Michigan football takes on Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon in Madison which is an early measuring stick for two teams right now viewed very differently after the first couple of games of the season. The Wolverines have been cold to start the year, while the Badgers have obliterated two bad football teams, which is something that good football teams do.
Wisconsin is favored, and rightfully so, but this one is an important test for the Wolverines. Truthfully, they can afford to lose this one being that it is so early in the season, their margin of error just shrinks if they have playoff aspirations. But they have got to play a clean and competitive football game in one of the toughest places in the Big Ten heading into a three-game stretch that should allow them to get rolling heading into Penn State on Oct. 19.
That’s not a built-in excuse for if they lose. It is just a disclaimer that if they do, perhaps we shouldn’t be calling for jobs or anything like that. We will have to wait and see how it goes.
Here are five things to look for on Saturday.
Setting up for success
After all of our knee-jerk reactions subsided, it became clear that Michigan is not nearly as far off from figuring it out as it felt in the moment. They are quite literally a missed block here, or a dropped pass there, or a careless turnover away from getting things rolling as they are expected to. The one thing that film study and the time off did shine a light on is that Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis have to do a much better job putting the talent they have in positions to succeed and having them ready to play. Don Brown has done his part through two games, so now the others have to follow suit.
That includes the preparation and playcalling. You have had two weeks to prepare for this game and clean up your team’s mistakes. Now would be a great time to make a statement. Use the weapons you have and get out of your own dang way.
Shea Patterson, Zach Charbonnet and Donovan Peoples-Jones
Patterson claims he is 100 percent healthy, Charbonnet seems ready to go after injury rumors throughout the week and Peoples-Jones made the trip to Madison. Even if he is just a decoy, his presence is something the Badgers will have to account for and he is another threat through the air.
If Patterson is healthy and more aware than he has been, especially on a handful of his reads, Michigan might be in pretty good shape. If there is another early turnover or two and things just aren’t clicking, there are three games ahead that could help serve to get someone else ready. Patterson is playing for perception this weekend.
An example of the coaching staff putting their players in positions to succeed would be not to run Charbonnet 30-plus times a game if he is dealing with a knee issue. Christian Turner and Tru Wilson are capable of handling carries if they do their part in pass protection.
Jon Runyan Jr. returns
The offensive line has been solid, but Runyan returning at left tackle could be the calming veteran presence returning to the huddle that the Wolverines need. He is an All-Big Ten performer and arguably the best player on the line (per Harbaugh). Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield could rotate at right tackle, as well. It will be interesting to see how Michigan handles this, especially in a hostile environment.
Don’t get put in the Coan of Shame
Jonathan Taylor is good. Like, Heisman-caliber running back good. Michigan knows they probably cannot totally shut down a guy like that, which puts pressure on Brown and the defense to lock down Jack Coan and the passing game, which also appears as if it could be more of a strength than anyone anticipated. Personally, I’d let them try and let Coan win the game for them. Michigan’s pass rush is ascending and the secondary through two weeks has held up better than anyone expected. Just be careful of Taylor catching the ball now, because that is a very real plot twist that has unfolded early on.
The kicking battle
This game could come down to kicks, yet Michigan has not settled on one between Quinn Nordin and Jake Moody yet as of the last time Harbaugh spoke to the media. Nordin might have a rocket strapped to his leg, but he’s missed a lot of big ones. If this battle has been decided, one would assume that the consistent Moody gets the nod. But it will be interesting to see if they rotate again because they cannot really afford any missed extra points or field goals in this one.
What are some of the things you are most looking for during Saturday’s game? Sound off below.