The Michigan Wolverines have a huge game on Saturday against the Wisconsin Badgers. A lot is on the line, and the Wisconsin team has looked dominant through two games. This week we caught up with Badgers beat writer Ryan Mellenthin from SB Nation’s Bucky’s 5th Quarter, who was kind enough to help us preview the game in this edition of Behind Enemy Lines.
Q: QB Jack Coan has been lights out so far against Central Michigan and Southern Florida. Can he keep this type of play up (76.3% completion percentage, 5 TD’s, 0 INT’s) or will he take a step back against Michigan and display some deficiencies he may have showed last season? Basically, who is Jack Coan?
A: Jack Coan is a junior, from Sayville, NY. There was discussion that he would be redshirting last season, but that plan went out the window when Alex Hornibrook got hurt. However, don’t use last season as a barometer for how goo Coan is, as he has made huge strides this season. It’s hard to say that Coan will keep up his stellar play this weekend, but it’s hard to say what the outcome will be. Coan hasn’t faced a pass defense as talented as Michigan, but Michigan has also not faced a passing attack, like that of Wisconsin. To be totally honest, we haven’t seen this type of passing game at Wisconsin in a long time, so we are kind of in uncharted territory.
Q: We all know who RB Jonathon Taylor is, and I give him the utmost amount of respect, per usual when it comes to Wisconsin RB’s. Jim Harbaugh said that it isn’t realistic to shut a RB like him out completely in a game. With that said, Wisconsin has lost 4 out of 5 starters along the o-line, and the linemen have a major say in how Taylor performs, Coan as well. How has the unit fared so far?
A: Wisconsin’s line has held up well so far. Granted Wisconsin hasn’t played the toughest of competitors so far, but the line has held up well, allowing Wisconsin to run for over 216 yards per game and to give Coan ample time, for Wisconsin to throw for about 300 yards per game.
Q: Beyond Taylor, Coan, and the o-line, are there any wideouts or tight ends that could prove to be difference makers against Michigan?
A: Wide Receiver Quintez Cephus. Cephus really opens up the field for Wisconsin, he has great speed and size and is coming off of a 100+ yard receiving performance with two touchdowns. Cephus was set to lead an athletic group of receivers last season, but then had some legal issues off of the field. He has since been acquitted of all charges and is back with the team and appears to have not skipped a beat in the process.
Q: Who would you classify as the best players on Wisconsin’s defense? And how is the unit looking as a whole?
A: Zack Baun and Chris Orr has played very well this season. Baun has been causing fits for opposing quarterbacks and Orr seems to be around the ball on every play. Mike Maskalunas is currently leading the team in tackles and has been a strong defender so far this season. Overall the defense has great speed sideline to sideline and has done well in coverage. Along with allowing zero points this season, Wisconsin is allowing just 20.5 rush yards per game and 87 passing yards per game. The unit is also a bit banged up, losing a starting safety for the season (Scott Nelson), nose tackle Bryson Williams is out this weekend and Izayah Green-May, a talented linebacker is questionable, but Wisconsin’s defense has had a great next man up mentality for a while now.
Q: Michigan is the underdog heading up to Wisconsin. Is that how the fans feel in Madison? Are they confident that the Badgers will beat the Wolverines?
A: There is a lot of buzz in Madison. We have a PASSING OFFENSE now! Not to mention, we still have Jonathan Taylor, so there is a fair amount of confidence in the capital city.
Q: If you were a Michigan coach, how would you go about stopping Wisconsin’s offense, and how would you attack the Badgers defense?
A: I feel like I am cheating on the love of my life with this one… but I would say by stacking the box and making Wisconsin beat the Wolverines with the passing game. In past years, I would say this would be more of a given, but this year it’s harder to say whether it would work, as the passing game has been so strong, but given the level of talent Wisconsin has played so far, it’s worth a shot to test Coan’s arm. Believe me, Taylor is going to get his regardless, but this could temper the overall success of the offense.
In regard to attacking the defense, the one clear weakness that I have seen over the years is the deep ball. For some reason, Wisconsin has been prone to allowing one or two big plays per game.
Q: Will Wisconsin ride Taylor heavy to control time of possession or will there be a balanced approach to the offensive game plan?
A: I think we will see the game plan open up a bit and be more balanced than it has been in past years. Wisconsin has a stable of talented receivers, so it’s hard to imagine Paul Chryst will not want to use them. Taylor will also be used more in the passing game this year, adding yet another wrinkle to his usage. This season he has three receiving touchdowns, on five receptions.
Q: Michigan beat Wisconsin 38-13 last season, but this is a new year, a new team for both programs, and now Michigan is the road team. How do you think the game will unfold this time around?
A: I think it will end with Wisconsin winning, 21-13. It’s an interesting match-up as both teams are coming off a bye and it’s an early-season Big Ten game. So it will be interesting to see if Wisconsin can carryover their high from the first two weeks and if Michigan can get past needing OT to beat Army.