Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) will be back in action this Saturday, when they hit the road to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (10-0, 7-0 Big Ten). The Wolverines, newcomers to the College Football Playoff rankings this week, still have an outside chance to win the Big Ten should they upend the No. 5 Badgers.
This game will be a big test for Michigan, and we’ll get to see how much progress they’ve made since the last time they were challenged; when they lost 42-13 at Penn State. Here are three keys to a Wolverines’ victory, which would be their first in Madison since 2001:
RUN TO SET UP THE PASS
If there’s one thing the Wolverines have really improved on in the last three weeks, it’s been their ability to run the ball. Junior running back Karan Higdon has ran for 408 yards in Michigan’s last three contests. That number would probably be higher if he hadn’t sustained an injury in last week’s game against Maryland that kept him out of the second half.
However, sophomore Chris Evans filled in well, running for 80 yards and two touchdowns on just 15 carries. Higdon is currently listed as probable for this week’s game. The Wolverines’ offensive line deserves a ton of credit for improving in their run blocking as well.
All that being said, this week will be a whole new animal when they face a Wisconsin run defense that only gives up a little over 80 yards a game on the ground. Michigan doesn’t have to run the ball the way they have been lately, but they still need to run well enough to set up their passing attack.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters will be making his third consecutive start and he’s going to need all the support he can get. As good as the Badgers are against the run, they’re also very good against the pass; they only allow 161 yards a game through the air. If the Wolverines can’t get their run game going, it’s going to be a long day for Peters and his young group of wide receivers.
STOP JONATHON TAYLOR
Wisconsin has one of the best running backs in the nation in standout freshman Jonathon Taylor. On the season, Taylor has already ran for 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s also averaging exactly seven yards a carry.
That can’t happen on Saturday, and the Wolverines have the run defense to make sure it doesn’t. Entering this game, Michigan allows just over 110 yards a game on the ground. The one exception to that was the Penn State game when Saquon Barkley ran all over the Wolverines defense. Outside of that one game, Michigan’s run defense has been dominant. If they can stop the run they have a chance because Wisconsin’s pass offense is very inconsistent.
Sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown for 1,863 yards this season with 17 touchdowns to go with it. That might sound pretty good until you realize he’s also thrown 12 picks to this point in the season, including two that were returned for touchdowns against Iowa last week. Hornibrook will put the ball in harms way more than the Badgers would like, and that’s something Michigan has to take advantage of; if they can stop Jonathon Taylor first.
PLAY IT SAFE, KEEP IT CLOSE LATE
I know how many of you just rolled your eyes at me; that’s perfectly fine. This is going to be one of those old-school, smash-mouth Big Ten football games between two teams dedicated to stopping the run, while trying to run the ball down the opposition’s throat.
That being said, the two quarterbacks got to make the plays when they are available, without making those costly mistakes. I already mentioned how Hornibrook has done this too often this season, and this will also be Brandon Peters’ first big test. Peters hasn’t been asked to do much so far but that’s going to change on Saturday. He’s just got to be careful he doesn’t make the same mistakes Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley made a week ago. Stanley tossed an interception and lost a fumble, while only completing eight out of 24 passing attempts for a measly 41 yards.
The Wolverines need to just take what the Wisconsin defense gives them, and try to force the Badgers into mistakes of their own. If Michigan can do this, the game will be close late. And if that happens, it’ll be a first for a Wisconsin team who has obliterated everyone in its’ path so far this season. It would be interesting to see how the Badgers would respond to that, especially with a spot in the college football playoff and their undefeated season on the line.
- DATE: Saturday, November 18
- KICKOFF: Noon ET on FOX
- LINE: WISC -7.5
- O/U: 40
DSN STAFF PREDICTIONS
|MATT BASSIN||WISC, 20-17|
|LUKE BOWKER||MICH, 13-10|
|DON DRYSDALE||MICH, 20-17|
|AUSTIN HEMMINGSON||WISC, 23-10|
|ALEXANDER MULLER||WISC, 24-14|
|ROB OTTO||MICH, 27-23|
|CARL POPOSKI||WISC, 17-10|