Dan: We're back for another weekly Mailing it in. One of us is Von, the other is Dan, and this week is all about expectations management. After 3 good looking wins against the bottom of the Big 10, the Wolverines travel to Madison this week. Von, College Gameday will be there and the Badgers are gunning for an undefeated season. A little bit different from a half-empty Maryland stadium, huh?
Von: I'd say it's exactly the opposite of the Maryland game. That place is going to be rockin' on Saturday. I will be at Camp Randall for the first time this weekend so I am eagerly looking forward to that. Kind of like how I was eagerly waiting for the second half of last weekend's game to end. My God, that was frustrating to watch.
Dan: I was more frustrated with the defense than the offense. The “O” clearly was trying to give Peters some more rope, and Higdon's injury left Michigan without a true bell-cow type back to finish the game with. Shout out to Chris Evans for sticking his own personal dagger in the Terps. While the offense struggled outside of its comfort zone (this season in a nutshell), the defense seemed to lack focus in the second half and appeared a half-second late on a lot of their reads. Khaleke Hudson continued to do his damn thing, but does the second half performance worry you a bit heading into this week?
Von: No it doesn't really worry me at all. You are correct, the defense struggled mightily in the second half for whatever reason, whether they lost focus or just took their foot off the gas. But for reasons unknown, Maryland seemed to be milking the clock itself! Their offense took their sweet time to get to the line, get everyone set, hike the ball and do their play. After that, Father Time worked his magic and the game was over in a flash. What's more concerning to me are the injuries that piled up on defense. Gary, Hill and Long all left the game with injuries and never returned. It seems like Gary and Long will play, but it’s definitely up in the air if Hill is able to get through his concussion protocol. Regardless, those three players have been key to the defense's successes all season.
Dan: Yeah, the injuries are concerning. Throw in half the offense being banged up with an uncertain status for Higdon and you've got yourself a bit of a mess. I assume that's part of why the team went so conservative. Let's real quick review some of our wish-lists from last week. I have you at 2/3, giving you credit on Peters' performance since he did deliver 2 scores and didn't turn it over. You missed on an improvement from Robbins and Nordin. Khaleke Hudson's performance saved me from going 0/3. I want to touch on the special teams. The return units have shown some life but goodness, both our kick and punt units have looked HORRIBLE.
Von: I actually thought the punt game was much improved from the Minnesota game. Robbins averaged 42.4 yards per punt with a long of 48. It wasn't a fantastic performance from the true freshman, but I will take that stat line on the road any time. Nordin on the other hand...at least he made all of his extra points? Whether it be the rumored injury or not, Nordin is in a massive slump right now and can't seem to get out of it. But don't forget that Kenny Allen went through a slump last year, too, albeit not as long as Nordin's currently is. But on the Peters note: I thought he played relatively well. He missed a few open targets pretty badly in the first half, but he seemed dialed in for the most part. His improvisational skills are pretty nice, and the way he goes through his progressions is impressive, too. His completion percentage wasn't great (50 percent) but his touchdown throws were right on point. Do you have confidence in this pass attack against Wisconsin?
Dan: My issue with Robbins is that his ceiling appears to be very low. A long of 48 with only one kick above 50 all year. He didn't pin Maryland inside the 20 once last week. Maybe years of watching Florida's string of punters and then Kenny Allen last year has me spoiled, but the lack of impactful plays from the punting unit has me worried.
In regards to the passing game, I'm actually not feeling too bad. DPJ was two pass interferences and a missed throw from an absolutely monster game. He's clearly starting to run better routes and his explosiveness on cuts and come backs has been evident for a few weeks now. Wisconsin has a tough defense but with Peters' decision making looking about as good as one could expect and the two tight ends beginning to roll, I'm as comfortable with the air attack as I've been since Speight went down. What about you?
Von: I'm going back and watching the game. It looks like Robbins got it to the 19 on his second punt. He also got it at Maryland's 14 on his 4th punt. His first one was around the 22, but that's because the returned fumbled it forward. Regardless, I'm going to cut him some slack because I thought he played pretty well. But yeah, I'm right there with you about Peters. However, with the No. 1 total defense and scoring defense in the conference, and the No. 2 passing defense looming tomorrow for the Wolverines, this is clearly a BIG test for Peters and the offense. The most points Wisconsin has given up all year was 22 against Northwestern in September. With the way both defenses have been playing, I would not be shocked if this were another 14-7 game like last year.
Dan: I hate betting unders, but if there was ever a game to do it it's this one. If either team gets to 20 I will be shocked. Wisconsin's defense is geared to stop the things Michigan does well and punish the Wolverines for the things they don't. On the other side of the ball, Don Brown's defense is built to terrorize pro-style looks that don't have mobility at the quarterback position. I think this is about as close to a "rock-fight" as you could put together. My biggest concern is the Wisconsin tight ends against Kinnel and Metellus. We're beating a rotten corpse of a horse at this point but between them and McCray, that could be the one area Wisconsin exploits to hell and back.
