After a bye week, the Michigan Wolverines look to begin Big Ten play on a high note as they travel to Madison this weekend to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (noon, FOX).
There is no doubt Michigan is going to have its hands full this weekend. Not just because Wisconsin still hasn’t allowed a single point all season, but through Wisconsin’s first two games, it’s not just the Jonathan Taylor show on offense anymore.
Former Badger quarterback Alex Hornibrook transferring to Florida State may have been the best thing to happen to Wisconsin in a long time, as it opened the door for a better player to take over the program.
Enter — Jack Coan.
The junior is having a great start to the season, completing 45-of-59 passes for 564 yards, 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. This all comes against weak competition in South Florida and Central Michigan, but these are still better stats than I anticipated for him. In fact, I expected true freshman Graham Mertz to be the starter by the Michigan game, but that definitely will not happen.
Of course, the aforementioned Taylor is still around and still truckin’ through people. The junior running back has run for 237 yards on 35 carries so far in 2019, scoring 8 times (5 rushing, 3 receiving).
Those three receiving touchdowns were the first three of his career, so he has clearly taken the next step in becoming an all-around threat. You can clearly see those strides in the first game of the season against South Florida. Granted it is South Florida, but still.
Michigan’s defensive staff knows they are going to have their hands full with Taylor alone, but adding in a competent quarterback makes the Badgers a scarier looking opponent than most people thought during the offseason.
And to top it all off, Wisconsin’s top wide receiver Quintez Cephus is back after being found not guilty of two sexual assault charges that got him suspended from the team and expelled from the school in 2018. He already has 9 catches for 169 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns on the young season.
This Badger offense is no joke. Luckily for Michigan, starting right tackle Logan Bruss is questionable for the game with a leg injury. Slotting in Bruss’ spot last week against Central Michigan were reserve linemen David Moorman and Tyler Beach.
Moorman is a senior, but has been a career backup. Beach, meanwhile, is a redshirt sophomore who was a highly-recruited player, but hasn’t had the opportunity to play consistently.
A dangerous player defensively for Wisconsin is a guy I had in my preseason Players to Watch for the Badgers — linebacker Zack Baun. Two games into the season, the senior has already compiled 6 tackles (all solo), 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 quarterback hit and 1 forced fumble.
Not only can he get to quarterbacks and running backs quickly, but he can also cover receiving threats, as well. He had 1 interception and 3 pass breakups a season ago, so Shea Patterson will have to keep his eyes on Baun throughout the course of the game.
Another guy to lookout for this weekend is true freshman nose tackle Keeanu Benton. Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 315 pounds, this dude is a bulldozer on the defensive line. The usual starter, Bryson Williams, did not play last weekend due to injury, so Benton stepped up for the Badgers and started in Williams’ place.
Benton contributed 1 tackle, and it just so happened to be a tackle for loss. He didn’t blow away anybody with what was on the box score, but at least one teammate was publicly impressed with the way he filled in.
“Coming in, Keeanu was raw. He still is kind of raw. But he’s a big body, he’s fast, he’s strong, but what we’ve seen from him so far in camp and in the first two games, he’s definitely a play-maker,” junior defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk said to Madison.com. “Going on this year, he’s only going to get better and better. He’s made strides from camp to now, he’s been working and coach has really been getting on him to keep working because he sees the potential. Keeanu will be a big-time player.”
This is a tall task for Michigan. A much taller task than many would have expected. But it isn’t impossible to go into Madison and get a win. Despite being an underdog (Harbaugh-led Michigan underdog teams are 0-6) and the game being at Camp Randall (a place Michigan hasn’t won since 2001), the Wolverines have the talent to go in and bring back a win. It won’t be easy, but it’s doable.