Preview: Michigan vs Wisconsin 2018

Are you ready for some Michigan/Wisconsin manball?

Kickoff time: 7:30 EST
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Michigan -9.5, O/U 49

A fun fact you may or may not know about me is that I've lived in Wisconsin for the last four years.

It can be a silly place sometimes:
  • They call a drinking fountain a 'bubbler'
  • Grade school students go on field trips to cheese factories
  • Your first DUI is a civil offense
  • "Soda"
  • A town with a population of 150 will have at least two bars, guaranteed
  • There are residents that believe Wisconsin looks more like a mitten than Michigan
  • On highway 41 just south of Oshkosh is a billboard saying "What Would Jesus Say About Porn?" followed by four consecutive billboards advertising the porn store at the next exit. They've been passive-aggressively battling this out for year.
  • Yes, the cheese is that good.
  • Who has the best fried cheese curds is like debating who has the best cheese steaks in Philly
  • PBR is just water collected from the Fox River (unconfirmed, but they taste about the same) 
I make sure to deliver  when I come home for the Wisconsin game
It's hard to hate Wisconsin, really. Where the Michigan version of Midwest Nice is to be really friendly upfront and then talk about you behind your back, Wisconsinites are typically genuine. Madison and Ann Arbor tend to flip flop #1/#2 college towns in America, and the 'Jump Around' tradition is one of the best in the country. Shout out to the good friends I've made in Wisconsin who are now some of my best friends and who also aren't going to read this.

I live in Appleton, about 35 minutes south of Green Bay. It's interesting that everyone is a Packers fan, but usually only a fair-weather Badgers fan. Contrast this to Michigan and Ohio where most people are big college fans but passive NFL fans. This is probably because Green Bay has had a history of success (lol whoops) where-as in Michigan/Ohio your choice of NFL teams are Detroit, Cleveland, and Cincinnati... But the cheese heads will absolutely cheer on their only D-I team in the state in big games.
Wisconsin cheerleader nuns let's goooooo
Wisconsin's football program prides itself on taking a bunch of 3-star guys and consistently turning enough of them into dudes to assemble a 9-3 ish caliber team every year that occasionally deviates from this mean. A great deal of this success comes from the MAC-level competition that is the Big Ten West, which the Badgers have won in three of the last four seasons. But they survived the universal source of all chaos matter that is Kinnick Stadium at night so they must have something going for them this year.

Wisconsin Offense vs Michigan Defense

Wisconsin's offensive line is one of the best in the country

 The pre-season hype with the Badgers orbited around the offensive line. I mean, just look at this via Athlon Sports:

I don't think I've ever seen that before. Behind them is running back Jonathan Taylor (#23) who also was named #1 preseason all Big Ten, and for good reason. In five games he has the 3rd most rushing yards in the NCAA at 849 (170 avg). His worst running game was against Iowa, the #8 S&P+ defense where he still picked up 113 yards. This is your proto-typical under 6-feet 225 lbs Wisconsin downhill running back. Nebraska highlights including an 88 yard touchdown run. No, Nebraska doesn't exactly have the best run defense, but there are still many plays in which Taylor moves the pile after the play is over. On top of this, Taylor's production is only 59% of the Badgers' overall run offense, as they have 1,435 on the season (287 yards per game is good for #4 in the country).

Michigan's run defense has been stellar, but the defensive line is hurting. Mike Dwumfour and Carlos Kemp are both questionable. Rashan Gary will play but has a shoulder joint issue that he'll be playing through. Aubrey Solomon is still out.This may be a game where we see Gary slide inside to DT and have Kwity Paye move out to defensive end.

Live by the Hornibrook, die by the Hornibrook
But for as good as Wisconsin's run game is, the Badgers will either live by the Hornibrook or die by the Hornibrook. The consensus among Badger fans seems to be that QB Alex Hornibrook (#12) will either play out of his mind or will throw the game away. His 25/15 TD/INT ratio from a year ago has improved to 7/2, with one of those coming in the 3 point loss to BYU. Here are his highlights against the #8 Iowa defense in which he went 17/22 for 205 yards and 3 TDs 0 INT. Most of his passes in this game are short to mid-range stuff, but he's not afraid to throw downfield, including a 17 yard game-winner with a minute remaining.

