Michigan’s offense will find enough to pull away in the second. Wilton Speight will take care of the ball and put together a nice stat line with Jake Butt being his favorite target.
Michigan 33 – Wisconsin 13
Wisconsin is the first real test Michigan will face this season, setting up a top-10 battle in Ann Arbor.
Michigan provides a bigger test for Alex Hornibrook, who will see a defense averaging 4.3 sacks per game. On offense, Michigan probably won’t get up to 52 points (its season average), but it should do enough to win the game.
Wisconsin will hang around, but the special teams dominance of Michigan will wear down the Badgers. Michigan will pull away late to win.
Michigan 35 – Wisconsin 24
Many are calling this the first real test for this Michigan Wolverines squad after four straight blowouts. But with Vince Biegel out for the Badgers and Michigan’s defense getting close to full strength (minus the unfortunate loss of Jeremy Clark), I think the Wolverines hold every advantage in what should be a classic rough-and-tumble Big Ten throwback contest.
Jabrill Peppers should see plenty of snaps in all three phases, Jourdan Lewis and Ben Braden should inch closer to full health, and Michigan’s defense should be far too stout for a Wisconsin team designed to ground and pound. I’ll take the Maize and Blue in convincing fashion again.
Michigan 27 – Wisconsin 10
As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Wisconsin is very good at preventing explosive plays but not so good at generating them. This plays right into Michigan’s hands. I think this will be a good test for the Michigan offensive line as they have struggled thus far against 3-4 fronts, and Wisconsin is always a stout team up front. I expect Wisconsin to keep Michigan well under their season average for explosive plays (currently 11.25 per game), but with the loss of stud linebacker Vince Biegel they will struggle to keep Michigan the board.
It appears as though sophomore running back Karan Higdon is not only healthy but quite possibly the No. 2 option behind De’Veon Smith. If this holds true I think we’ll see a heavy dose of run and play-action passing this weekend. I’m not sure Michigan tops 45 for the sixth straight game (dating back to last season) but they’ll come close. As we’ve seen Harbaugh isn’t one to let his foot off the gas.
On the other side of the ball redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook had a solid outing against Michigan State last week but it appeared that his arm strength was a bit, shall we say, lacking. He likely won’t be able to test Michigan deep, nor is he a threat to run. At least not a dangerous run threat anyway. It looks like Bryan Mone may be back this week, and if he is Hornibrook could be in for a long, painful afternoon. Michigan should keep their season pace with 10-plus tackles for loss and add three or four sacks as well.
Wisconsin is a pro-style team and they don’t really use many 3-plus wide receiver sets, so the huge loss of Jeremy Clark, literally and figuratively, might not rear its ugly head this week. However, Paul Chryst is a solid coach and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him roll out a few plays with an extra receiver or two to try and stress Michigan’s pass defense.
Honestly, I’m not too worried this week but I am very uncomfortable going forward. Brandon Watson, David Long, and Lavert Hill don’t exactly instill much confidence in me right now. But again, this is as a good a week to test out some new defensive back options as any without much fear of disastrous results.
Normally you expect a battle of two top defenses (currently No. 1 and 2 in the Big Ten) to come down to which team has the better offense. That team is Michigan, by a longshot. On top of that ,I don’t think Wisconsin is as good as their record — and previous opponents’ ranking — would lead you to believe. LSU is clearly a dumpster fire and Michigan State gave that game away with poor quarterback play and a ton of turnovers. Did I mention Georgia State took them deep into the fourth quarter? Wisconsin is good, don’t get me wrong, but Michigan is just much better all-around. My gut says it won’t be as close as a top ten matchup ought to be though. Wolverines win big, again.
Michigan 41 – Wisconsin 13
Now things start to get a little fun. We’re done with the early cream-puffs and start to get into the meat of the schedule. Mmmmmm…..meat! If you browse the inter webs on Tuesday’s, you know what we do to meat around here. We cook it low and slow and typically char it at the end. This will be no different against the Badgers. They are coming into the Big House riding high after a dominating performance against the Spartans. The big difference is the offense they will see this week is much better than anything they’ve seen so far. Speight will distribute the ball around and take a few deep shots along the way and eventually find Butt for a touchdown or two. The defense will get all over the freshman quarterback and force a few bad decisions resulting in short fields for the good guys. Michigan wins this one going away.
Michigan 34 – Wisconsin 14