Things never get easy in the Big Ten nothing is predictable.
Michigan (5-1 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) has seen the truth of this notion countless times since the beginning of the season. Who could have expected that John Navarre would perform as one of the Big Ten”s top passers for the first few weeks? And once he showed his potential, who could have expected him to fall back to earth recently?
Who could have thought that Michigan State”s T.J. Duckett would run for 212 yards against the best rush defense in the nation?
Wisconsin (3-3, 5-5) is a perfect example of the notion that unexpected does not mean impossible.
The Badgers boast the Big Ten”s second best running back in freshman Anthony Davis and the conference”s best wide receiver in junior Lee Evans who is averaging nearly 30 more yards per game than his nearest competitor, Michigan”s Marquise Walker.
But the Badgers are still putting up just 26.5 points per game, while they allow 28.4.
“Statistically, it is not a great defense,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. “However, when I looked at the film last night and this morning I see a team that is well coached, disciplined and plays hard.”
No doubt, this has been a disappointing season for Wisconsin. But that doesn”t make the game any easier for Michigan the Badgers may be surprising people with their poor record to date, but they can just as easily surprise Michigan with an upset victory.
The Badgers” weak defense still has weapons, the most prominent of which is lineman Wendell Bryant. Michigan State”s defense is injury-depleted and weak this year, but it had no trouble stopping Michigan”s offense. Wisconsin can do the same.
“Wendell Bryant is a threat on the defensive line because he plays the one-technique, defensive tackle and defensive end at different times in the game,” said Michigan offensive lineman Tony Pape. “We need to keep an eye out for him and you have to be ready to perform at your highest level when you are lined up across from an All-American.”
If Ohio State beats Illinois tomorrow and Michigan wins, the Wolverines will clinch at least a share of the Big Ten title. If such a situation should arise, then next week”s rivalry matchup with Ohio State would be for the Big Ten”s BCS bowl berth. Should Illinois win out, Michigan will get a share of the title and the BCS trip if it wins its last two games, as well.
“You have to keep it in perspective and focus one game a week,” Navarre said. “You have to focus on the task at hand, maintain an attention to detail and not look past anything because you can get hurt if you don”t do those things. You also need to treat every game as a championship game because that is what it is at this point. Fortunately, we control our own destiny.”
This game also presents an opportunity for Navarre, who hails from Cudahy, Wis., to play against a school that he seriously considered attending. Navarre, who originally committed to Northwestern, chose not to go there when then-coach Gary Barnett left. Unfortunately for Navarre, though, Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez had already received commitments from two quarterbacks.
“John called and said he wanted to come and I said that I made those two commitments,” Alvarez said. “We would love to have him in our program, (but) didn”t know if he”d be a quarterback, I didn”t think that”d be fair to the other guys. He wanted to play quarterback. I wanted him in the program, yet I felt obligated (to the other guys). I think you have to stick by what you say.”