Michigan’s schedule has gotten progressively harder each week this season and the Wolverines have passed each test with flying colors. Tomorrow, Michigan faces its toughest test yet when eighth-ranked Wisconsin comes to town.
|Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
|Wisconsin Head Coach:
||Paul Chryst (2nd season)
||33-22 (14-3 at Wis)
||Joe Rudolph (2nd season)
||Justin Wilcox (1st season)
||10-3 (6-2 Big Ten)
||UW 48 – UM 28 (2010)
|Record in Ann Arbor:
|Jim Harbaugh vs Wisconsin
|Last Michigan win:
|Last Wisconsin win:
|Wisconsin Schedule to date
|#8 Michigan State
Apparently Wisconsin is a part of the Big Ten. It’s true, I just looked it up. High schoolers right now probably don’t even remember the last time Michigan played the Badgers as the two teams haven’t faced off since 2010, when they wouldn’t have even been teenagers yet. Yes, that was two coaches ago for both teams. Rich Rodriguez graced one sideline and Bret Bielema graced the other. Those were different times indeed.
But now, both teams are back and will face off as top 10 opponents for the first time in series history. Although Michigan has owned the all-time series (49-14-1), Wisconsin has won the last two, beating Michigan 48-28 in 2010 and 45-24 in 2009. And while Michigan comes into this year’s matchup ranked higher, Wisconsin is the team that has already played and beaten two ranked opponents.
Wisconsin opened the season with a 16-14 win over then-5th-ranked LSU in a not-so-neutral site game at Lambeau Field. But that win has looked less and less impressive as the first month of the season wraps up. LSU let Jacksonville State hang around until the last minute of the first half. Then they squeaked by Mississippi State, 23-20. Then last week they lost to Auburn 18-13 and promptly fired Les Miles. They feature the nation’s 110th-best scoring offense and 111th-best total offense. Consider that Penn State ranks 72nd in scoring and 112th in total offense.
It remains to be seen whether or not the big win over Michigan State is as good as it looked. The Spartans have been dominant in recent years, but had an uninspired performance against Furman in the opener and then knocked off Notre Dame, who is just 1-3.
So is Wisconsin as good as its wins initially looked? Or is their ranking overinflated due to overrated opponents? The answer probably lies somewhere in between, but let’s take a look at the matchups.
|When Wisconsin has the ball
Wisconsin’s offense currently ranks 63rd nationally in scoring offense (30.8 points per game), 75th in total offense (410.5 yards per game), 58th in rushing (184.2 yards per game), and 70th in passing (226.2 yards per game).
Whereas Michigan’s offense hasn’t recorded fewer than 397 yards in a game this season, Wisconsin’s has exceeded that only twice — 400 yards against Georgia State and 586 against Akron. Against the two good defenses it has faced, it has averaged just 328 yards. Those defenses — LSU and Michigan State — rank seventh and 21st in S&P+. By comparison, Michigan ranks second.
Wisconsin started senior quarterback Bart Houston for the first three games after winning the competition in fall camp, but Chryst went with freshman Alex Hornibrook against Michigan State. Houston completed 62 percent of his passes for 527 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Hornibrook, meanwhile, has completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 378 yards, three touchdowns, and two picks. Against Michigan State last Saturday, Hornibrook went 16-of-26 for 195 yards, one touchdowns, and a pick.
He has a couple of dangerous receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and Robert Wheelwright, who have combined for 31 receptions for 502 yards two touchdowns. Peavy had a big game against Akron with seven catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught four passes for 96 yards against MSU. But Those two scores against Akron are the only two by the tandem thus far. Junior tight end Troy Fumagali is the only other pass catcher with double digit receptions. He has caught 14 passes for 169 yards. Interestingly, the most scoring production has come from lesser known tight ends Eric Steffes and Kyle Penniston and fullback Alec Ingold, who have caught 11 combined passes and three have been touchdowns.
The best player on the Badgers’ offense is senior running back Corey Clement, who averages 83.7 rushing yards per game. He missed the Georgia State game with an injury, but has scored two touchdowns in two of the three games he has played. However, Michigan State held him to just 2.3 yards per carry — one of those being a 22-yards run. Senior Dare Ogunbuwale is the second leading rusher with 186 yards and a touchdown on 42 carries and he’s the best pass catcher out of the backfield. Freshman Bradrick Shaw leads the team with an average of 5.7 yards per carry on 24 attempts.
The offensive line has allowed six sacks through four games, one more than Michigan’s has. But it’s a young line that struggled to open holes for the running game last season. Junior left tackle Ryan Ramczyk, a transfer from UW-Stevens Point, is the elder statesman. Left guard Michael Deiter, center Brett Connors, right guard Beau Benzschawel, and right tackle Jacob Maxwell are all redshirt sophomores.
|When Michigan has the ball
Wisconsin’s defense lead the nation in scoring defense a year ago, but defensive coordinator Dave Aranda bolted for LSU. Instead of promoting from within, Chryst hired Justin Wilcox, who had just been fired from USC. Wilcox has been considered one of the top up and coming coaches in football after having success as Boise State’s defensive coordinator from 2006-09 when the Broncs went 49-4. He went from there to Tennessee for a couple seasons, then Washington, and USC, but has yet to land a head coaching gig.
He inherited a lot of pieces from Aranda, including nearly the entire front seven. It’s lead by one of the best linebacking corps in the nation. However, it received a major blow this week when the Badgers announced that senior Vince Biegel will miss a few weeks with a foot injury. While that may make things a bit easier for Michigan’s offense, there is still plenty of talent there. Juniors T.J. Watt and Jack Cichy and sophomore T.J. Edwards are the team’s three leading tacklers and have combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.
The line isn’t the type of pass rushing line that Michigan features, but it mostly stands its ground and lets the linebackers do that. Junior end Connor Sheehy has one quarterback hurry, a tackle for loss, and half a sack, while fellow junior end Chikwe Obasih only has three tackles. Sophomore nose tackle Olive Sagapolu is a 6-foot-2, 340-pound space eater but not a threat to get to the quarterback.
The secondary is where some vulnerabilities may lie, as Wisconsin ranks just sixth in the Big Ten and 39th nationally against the pass. Senior cornerback Sojourn Shelton is a good one and junior Derrick Tindall is as well. They have a combined three interceptions and 10 pass breakups thus far. The safeties are junior D’Cota Dixon and senior Leo Musso, who have combined for 28 tackles, a sack, an interception, two quarterback hurries, and a fumble recovery, which Musso returned for a touchdown last week.
Wisconsin is also without its starting field goal kicker, junior Rafael Gaglianone, who will miss the rest of the season for back surgery. While his status was still up in the air last week, Chryst played aggressively on offense, going 2-of-2 on fourth downs. Gaglianone’s backup, senior Andrew Endicot, did attempt one which he made from 41 yards out. It was the first of his career.
Freshman punter Anthony Lotti ranks last in the Big Ten with a 39.0-yard punt average, though he has downed four of nine inside the 20 with no touchbacks.
Peavy handles the punt return duties, averaging 4.8 yards per return, while Ogunbowale averages 22.8 yards per kick return.
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. 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 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