Michigan rushing offense vs. Wisconsin rushing defense
By now, it’d be an understatement to say freshman running back Sam McGuffie is on everyone’s radar. He leads the team with an average of 71 rushing yards per game, with the next-best Michigan running back (freshman Michael Shaw) averaging just 17 rushing yards per game.
The Wisconsin defense has struggled to make tackles, especially during its 13-10 win against Fresno State two weeks ago. Though the Badgers have had two weeks to focus on tackles, they may have an issue with McGuffie’s speed.
If McGuffie continues his meteoric rise, expect the Wolverines to easily win this battle.
Michigan passing offense vs. Wisconsin passing defense
Now that redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet has claimed the starting spot, he should come out with a little more swagger. His play has improved every game, and that shouldn’t stop against the Badgers. And with wide receiver Greg Mathews back in action after having two weeks to recover from his injured ankle, the Michigan offense could show more than just flashes of potential. But for now, the Wolverines are dead last in the Big Ten in total yards and points per game.
Wisconsin’s defense has allowed its opponents to convert on over 44 percent of third downs this season, which could continue to be an issue. Its secondary is respectable but not spectacular – but it may not need to be to stifle Michigan’s already-shaky passing game.
Wisconsin rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense
The Badgers still play old-school, smashmouth Big Ten football. With bruising running back P.J. Hill and a big, experienced offensive line, Wisconsin’s run offense presents a big challenge for Michigan’s defensive front.
If any Big Ten team can stop Wisconsin’s ground game, Michigan could be it. The Wolverines rank second in the conference in run defense.
Wisconsin may have the upper hand early in the game, but the experience and conditioning of Michigan’s front four should shine in the second half.
Wisconsin passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense
Wisconsin’s excellent tight end, Travis Beckum, poses a big matchup problem for the Wolverines. Beckum has the speed and route-running abilities of a wide receiver and none of Michigan’s linebackers can cover him alone.
Expect the Wolverines to put a linebacker underneath Beckum with safety help over the top. That strategy might contain Beckum to a point, but it will put a lot of pressure on Michigan’s cornerbacks to handle Wisconsin’s wide receivers alone on the outside.
Beckum will play a huge role in this game, and that’s not a good thing for Michigan.
Redshirt junior punter Zoltan Mesko has continued to be strong for the Wolverines all season, and his reliability shouldn’t be compromised against the Badgers. But the Wolverines’ obvious question mark on special teams is kick returns. After a fumble-ridden performance against Notre Dame, Rodriguez has tried putting six different players on kick returns during practice this week. Returning the ball has clearly been a point of emphasis in practice, and the Wolverines will be looking to redeem themselves.
Wisconsin has a very good kick returner in David Gilreath, who is averaging almost 30 yards per return with a season long of 63 yards. Overall, the Badgers simply have an advantage on special teams because they are solid – the same can’t yet be said about Michigan.
It’s hard to give either team an advantage from the bye week, but Michigan should see a bigger jump in improvement just because it is on a steeper learning curve in the new system.
The Big House crowd will play a role but won’t decide the game. Maybe seeing Michael Phelps on the field before the game will inspire the Wolverines to “go for the Gold.”
Wisconsin wins, 21-17