Michigan and Wisconsin both enter Saturday’s contest ranked in the Top 10 while sporting matching 4-0 records. Some would say that Wisconsin has had the tougher schedule through four weeks, facing two top-10 teams (defeating LSU and Michigan State). But, this should be their toughest matchup of the young season.
Although you must respect Wisconsin’s victories, they have yet to face a quarterback with a pulse. This will be Wilton Speight’s fifth start of the season for Michigan and has thrown just one interception while completing 63% of his passes. Hands down Speight is the best quarterback the Badgers defense has seen.
Rushing Offense against Wisconsin
The Badgers front seven were able to hold Michigan State to a measly 75 yards last weekend. Don’t be surprised if they do the same this Saturday. Now, this same defense did allow 138 yards to LSU’s Leonard Fournette but he’s Leonard Fournette. And Fournette’s numbers aren’t quite as impressive when you factor in that LSU has had no passing game and that they knew Fournette would get upwards of 20 touches in the contest while stacking the box.
Wisconsin has some of the B1G’s best in the middle of their defense. Linebacker Jack Cichy leads this team in tackles with 23, followed by TJ Edwards and JJ Watt’s younger brother, TJ Watt. They lead a defense that has allowed only one rushing touchdown and only 80.5 rushing yards per game.
Michigan has employed a five-headed monster in the backfield if you include fullback Khalid Hill. With the emergence of sophomore Karan Higdon, the Wolverines have multiple options when it comes to who totes the rock.
The offensive line continues to be a plus as they mesh each and every game. One key to the game will be that Michigan rarely loses yards on rushing attempts while the Badgers expect to be in the backfield consistently.
- Advantage: Push
Michigan has struggled at times this year running the ball and Wisconsin is stacking up to be their toughest test yet. Of course, Harbaugh will look to establish the running game but that could be to keep the Badgers honest while setting up the play action. Could we see more Jabrill Peppers on offense?
Passing Offense against Wisconsin
Wisconsin has the athletes in their defensive backfield to be a problem for any team, already notching six interceptions this season. But, that’s not who the Wolverines should be worried about most.
Enter outside linebacker/edge rusher Vince Biegel. Biegel has been a problem for many teams over the years and this season is no different. He registered a staggering 10 quarterback hurries last week against Michigan State. His motor is something that could be a difference maker while putting pressure on Michigan first-year starter Wilton Speight. Speight must find Biegel before every snap or he will be in for a long afternoon. Biegel lines up all over the field, creating havoc in backfields all over the B1G. To make matters worse, Speight must also worry about Watt, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks and will more than likely line up on the other side of Biegel.
Michigan may look to run shorter routes this week since they will be facing plenty of pressure from the Badgers. Amara Darboh and Jake Butt are perfect possession receivers in a game like this. Sure handed and reliable, they will be Speight’s best friends. Facing this kind of pressure will open up the screen game as well. Freshman running back Chris Evans should see a few touches out of the backfield, as Harbaugh will do his best to slow down Wisconsin’s pressure on his quarterback. The running back screenplays should do just that. Receivers like Eddie McDoom and Jehu Chesson could see the ball on quick throws right down the line to alleviate some pressure as well.
- Advantage: Push
Wisconsin has been impressive in all games so far, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Michigan has yet to be stopped offensively and the passing game has been a staple since game one. Something has to give and it lies on Wilton Speight’s decision-making abilities.
Rushing Defense against Wisconsin
Senior running back Corey Clement seems like he’s been in Wisconsin red for 10 seasons. Clement heads the Badger rushing attack with 83 yards per game and five touchdowns. He’s only 5’11’’ but weighs 230 pounds, similar to the build of Michigan’s Deveon Smith. Clement is a tough runner who is not easy to take down. But, he has been nursing a lower leg injury on his left side (even though he still played last week against Michigan State). Senior Dare Ogunbowale is a very capable backup as the Badgers average over 40 rushing attempts per game.
Mr. Everything Jabrill Peppers will continue to find a home in opponents’ backfields. Leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss, Wisconsin will do their very best to identify Peppers before snapping the ball. Ben Gedeon continues to rack up the stops, topping the team with 38 tackles, six for loss.
Michigan is allowing 122 yards per game on the ground. That average may be a little higher than it seems because they have given up some huge gains due to blown assignments.
- Advantage: Michigan
Wisconsin’s running game is solid but Michigan is probably going to be the most aggressive defense the Badgers face. Clement is a seasoned vet but he won’t have much room to maneuver as I predict Harbaugh loads the box and makes the freshman quarterback beat him.
Passing Defense against Wisconsin
Wisconsin freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook has a tall task in front of him: Go to Michigan Stadium, in front of 100,000+ fans and get a victory over the number four team in the country. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Hornibrook started his first game last week against Michigan State. He took advantage of his opportunity and finished 16/26 for 196 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a win.
Here’s where the Wolverines are going to get their advantage. Hornibrook will face pressure like he’s never seen before. The Wolverines blitz-heavy package will force a handful of bad decisions that they must capitalize on.
Michigan lost senior cornerback Jeremy Clark for the season but are able to replace him with Jourdan Lewis. Outside of some blown coverage’s early in the Colorado game, the Wolverines have bounced back to lock down opposing offenses. They are also number one in the country on third down defense.
- Advantage: Michigan
Michigan will pressure the hell out of Hornibrook and he’s bound to turn the ball over at least once. That’s all the Wolverines will need to be able to take advantage and impose their will on the Badger passing attack.
Prediction: Michigan 24 – Wisconsin 13
No doubt this is Michigan’s toughest challenge yet — Wisconsin and Michigan are two evenly matched teams. The difference in this matchup is the freshman quarterback. Jim Harbaugh is always the most prepared man on the field. Don’t expect this week to be any different.
What’s your score prediction for the Michigan – Wisconsin game? Let us know in the comment section below!
Photo Credit: Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog
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