A.J. Taylor averages 20 yards per reception
Wisconsin top receiver is AJ Taylor (#4) with 354 yards on the year (70 per game). Their next two receiving yard leaders are a tight end (Jake Ferguson #84, 213 yards) and a running back (Garrett Groshek #37, 108 yards). Wisconsin's would-be number one receiver, Quintez Cephus, is suspended and on trial for sexual assault.

This will be the toughest offense Michigan has faced all season. Likewise, Badger fans are saying the Wolverines will be the toughest defense they've faced all season. This will be the first clash of titans going into the 2nd half of the season.

Wisconsin Defense vs Michigan Offense
Strike down a Wisconsin linebacker and two more take his place
In a very uncharacteristic Wisconsin manner, the Badgers have the #55 defense in the country. The same Nebraska offense that put up 132 yards against Michigan put up 518 yards against the Badgers, including 407 through the air. But let's look at the front 7 first.

The Badgers linebacker factory is in full production. Some basic stats on the starters:

Ryan Connelly (WLB #43) - 19 solo tackles (1st on the team), 29 total tackles (1st), 4.5 TFL (2nd)
TJ Edwards (MLB #53) - 15 solo tackles (3rd), 26 total tackles (2nd), 5.5 TFL (1st)
D'Cota Dixon (Safety/LB - 16 solo tackles (2nd), 25 total (t-3rd), 1.5 TFL

Andrew Van Ginkel (#17) is listed a questionable and doesn't have many stats due to injury, but you may remember him as the one who knocked out Brandon Peters last season.

The linebackers are, and pretty much always have been, the heart of the Wisconsin defense in recent years. They lead the team by far in tackles. They need to, because two of the starters on the defensive line, Kayden Lyles (#76) and Matt Henningsen (#92) only have 4 and 2 solo tackles respectively (zero sacks, only one TFL for Matt). Olive Sagapolu (#99) could be a problem. The nose tackle is listed at 342 lbs and comes into the game with 8 solo tackles, 2 TFL, and a sack.

Michigan's offensive line should be able to contain the Wisconsin defensive line, but the challenge will come in picking up blitzes from the five-ish linebackers the Badgers will have lined up. FWIW, New Mexico is the only team that Wisconsin has held to under 100 rushing yards (77).

File photo, but relevant
Let's talk about the Wisconsin backfield.
Passing yards per team:
Western Kentucky - 181
New Mexico - 134
BYU - 120
Iowa - 205
Nebraska - 407 (!!!)

Minus Nebraska, those numbers are meh against some not great team. But the same Adrian Martinez that threw for 22 yards against Michigan with a long of 32 (hahahaha) threw for 384 against the Badgers. This is a young secondary plagued with injuries. Also, starting safety Scott Nelson (#9), who has 12 solo tackles, 2.5 TFLs and an INT will miss the first half due to a targeting call.

Michigan needs to air it out to win this game, especially in the first half. We've seen the Wolverines struggle in the first half to gain momentum all season (except against Nebraska). I would not be opposed to some drives being pass-pass-pass instead of run-run-pass-BenMason. But should the Wolverines run, at least they can get 3-4 yards by running at the weaker defensive linemen.

Best Case Scenario
Michigan gets bad Hornibrook who struggles against an elite secondary. Gary and Winovich can cut through one of the best offensive lines in the country and disrupt their everything. Jonathan Taylor finds out why Michigan is the #6 rushing defense in the country and is held to under 100 yards for the first time this season. On offense, Michigan throws the dang ball 40 times and puts up... ummm... Nebraska numbers against Wisconsin. Higdon keeps the run game honest.

Worst Case Scenario
The Wisconsin offensive line bullies an injured Michigan defensive line. Jonathan Taylor takes advantage of this and puts up big numbers. Michigan gets good Hornibrook who throws into tight windows and hits his receivers, tight ends, running backs, and fullbacks (he throws to everyone). Michigan's offense stumbles in the first half as they've often done and cannot capitalize on a bad Wisconsin secondary before Scott Nelson returns. The run game gets stuffed by Wisconsin's linebackers.

How could you hate that face
The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong
Last week was 34-10 (actual 42-21) so hey, improvement.

Michigan - 20
Wisconsin - 17

Past Highlights-The Interception
-The entire glorious stupidity that was the 2008 game
-The relatively boring 2006 game no one talks about despite being against an 11-1 Wisconsin team

Go Blue

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