Von: Yeah unfortunately I am with you again. The safeties were a bit better last weekend, but I assume that has a lot to do with Maryland's fourth-string walk-on QB being...well, a fourth-string walk on. Alex Hornibrook hasn't been great this year by any means (he's thrown a pick in all but two games) but he does have a nice security blanket named Troy Fumagalli. Fumagalli hasn't been great down the stretch of the season, but if there were ever a game for him to breakout it would be this one. That will certainly be the match up to watch for when Michigan is on defense. What do you think the match up to watch for will be when the Wolverines have the ball?
Dan: Peters vs the crowd. Do we take a few delay of game penalties early? Are the snap counts solid so that we avoid false starts? I would say starting at noon should help, but it's Madison. Those degenerates are going to be up at 5 a.m. and above the legal limit by 5:30-6. They've had a great season and will want revenge for last year's 14-7 defeat. To me that's the biggest thing. Can we get the play-calls in and executed properly. Will Peters continue to take his shots periodically while taking what the defense gives him underneath? He's been solid if not spectacular, but there's going to be more juice this weekend. I know the majority of the team has struggled in the big moments this year, but I think composed quarterback play could go a long ways in shifting that.
What will you be looking for? Or your biggest matchup?
Von: How Michigan's offensive line fares against Wisconsin's defensive line. Peters has only been sacked a handful of times in the last three games, but there's a chance it could happen a lot this weekend. Will Onwenu be back at right guard this week? How will the tackles do against defensive ends like Alec James, who has 5.5 sacks and 7 TFLs this year? The offensive line has been a problem all year with pass protecting, so the unit is going to have to play its best game of the season tomorrow in Madison if Peters has any chances to connect on deep passes.
Dan: That's probably the other obvious one, yeah. This line has really been Jekyll and Hyde all season. It's crazy to me the gulf between their run blocking and pass protection. Night and day. They've definitely shown some more the last few weeks than earlier in the season and I'm hoping their confidence can carry into this game. If Michigan wins, who is the X-factor?
Von: The entire running back group. Michigan is going to need Higdon and the boys ready to play. It will also be important for Evans to continue stepping up as he has the past few weeks. Walker has been less significant the past couple games, but he still runs with a purpose, too. We are not sure if Isaac will play in this one, but if he does than Michigan has four insanely talented backs at its disposal. Like we previously said, the passing game is probably going to be challenged due to the line's inconsistencies at pass protecting, so it will be vital to get the ground game going. Who, or what, is your X-factor?
Dan: I would really like Isaac back. Higdon has been tremendous and Evans can break the big one at any time. However, having Isaac to ram his 240-pound body into Wisconsin early and often would go a long ways in helping open up some of those openings.
My x-factor is the tight-end group. They're big, athletic, and have grown into some really skilled route runners finding the soft spots in coverages. Peters has gone to them as his most trusted targets and I can't blame him. McKeon and Gentry have a chance to develop into what Hoke hoped Funchess and Butt would become. I'm really high on both of them, and it was nice see Wheatley return to the field. If Michigan's passing game gets going, it'll be because of the 15-20 yard completions that group has started to rack up.
Michigan has lost its last 3 "Gameday" matchups with MSU in 2015, OSU last year and Penn State earlier this year. I would love for this curse to finally be broken, and winning this week gives Harbaugh and Co. a great chance to win 10 games for the third straight year, two of which were considered "low expectations" type season. With all that said, Von, what are your three Sunday headlines?
Von: 1) The O-Line gives up just two sacks on the day and gives Peters time to throw 1 passing touchdown and 0 picks. It will be hugely important for Peters to stay turnover-free yet again, so that would be ginormous heading into OSU week. 2) Higdon returns, the backs run for more than 200 yards and 2 touchdowns. Like said previously, the running game has been the catalyst for the offense all season long, so if that stalls tomorrow Michigan is in for a long day. 3) The defense forces Hornibrook to throw 2 interceptions, one of which is returned for a touchdown. David Long had a nice read on his interception last week and almost took it more than 100 yards to the house. Had he ran with the sideline instead of cutting up the field, he was gone. If the defense forces turnovers and Hornibrook to get nervous in the pocket, Michigan has a solid chance to pull off the upset. How about yourself, Dan?
Dan: 1) Nordin doesn't miss a kick. Michigan is going to need every point it can muster the next two weeks. That means getting 7 every trip to the red zone and knocking down a few kicks outside 40. Nordin needs to get it together. 2) A receiver scores. This could be on a punt, a kick or a throw down the field. In any instance, I believe Michigan is going to need to utilize its athleticism and pull off a game-breaking play or two. Consistent opportunities should be few and far between. Big plays can fill that void. 3) "Why didn't Peters play earlier?" This is somewhat tongue in cheek because I hate this hypothetical, but if Michigan wins it'll be in part because he either goes off (unlikely) or plays a solid, turnover-free game and makes just enough plays. The more people questioning why he didn't come out of the bullpen against Sparty, the better he will have looked this weekend.
Thanks for reading, everyone/please leave a comment below. Check out the roundtable and all the other content we’ve put out this week. Don’t forget to stop by the game-thread Saturday. Kick-off is at 12 EST. Go Blue!