Preview: Michigan at Wisconsin 2019

The only Michigan-based Wisconsin preview written by a Wisconsin resident (for now)

Kickoff time: 12:00 EST, 11:00 CST
Camp Randall Stadium - Madison, Wisconsin
Wisconsin -3.5, O/U 44

Ah Wisconsin, you beautiful cheese-curd-squeaking, barn-smelling, Pabst-soaked shadow of Michigan. It's the place I've lived for the last five years and coincidentally this is my last weekend living in Wisconsin. I can't think of a better way to spend my last weekend in the land of cheese and beer than a football game in Madison (besides maybe a Packers game).

Let's revisit the list of Wisconsin's silliness I created last year:
  • 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 years.
  • 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)
Life in Wisconsin can be odd at times, especially the further north you go. What happens in Minocqua stays in Minocqua. For all your latest 'Sconny news, be sure to check out the Manitowoc Minute real quick once. I'd be lying if I said I don't have a cheese head in my room.

So let's all crack open a PBR and a Spotted Cow, Roll Out the Barrel, and keep 'er movin' with the Badgers preview.

A Michigan win in Camp Randall for the first time in 18 years would be a wonderful going-away present.

Wisconsin Offense vs Michigan Defense
Welcome to the Jonathan Taylor (#23) show. The star Wisconsin running back, who is averaging over 2,000 yards per season in two seasons, is being talked about in the Heisman race and it's easy to see why. In the Badgers' first two games he is averaging 6.8 YPC on 35 attempts. He also has five catches for three touchdowns, a dangerous addition to the offense since Jonathan Taylor only had eight receptions all last season. In the prototypical smashmouth power-run game that is Wisconsin football, Jonathan Taylor is the wrecking ball.

There is a good chance Jonathan Taylor is a Heisman finalist
This is bad news for an interior Michigan defensive line that has been banged up. It's still unclear if Dwumfour is going to play (regardless of the bye week) and so far we've not seen massive upswing from Carlos Kemp either. The frustration of the Army game is that Army's offense is designed to cut block you and move forward 3.5 yards. Wisconsin's run game is efficient in that they will just physically push you backwards, open up multiple gaps, and let Jonathan Taylor do the rest. I don't see Ben Mason holding up well against Wisconsin center Tyler Biadasz (#61). On the other hand, Wisconsin replaces four starters on the offensive line this season giving Hutchinson a chance to have a day.

QB Alex Hornibrook transferred to Florida State to be a backup leaving Jack Coan (#17) as the starter. So far in two games he is 45/59 (76.3%) for 564 yards (9.6 avg) five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Despite playing pretty low-level competition, these are still impressive numbers that I don't think anyone predicted. His top target is Quintez Cephus (#87) who did not play last season but has been re-instated to the team for 2019. So far he leads the team with nine receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns (Taylor is the only other player with receiving touchdowns). Last year, Michigan held Wisconsin's receivers to 45 yards. Cephus adds some very much needed depth to the Badger lineup but between Hill, Thomas, and Gray, Michigan's defensive backs should be ok in this matchup.

Wisconsin has three tight ends for this game listed as OUT, two of which are out for the season. But redshirt sophomore Jake Ferguson (#84) returns. Ferguson was the most productive tight end by far and had the second most receiving yards last season for the Badgers (456 yards, 12.7 avg, the next most yards from a tight end being 18). While on the field he has been a solid pass threat but when he needs a break, Wisconsin's tight end depth falls off a cliff.

In two games, Wisconsin has scored 110 points off the SP+ #119 and #36 defenses. Interestingly enough, Michigan has the #1 defense in the country on SP+ though some of this may be because Bill Connelly has stated before that Army's offense sometimes breaks his algorithm. The Michigan defense is good but Jonathan Taylor is the type of wrecking ball that can break through an interior that is having a down year. Wisconsin seems to have bumped up their passing attack this season under Coan but Michigan should have the personnel to handle it. The key will be to load up the box to stop Taylor and to do this, the DBs need to shut down the receivers.

Wisconsin Defense vs Michigan Offense
While the Wisconsin offense has put up 110 points, the Wisconsin defense is the only FBS team to so far give up zero points - the Badger defense has shut down the #109 and #114 SP+offenses. There's not a ton to make from this because that is what good teams are supposed to do, but Michigan's offense is still struggling to find a rhythm. A good Wisconsin defense could be trouble for the Wolverines.

Wisconsin pulled off a total Rutger against Central Michigan by the score of 61 points to 58 yards. They did this with one sack and five tackles for loss. The lone sack came from linebacker Zach Baun (#56), who has had a sack in both games this season. Linebackers play a big role in the defense as the top five tacklers are all linebackers (making up 47% of all tackles on the team).

Safety Eric Burrell (#25) has been around for a while, in fact you may remember him from...

Wisconsin's defensive backfield is not full of all-stars but they're solid. Last year Shea only passed for 124 yards on them, but in part because Michigan was able to rush for 320 yards. If Shea Patterson can properly read the RPOs designed for him, Michigan could have a repeat offensive performance of last year. If the offense stalls like it did against Army, it's going to be a long day on Saturday.

It's difficult to extrapolate a lot given the low level they've played against.  For what it's worth, CMU did put up 45 points against a pretty lowly Akron team. Michigan's offense is one that in theory should be able to move against Wisconsin, but the Army game has called into question the confidence of this Michigan offense so far. Jon Runyan is supposed to be back which is big news for Michigan. There's also the question as to whether Zach Charbonnet is healthy or not with a lot of conflicting reports that he is either ok or going to be out following a knee scope. Zach's pass protection and running game have both been huge for Michigan, especially with Tru Wilson still out with injury. At this point, it is also unlikely that DPJ will be available.

It's difficult to predict what might happen because there are a lot of unknowns going into this game. At the very least, we should finally learn more about the identity of both of these teams after Saturday.

Jumping Around - it will happen
Best Case Scenario
The Michigan offense finds its rhythm and puts up a similar performance to last year's game. Shea correctly reading RPOs will be very important. Hopefully Jon Runyan returns and solidifies the tackle situation. On defense, Michigan needs to contain Jonathan Taylor, both on the ground and in the air. They did it last year, though.

Worst Case Scenario
The Michigan offense struggles similarly to the Army game. Fumbles and inside handoffs could de-rail drives in a game where as many points as possible are crucial. Jonathan Taylor cannot be contained and bashes his way to multiple scores and a 100+ yard day.

The Part Where Patrick Gets the Score Completely Wrong 
Michigan - 17
Wisconsin - 20 

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