With two games left in the season, Michigan can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
If the Wolverines (5-1 Big Ten, 7-2 overall) can win their final two games, they will claim the Big Ten championship. But Michigan has a few big roadblocks standing in its way, starting with tomorrow”s game at Wisconsin.
For the last four years, Wisconsin (3-3, 5-3) has been one of the elite teams in the Big Ten, winning a pair of conference titles.
But the Badgers still have many detractors who all point to one thing Wisconsin has lost four straight games to Michigan and hasn”t looked especially good in any of those losses.
Michigan rush offense vs. Wisconsin rush defense: Heading into last week”s “Little Brown Jug” game against Minnesota, there were a lot of questions about Michigan”s “iffy” running game. The Wolverines responded by piling up 300 yards on the ground.
Tomorrow”s contest presents another opportunity for Michigan to post impressive rushing totals, because Wisconsin”s run defense has been porous. Despite the presence of All-America defensive tackle Wendell Bryant, the Badgers have surrendered 172 rushing yards per game.
Michigan pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense: It seems like Mike Echols has been around forever, doesn”t it? The senior standout is entering his fourth year as a starting cornerback, and in all likelihood, he will be matched up against Marquise Walker.
With that in mind, the rest of Michigan”s receiving corps will have to step up for the Wolverines to be successful. But John Navarre”s task will be made tougher by the presence of Bryant, who spearheads the Badgers” pass rush. All in all, this should be a tight matchup that could easily go either way.
Wisconsin rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense: Redshirt freshman Anthony Davis has taken over for Michael Bennett and has been a sensation, rushing for 1,155 yards and seven touchdowns so far this season.
After a miserable showing against Michigan State, the Wolverines” run defense bounced back against Minnesota. Michigan will get a boost against Wisconsin with the return of defensive lineman Jake Frysinger and linebacker Eric Brackins from injuries.
This might be the most crucial matchup of this game. If the Badgers” front wall can control the line of scrimmage, Wisconsin will be able to wear out Michigan”s undersized defense.
But if the Wolverines can stop the Badgers” ground game, Wisconsin will have no chance to win. At this point, this is too close to call.
Wisconsin pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense: The Badgers” Lee Evans has exceeded everyone”s expectations by hauling in 63 passes for 1,363 yards and nine touchdowns.
Michigan has played a succession of star wideouts Brandon Lloyd, Charles Rogers, Ron Johnson but none of those players has had a great game against the Wolverines.
Look for Evans to have at least one long reception, but if history is any indication, Michigan will largely contain the Badgers” passing attack.
Special Teams: Wisconsin has traditionally been the best in the Big Ten when it comes to special teams, but the Badgers have slipped a bit.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines might have had their best game on special teams last week. Todd Howard had a pair of kick returns that were over 50 yards. Michigan also blocked a punt deep in Minnesota territory which led to a touchdown.
If the Wolverines can come up with another performance like this, it will be a plus. But don”t count on it.
Intangibles: Even though Wisconsin went to two straight Rose Bowls, nobody respected the Badgers because they lost to Michigan and backed into the Rose Bowl when Michigan lost to someone else.
This is Wisconsin”s chance for some payback.
Prediction: The problem for the Badgers is they have had better teams the last few years and still haven”t been able to beat Michigan, so they can”t have a ton of confidence heading into tomorrow”s tilt.
Wisconsin has been vulnerable at home, and the Badgers” defense has been generous. It”s too much to expect Wisconsin to completely reverse those trends in one week.
Michigan 28, Wisconsin 17