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Thursday Morning Brews: You don’t mess around with Jim

The game against Wisconsin this weekend will be like looking in a mirror

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Thursday, folks. Welcome to Morning Brews. We have a down-home Big Ten, three-yards-in-a-cloud-of-dust game on the horizon. Not only will two blue blood programs in Wisconsin and Michigan face off on Saturday, but they are perhaps the two teams closest to the embodiment of what it once meant to play Big Ten football.

What do I mean by that? Well, they’re both reliant on strong defense and a strong run game. They’re pretty similar in fact. How similar? Well, we’ll be talking about that this morning. Also in this morning’s Brews, we highlight an interview with John Beilein and a standout for women’s basketball earns preseason watch list honors.

As usual, there is a song referenced in this morning’s Brews. There are at least two clues. Clues may be words, phrases, or photos, and may reference song lyrics, the title, the artist, or the album on which the song appears. If you think you can guess this morning’s song, fire away down in the comments.

Let’s get to it:

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin is perhaps the best version of Michigan this season

I’ve seen a fair bit of negativity from writers and fans alike about the coming matchup with Wisconsin. The game will be tough, of that there’s no doubt. But, as Trevor broke down yesterday, it’s a winnable matchup - particularly because Wisconsin is so much like Michigan. Let me say that again, they’re so much like Michigan. The Badgers pair a stellar run game with a passable passing attack on offense, and they feature a characteristically stout defense on the other side of the ball. That’s all. It’s Michigan, or what Michigan tries to be.

The centerpiece of their offense is their rushing attack. They have arguably the best pure rusher in the conference (Saquon Barkley is a more dynamic all around player, but about 40% of what he does is in the pass game). Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 1,525 yards this season. The next closest person in the conference is J.K. Dobbins at Ohio State with 1,038 yards. Then there’s Saquon Barkley with 899 yards. Taylor is good for about 22 carries for 150 yards and 1-2 TDs per game. He’s their bell cow. There’s also a supporting cast of backs that contribute another 20 or so carries for about 115 yards per game.

Their passing game is mostly for balance. Alex Hornibrook is good at what he does, don’t get me wrong. He’s an efficient passer, completing a hair over 65% of his passes - but the passing game isn’t what they rely on to win. Hornibrook will throw about 20 times in any given game, he’ll complete about 13 of those attempts for roughly 186 yards 1-2 TDs and an interception per game. He’s there to keep a defense on its toes; to prevent safeties from creeping up into the box and playing solely the run.

This offense works for Wisconsin because of their resolute defense. It’s ranked No. 1 in the S&P+, surrendering about 17 points per game. They’re very good against the pass, checking in with the No. 6 ranked pass defense in the S&P+. They do slightly worse against the run, but are still pretty good, checking in at No. 25. They give up some big plays, but not many. It’s a defense predicated on keeping opposing teams behind schedule and forcing punts, and they hold opposing teams to about 250 yards of offense per game and 4.15 yards per play.

Does any of this sound familiar? Michigan features an offense that’s dominated by the run game. Karan Higdon is the current feature back, with Ty Isaac and Chris Evans playing the role of supporting backs - or stepping into the feature role when someone is having a hard time producing. Brandon Peters completes about 61% of his passes, but the passing game isn’t expected to win games - just produce some and keep the opposing defense honest. The defense is top notch, and allows the offense to be methodical and stick to its plan of running the ball.

The difference is in the production. Wisconsin’s rushing attack produces about 245 yards and 2-3 TDs per game. Michigan’s rushing attack produces about 207 yards and two TDs per game. Wisconsin’s passing attack produces about 190 yards and 1-2 TDs per game. Michigan’s produces about 120 yards and maybe a TD per game. Wisconsin’s defense holds opposing teams to about 17 adjusted points per game. Michigan’s holds opponents to about 21 adjusted points per game. If words could make wishes come true, Michigan would be what Wisconsin is this year.

The teams aren’t all that different, and that should make game planning straightforward for the coaches. Like Trevor said yesterday, for Michigan to win it needs to bottle up Taylor, get Wisconsin’s offense off the field, force a turnover or two, and then Michigan’s rushing attack needs to work. Wisconsin will be trying to do the exact same thing to Michigan. This game will come down to execution. Who will win? We’ll find out on Saturday.


Do you think Michigan will beat Wisconsin?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes, by a comfortable margin
    (130 votes)
  • 47%
    Yes, by a last-second score
    (396 votes)
  • 21%
    No, Wisconsin will win at the buzzer
    (177 votes)
  • 16%
    No, by a large margin
    (136 votes)
839 votes total Vote Now

Michigan basketball will have a difficult season ahead of it, but that is nothing new. Since 2011, John Beilein has had six players leave early for the NBA draft. From last year’s squad, it was D.J. Wilson. With the likes of Zak Irvin and Derrick Walton Jr. graduating, and Mark Donnal transferring, Beilein again has a rebuilding project. Beilein says he’s trying to build a culture among the current players. He recently told Mgoblue, “What I am trying to get them to embrace is I'm telling them how good they can be. I think that's my job -- to lead them so they can lead themselves. . . . So, every day is good. But they need to know we are going to go through wins like this and losses like this. It's all part of it.” For more on how Beilein is approaching this season, check out the interview above.

For consistent readers of the Brews, Katelynn Flaherty’s name will be familiar. The senior guard has led the Wolverines in scoring for the past two years, and she’s off to a strong start again this year. Already holding the single-season points record, if Flaherty can replicate hear prior successes she’ll have a chance to become the program’s all-time leading scorer. Flaherty has also drawn the attention of those outside the Michigan sports world, and the most recent example her inclusion on the Wooden Award Preseason watch list. The award is annually given to the best player in the college game and will be awarded next April 6th.

Just in case anyone doesn’t follow us on Twitter, of if you happened to miss the tweet, we have some big news coming in the next few days. I’m not quite sure when we’ll be able to make the news public—perhaps later today, perhaps tomorrow, perhaps this weekend—but it’s huge, and all of us are very excited about it. We think all of our readers will be pretty excited when it’s announced, too. So like the tweet says, stay tuned.