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Wisconsin Badgers vs Michigan Wolverines: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Saturday, October 1 – 3:30 PM ET
Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 49-14-1
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won 48-28 (2010)
Line: Michigan -10.5

Michigan has cruised through the first third of the 2016 regular season, dismantling Hawaii, Central Florida, Colorado and Penn State in dominating fashion. Coming into this week’s top ten match-up against the Wisconsin Badgers, Jim Harbaugh’s crew is ranked as the No. 4 team in the country. Michigan possesses the fourth best scoring offense in the nation through four games, averaging 52.0 points per outing. The only teams coming into week five of the college football season averaging more points per game? Louisville, Texas Tech and Ohio State.

The Wisconsin Badges are coming off a dominate win of their own. The Badgers defeated Michigan State in East Lansing by a score of 30-6 in their Big Ten opener. Wisconsin clocks in at No. 8 in the country this week, which sets up a massive game on Saturday, both for the Big Ten championship race as well as possible playoff implications.

Wisconsin’s defense has been the story in their first four games, heavily contributing to the early season success that the Badgers have enjoyed, which has included victories over LSU and Michigan State, both top ten rated teams at the time. The Badgers and Wolverine’s haven’t faced each other since 2010, when Bret Bielema and Rich Rodriguez were coaching their respective teams.

Michigan is looking for the program’s first top ten win since 2008, back when the Wolverines defeated a Bret Bielema led Wisconsin team. The Badgers are looking to defeat an unprecedented third top ten team in the first five weeks of the season, a feat never accomplished at Wisconsin.

1 Burning Question: Who gives in, Michigan’s Scoring Offense or Wisconsin’s scoring defense?

Michigan’s offense has been dependable in the first four games. The Wolverines are averaging 468 offensive yards per game, with 238 yards ing the passing game and 230 yards on the ground. Their balance on offense is clear, but the stat that needs to give in this game is points per game. The Badgers defense is only allowing 11.8 points per game to opposing teams, while Michigan is scoring at a rate of 52.0 points per game.

The answer to this question will most likely prove to be the key to the game on Saturday, as a low scoring, tight game will favor the Badgers, who have experience playing and winning close games (against LSU and Georgia State) while the Wolverines haven’t been tested in the fourth quarter. If the game becomes more of a high-scoring affair, that will favor the Wolverines, the team with more overall athletic talent that possesses more depth across the board as well as featuring the best player in Jabrill Peppers.

2 Key Stats:

– 229.8 That’s Michigan’s offensive rushing yards per game average. Jim Harbaugh’s team has a stable of running backs that will most likely be splitting the carries on Saturday. De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans all received eight or more carries in last week’s victory against Penn State. However, the workhorse appears to be Smith, who has put up 259 yards on 39 carries so far this season.

– 80.5. That’s the average amount of rushing yards that Wisconsin is surrendering to opponents in 2016. The Badgers aced their first two tests against strong rushing offenses when they held LSU to 126 rushing yards and Michigan State to just 75 rushing yards. The Badgers will need to step up again and help contain Michigan’s versatile and deep running back corps on Saturday. If Wisconsin can force Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight into obvious passing downs similar to how the Badgers shut down Michigan State’s running game, that will only play into the Badgers hands in what they want to accomplish defensively.

3 Key Players:

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan DB: The Wolverines do-it-all Junior who was referred to by Badgers coach Paul Chryst as “the best player in college football right now,” rotates between linebacker and safety on defense and boasts 9.5 tackles for loss and 33 tackles so far this season. If that wasn’t enough, Peppers leads the Big Ten with a 22.7-yard punt return average and has already had three returns of 50 or more yards this year. The Badgers would be wise to stay clear of this talented player.

T.J. Watt, Wisconsin OLB: The Junior linebacker leads the Badgers with 4 ½ sacks and ranks second on the team with 18 stops through four games. Watt has impressed considerably in his first four games as a starter and will only improve with experience. If Wisconsin’s defense is able to force Michigan into obvious passing downs on third down, look for Watt and Vince Biegel to terrorize Michigan QB Wilton Speight.

Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin QB: Last week, in his first start as a Badger, Hornibrook impressed by completing 16 of 26 attempts for 195 yards and a touchdown. Hornibrook did turn the ball over twice (fumbled on Wisconsin’s first possession and threw an interception on the last play of the first half) but the mistakes did not prove to be costly. In this week’s match-up, Wisconsin needs their freshman quarterback to eliminate those mistakes and continue to move the chains on third down situations against a Wolverines defense that allows teams to convert on just 12 percent of their chances on that down this season.

Staff Predictions:

Andy: Wisconsin 20-17
Dave: Michigan 24-23
Phil H.: Michigan 23-19
Philip R-R: Michigan 21-10
Zach: Wisconsin 23-20

Currently a Sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Journalism major. Big sports fan, especially football and basketball. I enjoy sports writing in my free-time.

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