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Scouting Wisconsin: Recipe for a Michigan victory

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“The critics are always right. The only way you shut them up is by winning.” - Chuck Noll

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter what year it is, the Wisconsin Badgers are a talented bunch year in and year out. Rose Bowl appearances, prolific running backs, stout defenses, all are common themes for the team way up north. This year, the Badgers are a perfect 5-0 and are currently No. 5 in the College Football Playoff ranking.

Wisconsin is coming off their most impressive win of the season, beating an Iowa team 38-14 that thumped Ohio State the week prior. Beyond that, the Badgers don’t have a win over any ranked teams, narrowly beating Purdue and Northwestern along the way. Be that as it may, Wisconsin has done nothing but win and that’s an impressive feat as we sit here in mid-November.

This is a game that will have an NFL flow to it, with pro style formations, both teams vying for time of possession, and a focus on winning in the trenches. Michigan has one of the best defenses in the country, but so does Wisconsin. Michigan has had a tremendous running game of late, but so has Wisconsin (all season long). When breaking down the statistics, Wisconsin has the edge, but games are not won on a piece of paper.

Recipe For Victory

  • Can Michigan’s defense get Wisconsin off the field? Wisconsin has the best third down conversion percentage in the country, at 52%. A major key to winning good field position, time of possession, and preventing points will be getting them off the field on third down quickly each series.
  • Bottle up run game/Get Michigan run game going early: Badgers running back Jonathan Taylor is already up to 1,525 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Taylor has been great, but a lot of credit goes to his offensive line, they’ve been bruisers. Michigan’s defense will have to play strong, and fast yet disciplined. On the flip side, the Wolverines running game will be tested big time, as Wisconsin has the #1 run defense. Brandon Peters cannot be throwing the football 35 times. Maybe he can handle carrying the load, but usually if your name isn’t Baker Mayfield, Tom Brady, or Drew Brees, throwing too often doesn’t work out much.
  • Get a turnover and don’t turn it over: Wisconsin knows how to get the football back on defense, ranking 7th with 15 interceptions this year, but they turn it over a fair share on offense. Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown 12 interceptions to this point and Michigan should be able to apply enough pressure on him to make some errant throws. The main thing is Brandon Peters will need to be careful with the football, he must have a sense of what’s around him in the pocket, as Wisconsin ranks 3rd in sacks. The Badgers can make a quarterback fumble just as much as they can make one throw an interception. Get a turnover and don’t turn it over might win Michigan the game.
  • Michigan offensive line will be tested: How Peters does and the Michigan running attack fares depends heavily on the offensive line. The unit has improved greatly since the beginning of the season, but they are far from a finished product. If the O-Line has a good day, so should Peters and the running backs. It’s really that simple.
  • Quinn Nordin needs to find his groove: Points may be hard to come by, which makes the margin of error for a kicker much less forgivable. A field goal or two could decide the game, and if that is the case Quinn Nordin will have a major say in the victory or defeat of Wisconsin. Which Nordin will show up on Saturday?
  • Road warrior mentality must be embraced: It’s hard going on the road and facing a top 5 opponent, but that is the task Michigan is faced with and can either roll with the punches and punch back, or curl up and get knocked out. The Wolverines haven’t beat an AP Top 25 team since 2006 on the road. That should be enough motivation for them to arrive in Madison and deliver a strong performance.

Conclusion

Most facets of the 2017 Michigan football team have been improving, it feels as if they have found their identity. This is not the same team that went to Penn State and lost. The offense looks different, with more pro sets and power/counter runs, more bootlegs, and more utilization of two/three tight end sets that can be a pass play just as much as they could be a run. Different, and maybe even confident. Is it possible the Wolverines beat Wisconsin? Yes. Will it be easy? No. My only advice to you is don’t count Michigan out.

Notable Rankings

  • Passing Offense- 94th
  • Rushing Offense- 18th
  • Third Down Conversion Percentage- 1st (52%)
  • Offensive Efficiency- 30th
  • Defensive Efficiency- 5th
  • Passing Defense- 7th
  • Rushing Defense- 1st
  • Sacks- 3rd (35)
  • Interceptions- 7th (15)