Week 7 Preview: Michigan vs. Wisconsin
When: 7:30 p.m. ET Saturday, October 13
Where: Michigan Stadium – Ann Arbor, MI
Line: Michigan -9.5
Well, we are officially at the halfway point in the 2018 football season and Michigan stands at 5-1 and is ranked number 12 in the country. After a nice win at home against Maryland last week, the Wolverines enter a three-game stretch that should tell us everything we need to know about this team. Michigan will face Wisconsin this week, will travel to E. Lansing next week to face the rival Spartans, and after a bye week, will come back home to face Penn State. You could argue that each test in these three games, will be increasingly difficult as the Wolverines proceed through the gauntlet.
First, up is 15 ranked Wisconsin, a team that still looks to be the favorite in the B1G West but may not appear to be as stout as once thought to be, after falling to BYU earlier in the year. This does not mean that this is an easy game by any means as we will see below. Any time you have a top 15 match-up, you should be in for a good contest.
Michigan vs Wisconsin Statistical Analysis
First, we will look at some key statistics.
|Team||Record||Avg Point Diff||Off YPP||Off YPG||3rd Down %||Def YPP||Def YPG||Def 3rd Down %||T/O Diff.||PPG||PPG Allowed|
|Team||Rec.||2ndO Wins||S&P+||S&P+||Rk||Off. S&P+||Rk||Def. S&P+||Rk||ST S&P+||Rk||Last Week||Chg|
As we look at the numbers, things are pretty neck and neck on the offensive side of the ball with perhaps a slight edge given to Wisconsin due to their yards per play and yards per game. Also they have the clear superior ranking in S&P offensive ranking with Michigan at 25 and Wisconsin at 8. This has a lot to do with the fact that Wisconsin has been highly successful running the ball, averaging 287 yards per game and 6.2 yards per attempt. Those numbers are good for 4th and 6th best in the nation, respectively. Michigan is 33rd in the nation with a little over 199 rushing yards per game and is ranked 27th with 5.1 yards per rushing attempt. The Badgers pretty much try to cram the ball down the throats of opponents, even more so than Michigan, averaging 46.6 rushing attempts to Michigan’s 39.3 per game. The Wolverines are slightly more balanced with 60% of their offense being running the ball where Wisconsin is rushing 66% of the time. Michigan is slightly more effective passing than Wisconsin is since the Maize and Blue average 220.8 to Wisconsin’s 193.2 passing yards per game.
These minor details may end up being the difference in the game.
They say defense wins championships and Michigan has the clear edge defensively. The Wolverines have the #3 ranked total defense, according to ESPN, whereas the Badgers are ranked 31st. Further, Michigan is #1 in defensive yards allowed while Wisconsin is 33rd. Even the S&P numbers have the defensive comparison highly lopsided with Michigan at #2 and Wisconsin at #55. Here’s where it gets interesting. We just learned/confirmed that both teams will run the ball roughly two-thirds of the time. The thing to focus on here is that the Badgers give up 130+ yards per game to Michigan’s 96.5 in the same category. Michigan should have a bit more success than the Badgers when comparing rushing attacks against one another’s defense. Passing wise, opponents are struggling to find success against Michigan, big time. The Wolverines are the #1 pass defense in the nation and are only allowing 134 yards per game on average. Wisconsin is ranked 54th in this category while allowing almost 86 more yards per game than Michigan (219.6).
We know that Harbaugh loves balance, even while he runs 60% of the time, he maintains that the goal each week is to run for 200 and pass for 200. It appears that in this contest, the balanced attack may suit them, but don’t be surprised to see them open it up even more than they did last week, especially if Wisconsin can be as effective as Maryland was at containing the run. Maryland has had more success at defending the run in 2018 than has Wisconsin, however. Wisconsin on the other hand, may struggle to do anything. Don Brown knows what Wisconsin butters their bread with, and that’s the run. He will have his unit prepared to keep this in check, even while the defensive line is a bit beat up. He can somewhat rely on the fact that his pass rush and stingy passing defense will keep the ball in Michigan’s hands as long as his unit is having success containing the run and shutting them down on 3rd down.
Who are these guys?. . .
This will be the first time Michigan faces a team that plays similar to them, in that they run a pro-style, smash-mouth brand of football. Wisconsin is known for their big bruising offensive lines, and this year’s unit is no different. In fact, this year’s unit returned every starting member from the previous season. The thing is, they are not perfect – far from it. The Badgers’ offensive line has averaged 1.6 sacks per game which is tied for 41st best in the country and they haven’t quite faced a defense like Michigan’s yet. The name that you should know if you don’t by now, is Jonathan Taylor. Taylor is the team leading running back for Wisconsin and is the 6th leading candidate for the Heisman trophy according to ESPN’s Expert Panel. This offense lives and dies by Taylor’s success or lack thereof. Against BYU, their lone loss and against Iowa, their next closest game, Taylor “only” accumulated 117 and 113 yards respectively. In the rest of their games this season, he’s averaged 206+ yards per game.
