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Game Tape: Why Michigan Will Roll Over Wisconsin

Wisconsin looks good on paper, but they haven’t played a team like Michigan yet.

Photo Gallery: Michigan 49, Penn State 10

Michigan is going to beat Wisconsin and it’s not going to be close. They are going to score 40+. Again. They are going to dominate time of possession, and if Wisconsin gets into the endzone more than twice, it will have been for early turnovers in Michigan territory.

Here’s why.

The Power Run Game

Michigan got nearly everything it wanted from the running game against Penn State. The offensive line shove Penn State around like the 50lbs underdogs they were. The effectiveness of Michigan’s rushing attack, however, starts with the excellent blocking of Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson. Here, for the second touchdown of the day, is a very simple play wherein De’Veon Smith gets the ball and runs behind very large men.

When Smith gets the ball, Kalis and Magnuson have pushed their defenders about a yard off the line of scrimmage already.

By the time Smith hits the whole, we have this:

And Michigan is up 14-0 after the extra point and, really, very little effort.

Let’s backtrack to the first touchdown Michigan scored. The lineup is the same, the only difference in the screenshot is TE Devin Asiasi has been rotated into the backfield. From this formation, the ball can go to Smith, Hill, Asiasi, etc. and depending on where the tight ends line up, Michigan has the option to run play action and throw the ball. The whole point here is that the Wolverines get major push from the O-line and it doesn’t really matter who carries or catches the ball. The defense can’t really key on any one guy anyway, and the scoring (or short yardage) options are many.

This time Hill gets the handoff, and notice that Kalis has taken his man right over the goalline. Hill breaks a tackle and falls into the endzone. Easy.

Kalis and Magnuson can do so much more than just shove guys directly in front of them

Here’s another example from the Penn State game. This time around, Kalis and Magnuson pull off the line and set up down field blocking for Smith.

Magnuson seals the outside and sets up the hole for Smith, and Kalis ends up running as a lead blocker. Smith picks up eight yards on third and two because of it.

Michigan looked very good running behind Kalis, and Magnuson especially, against Penn State. They opened the playbook a bit from the first three weeks and the result is that the Michigan run game looks ready to dominate the big ten. The rushing attack should only improve, but it’s already primed to make Wisconsin look weak for a number of reasons.

MSU Made Wisconsin Look Good

There are way too many examples to choose from, so I’ve only put out some of the more egregious ones. I certainly don’t have time for a 10,000 word treatise on how much of a trainwreck this game was, despite the box score, and you certainly don’t want to read that. The short of it is that Wisconsin only moved the ball effectively on two possessions that gave them a touchdown and a field goal. The rest of Wisconsin’s points came off short field situations because of turnovers, or that one time they took a MSU fumble into the endzone for six.

Moving on. In this instance, MSU lines up in man coverage with safety help up top — a basic cover two. That itself is smart enough, the safeties should prevent a score from 15 yards out, and the corners can play tight knowing they have assistance if things go badly. As you see here, MSU let’s Wisconsin get inside, and then fails to come underneath to break up the pass.

MSU obviously had a touchdown prevented with both defenders ready to tackle Wisconsin before the endzone, but it’s not necessary. The corner needs to come underneath and challenge the pass. Instead, Wisconsin gets an easy pitch and catch, and is knocking on the goal line ready to take the lead.

Later in the game, there’s more blown coverage that lets Wisconsin pick up big yardage and a first down. Why MSU lets Wisconsin (1) run the route so far beyond the first down marker, and (2) gives the receiver a five yard cushion to make the catch is a mystery to me. The corner was afraid of letting a pass go deep and padded his coverage from the snap but there are better ways of defending the pass if you are worried about losing a footrace.

Wisconsin did well to keep pressure on the Michigan State backfield — QB or RB alike. Here, quite unfortunately, the leave T.J. Watt totally unaccounted for with a clear path tackle for loss.

No one in green is even looking at him. If his name didn’t sound so much like another superstar NFL defensive lineman I might understand. But guys. C’mon.

There were instances where Michigan State looked a little bit like a ranked team. They were able to get pressure on Hornibrook a handful of times, and when they did, MSU forced him to make a rushed decision. Here, the ref looks a lot like a linebacker in zone coverage, but I promise you the Wisconsin running back is open. Instead, Hornibrook is sacked for a loss of six after vainly searching for a receiver deep down field.

Here MSU’s defense comes with a delayed blitz, and they are getting good pressure from the right side of the defense. Wisconsin’s halfback assigned with pass blocking sees the blitz, but is late getting there. He blocks #5 Andrew Dowell, but not before Hornibrook rushes his decision to throw the ball. The result is a forced throw into coverage where a diving receiver catches the ball, but only gathers nine of the required 15 yards to keep the drive going.

LSU, who happens to be pretty good at running the ball, ran the ball against Wisconsin

And not just because Fournette did Fournette things. He managed to average six yards per carry, including a 30 yarder in the third quarter. Even removing that run from his totals he averages 4.9 yards per carry and over 100 yards total against the vaunted and stout Wisconsin run defense. Please.

Here’s just three examples of LSU’s front line setting up large holes for Fournette to run through. He repeatedly made it to Wisconsin’s second level of defenders, picking 6, 7, 8 yards often.

I feel like I could swap in pics of Michigan in these same sort of scenarios and it wouldn’t be immediately obvious.

In Referendum

Michigan will move the ball. They’ll run. Passing lanes will be open, especially early, as Wisconsin loads the box and dares Speight to beat them with his arm. He is at least capable of making smart and accurate short passes that can move the chains. When Wisconsin makes the necessary adjustments, Michigan should be able to open the run game and control the clock and pace of the game. Kalis and Magnuson are playing well right now and there is no reason to think that won’t continue. It seems unlikely that Michigan will run for more than 300 again, but LSU put up 126 with a weak offensive performance. Michigan is playing at home, and anything less than 200 yards on the ground should be considered underachieving.

We can expect the defense won’t blow coverage, and they’ll get pressure on Hornibrook. Michigan’s defensive front is much stronger and faster than MSU’s, and with Rashan Gary improving week after week, he will be able to disrupt a lot of what Wisconsin hopes to do. Or it will be Wormley blowing plays up. Or Taco. Or Glasgow. And Peppers will do Peppers things. The point is that Michigan has too many defensive weapons for Wisconsin to handle, and we’ve seen how bad things can go when the pocket collapses.

Furthermore, Wisconsin has little trust in their inexperienced kicker and are hesitance to use him outside of extra point range, apparently. They could end up going for fourth downs more often than they normally would and missing out on the points could be crucial.

I know I’m pushing against the grain here, but Michigan wins 45-17 and makes an argument for #1.