The Michigan Wolverines have their work cut out for them this Saturday against a top 15 team in the Wisconsin Badgers. As we know, Jim Harbaugh hasn’t been the greatest coach in some of the biggest games Michigan has played in his tenure, and this certainly won’t be an easy task either.
Meanwhile, the Badgers have a multitude of weapons on both sides of the ball. Most notable is running back Jonathan Taylor, who is arguably the best back in the country. Taylor is a workhorse and has already racked up 302 all-purpose yards and 8 touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season.
Over the last two seasons, Michigan has not made an aggressive attempt to slow down Taylor. In both 2017 and 2018, the Badgers’ back ran for more than 100 yards in each game. Instead, the Wolverines have tried to squander the passing game so the Badgers don’t convert on third-and-medium to third-and-long. Wisconsin was 2-11 last season on third down, and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was atrocious — 7-of-20 for 100 yards and 2 interceptions.
This is the kind of game the Michigan defense will need to replicate in order to be successful again this season, but this time it is against Wisconsin’s new quarterback, Jack Coan.
Coan took over for Hornibrook last season and his play earned him the starting role causing Hornibrook to transfer to Florida State. Coan has played fairly well through the first two games, tallying 564 passing yards and 5 touchdowns through the air (though they were against USF and Central Michigan).
His best receiver? Quintez Cephus, who is back in Madison under a flurry of controversy. The star Badger wide receiver was kicked out of the university over an alleged sexual assault he was later deemed not guilty for right before this season began.
Now the wideout is back and is making an important impact on the football field. He has 9 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns and averages 18.8 yards per reception. Cephus is exactly the kind of player the Wolverines must slow down to keep the Wisconsin offense from moving down the field.
Both of Cephus’ touchdowns came in his return to Camp Randall against Central Michigan. Here is the first one:
It’s a simple go route, and Cephus is just bigger, faster and stronger than the Central Michigan corner. He gets a step, then the corner stumbles, and the rest is history.
He scored on a very similar play just moments later:
It’s another go route. Once again, the Chips are in man-to-man coverage, and Coan identifies the safety is slow to help over the top. The safety tries to recover, but it is much too late, and another easy touchdown to Cephus.
This kind of breakdown in coverage can’t happen if the Wolverines want to win this game. The Badgers seem to have a legitimate quarterback this season, and have an elite running back to boot. If the Wolverines allow Cephus to have a big day, the offense will be just as unstoppable as it has been over their last two games — outscoring opponents 110-0.
Lavert Hill is going to be the man who will attempt to take out Wisconsin’s best receiving threat, and he has done a pretty good job of that in the past. He is excellent in man-to-man coverage and aggressively goes for the football on tight plays.
Hill already has an interception this season (and should have two if he wouldn’t have dropped an easy one against MTSU). He will need to play tight coverage and help contain everything in the passing game from Wisconsin, who is riding high after getting a quarter of its passing yardage total from 2018 in the first two games of this season. Slowing them down and squashing that confidence early would be a huge difference maker in this game.
If Hill can help take away the weapon that Cephus is, the Wolverines should have a good chance to win this one. The goal of the game is to not allow big plays. Taylor will likely break off a few 10+ yard runs, but the Michigan defense needs to make that insignificant by not allowing the big plays in the passing game as well. That starts and ends with stopping their best receiving threat.