Senior RB Taiwan Deal and Sophomore RB Garrett Groshek, are also relatively effective runners, as is FB Alec Ingold. All of them average between 6 and 8 yards per touch and every one of them have also caught at least one pass. The clear receiving back is Groshek though. Groshek is third on the team in receiving yards as well as receptions. Wisconsin’s leading WR is A.J. Taylor. Even at a compact 5’11 203, he’s managed to put up 354 yards on 18 receptions. Next in line is TE Jake Ferguson because what’s a Wisconsin offense without an effective TE? Last year it was TE Troy Fumagalli (3 catches for 38 yards but gone now), AJ Taylor (3 catches for 79 yards 1 TD), and WR Kendric Pryor who gave the Wolverines the most trouble offensively. Pryor did so not by catching passes, but by running the ball, which is similar to what he’s been doing so far this year. He’s got 4 rushes for 40 yards to go with his 11 catches for 108 yards.
Defensively, the Badgers are pretty banged up. The best pass rusher they have, Isaiahh Loudermilk is listed as questionable, but most think he won’t play. They will miss one of their best defensive players in Scottie Nelson for the first half of the game due to a targeting penalty incurred in their last game. Safety D’Cota Dixon is in a walking boot, and although it has been said to be precautionary, he clearly will not be 100% if he plays at all. Freshman CB Deron Harrell sustained a concussion in the game last week and is listed as questionable as are CBs Travian Blaylock (right leg) and Caesar Williams (left leg). They will also be without ILB Griffin Grady (right leg) and OLB Andrew Van Ginkel (right leg), potentially, as both of them are also questionable. At this point in the season though, you can nearly list anyone and everyone as questionable as nicks, bumps, and bruises start to add up throughout the course of a football season.
Wisconsin is already the 7th worst team in the country in terms of sacking opposing QBs, and is the 21st worst team in the nation in tackles for loss. These injuries are not a good omen for the Badgers in this contest.
Wisconsin wins if. . .
They can somehow keep Michigan from running effectively, while also finding ways to stop the passing attack. This is going to be made even more difficult with Shea Patterson’s ability to improvise along with the fact that he may not need to do that a whole lot if Wisconsin cannot create pressure on him. If all else fails, perhaps a special teams touch down like last year’s punt return, or some other bounce in Wisconsin’s favor will assist. Wisconsin will need to run the ball effectively as they do most weeks, and will also need to find ways to keep themselves from being too one-dimensional. Sprinkling in WR reverses and misdirection plays will help combat Michigan’s aggression and the Badgers will need to get the ball to the TE in the middle of the field and/or underneath to really do damage.
Michigan wins if. . .
They continue to keep penalties in check, which improved greatly last week. Michigan will have to contain Jonathan Taylor and try to keep him to under 200 yards rushing. They will have to be ready for play action, misdirection, and things that Wisconsin will look to run at them in order to keep them honest. Last year Wisconsin won with only 143 yards passing. This year, the Wolverines need to keep QB Alex Hornibrook to similar numbers while hopefully also causing a turnover or two. Michigan cannot allow any special teams touchdowns and has to limit the big plays. Since most of Wisconsin’s offense is the rushing attack, just be stout there and keep them under 5 yards per carry – preferably 2-3 yards per carry and force Wisconsin into 3rd and long situations. Jonathan Taylor has had the most success on first down; 609 of his 849 yards have come on first down. Taylor is the type of back who gets stronger as the game goes on as well. He’s average d 6.8 and 11.2 yards per carry in the 3rd and 4th quarters as opposed to 5.9 and 5.7 in the first and second. Michigan needs to play 60 complete minutes of football, it’s that simple. If the Wolverines are able to pull off the victory they should jump into the top 10 for the first time since week 5 of last year.
Out: Tarik Black, Brad Robbins, Ben St. Juste, Luiji Vilain
Questionable: Aubrey Solomon, Rashan Gary*, Michael Dwumfour, Carlo Kemp
Probable: Chris Evans,
*Gary could play if needed but leaving him in questionable because I’m of the opinion it may make more sense to rest him one more week.
Out: RB Bradrick Shaw, CB Travian Blaylock, LB Griffin Grady, DE Isaiahh Loudermilk, TE Zander Neuville, OL Blake Smithback, LB Mason Platter, DE Garrett Rand, LB Zack Braun, S Scott Nelson*
Questionable: LB Andrew Van Ginkel, CB Caesar Williams, CB Deron Harrell
Probable: S D’cota Dixon
*S Scott Nelson is out the first half due to targeting penalty
Thoughts From The BluePrint Family
Michigan has won 5 games in a row going into the B1G Ten showdown vs Wisconsin. I’m very impressed with how this team has taken care of business ever since the disappointing loss to Notre Dame Sept. 1st. This is definitely a whole different team from game one.
They have continued to improve each and every week in all three aspects of the game. I expect Shea Patterson to have the best game of his short Michigan career against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers defense has been less impressive this season and they are battling a lot of injuries and also will be missing their starting safety for the first half of Saturday nights game.
As long as we can contain Johnathan Taylor and stop him from having a big game and force Hornibrook to beat us with his arm we can win the game. Hornibrook is really not a threat passing the ball and he turns the ball over a lot. Michigan’s defense will continue to roll and hold Johnathan Taylor just short of 100 yards rushing. My offensive MVPs will be Shea Patterson & Zach Gentry. Defensive MVP’s will be Devin Bush & Chase Winovich.
Michigan wins 31-14.
Night Game, at home in The Big House, I am excited!
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