Michigan’s nonconference schedule didn’t go exactly as it would have liked, with an unimpressive win over Northern Illinois and an embarrassing loss to Notre Dame. But after their blowout win against Eastern Michigan last weekend, the Wolverines head into the Big Ten season with a renewed focus on winning its third consecutive conference title.
Unlike Michigan, Wisconsin enters Big Ten play with an unblemished 3-0 record. But it hasn’t been an easy ride for the Badgers, who just barely eked out a victory against Bowling Green in the first game of the season. Wisconsin has extra motivation to win this year with long-time coach Barry Alvarez stepping down at the end of the season.
Michigan passing offense vs. Wisconsin passing defense:
So far this season, Wisconsin’s opponents have actually out thrown the Badgers. Bowling Green, Temple and North Carolina averaged 265 yards through the air. Michigan hasn’t been able to find a consistent deep threat yet this year, but the Wolverines have the weapons to be unstoppable. Senior co-captain Jason Avant leads the team with 22 receptions for 310 yards. The real question will be if the coaching staff allows sophomore quarterback Chad Henne to air it out. In the past, the Michigan offense has gone conservative in its first road game.
Michigan rushing offense vs. Wisconsin rushing defense:
Having given up just 39.7 yards per game on the ground this season, Wisconsin is fourth in the nation in rushing defense. The Badgers have yet to give up more than 75 rushing yards, and two weeks ago they held Temple to a meager 11. Of course, Temple is no Michigan. The Wolverines have had three different running backs lead the team in rushing in the last three weeks. The big question is if sophomore Mike Hart will play after not dressing last week because of a leg injury. Though Kevin Grady and Max Martin are certainly capable ball carriers, the backups have had trouble holding onto the football in the past. They should be able to rack up more than 100 yards against the Badgers, but the test will be limiting the turnovers.
Wisconsin passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense:
The Badgers rank fourth in total offense among Big Ten teams, but very little of that production has come through the air. Quarterback John Stocco is efficient but has completed just 34 passes for 434 yards on the season. Against North Carolina, Stocco passed for 138 yards on 14-of-23 passing but was sacked four times. Michigan has had trouble pressuring the quarterback this season, notching six sacks in three games. But the Wolverines have still found a way to slow down their opponents’ air attacks, giving up just 459 passing yards to this point.
Wisconsin rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense:
Badgers tailback Brian Calhoun torched the Tar Heels last weekend, amassing 174 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. The redshirt junior is currently the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten with 471 yards in three games. The Wolverines’ defense held Eastern Michigan to just 15 rushing yards at the Big House last week. Michigan has improved its run defense since it gave up 224 yards to Northern Illinois in its first game. Still, none of the running backs the Wolverines have faced compare to Calhoun.
Wisconsin wide receiver Brandon Williams has returned eight punts for 154 yards, and his average of 19.2 yards per return ranks eighth in the nation. Michigan has a top punt returner of its own in wide receiver Steve Breaston, who showed a hint of last year’s form with his 72-yard return against Eastern Michigan last week. But Williams has the edge in terms of who’s done what this season.
The Wolverines haven’t won their first road game since 1999. Then again, Michigan hasn’t dropped its Big Ten opener since 1981 – when it lost to Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium, which is known as one of the rowdiest venues in the nation. The Badgers’ drunken fans should provide quite the contrast for the Wolverines, who have grown accustomed to the less-than-raucous atmosphere of the Big House.
The two teams haven’t played each other since 2002, when Michigan beat the Badgers 21-14 at Michigan Stadium. That unfamiliarity is sure to have a role, especially considering few players on either team have seen extensive action against each other before. With two similarly loaded offenses, this game could come down to which defense wants it more.
Michigan 28, Wisconsin 24