Michigan’s game against Wisconsin this week certainly has a different feel to it than it may have a few weeks back. At the time, the Badgers appeared to be a contender in the Big Ten before being unable to play games due to a COVID outbreak. For Michigan, they simply have had a hard time showing up the last few weeks.
Without that in mind, here’s what our panel of five staff members discussed this week for our roundtable feature.
Mental health check: What have the last two weeks done to your psyche?
Von Lozon: The MSU game prepared me for what was to take place against Indiana. When what happened against Indiana happened, I was not shocked.
Chris Castellani: *Googles synonyms for “Miserable”*
Trevor Woods: It hasn’t been fun, but such is life sometimes. This is the most upset the fanbase has been in a long time, and the only way that at least temporarily changes is if Michigan goes on a winning streak. With that said, I’m more mad about it getting cold out than anything else.
Anthony Broome: To go from thinking “wow, this might be the second-best team in the Big Ten” to “wow, this might be one of the two or three worst teams in the Big Ten right now” has been pretty jarring. 2020 has beaten us all down, so football has not exactly piled on or anything like that. But it is kind of exhausting and when fans aren’t excited, it’s a big-time bummer.
Jacob Shames: As someone with a full-time job covering high school sports, I’ve been pretty busy over the last two weeks, and have been able to use Saturdays as a welcome excursion and chance to relax for a few hours, which really has been good for my peace of mind. I would say that in not having to think much about Michigan football over the rest of the week, I’m pretty fortunate.
Andrew Bailey: My soul has left my body and I have accepted my meaningless existence.
Stephen Osentoski: I’ve emotionally disconnected completely since OSU 2016. That game broke me and I’ve found that it’s much easier to go through the fall with my happiness NOT tied to a football team. I drank a lot of cider and ate a lot of donuts this past Sunday after the game. I recommend this to any hurting fans. Donuts helps all.
What is something that has been an issue the last two weeks that you see being corrected on Saturday?
Von Lozon: I think if any of Michigan’s issues are to be corrected this weekend, it would be the running game. There is no chance the pass defense is fixed by this weekend, so the default answer has to be the run game.
Chris Castellani: I think they’ll finally sack the quarterback this week. Fingers crossed.
Trevor Woods: I’d like to think the offensive line is going to have a better performance a week ago where the running game was nearly non-existent. Joe Milton needs all the help he can get, too, and he hasn’t had a clean pocket to work with often. I believe offensive line coach Ed Warinner is a good coach, but the improvement needs to come against the Badgers. The o-line looked quite good against Minnesota, they were throwing the Gophers around, but the past two weeks have been a different story.
Anthony Broome: I think that Michigan will play a little better offensively and be able to run the football. They have two weeks of film now to suggest that what they wanted to do isn’t working. I still have faith that Josh Gattis is smart and creative enough to scheme around any issues.
Jacob Shames: I think it’s a safe bet Michigan rushes for more than 13 yards. I know that the bar’s basically on the floor after the Indiana game. But Zach Charbonnet, Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Chris Evans have more talent than *that*. (If Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield are able to play, that will help the cause significantly.)
Andrew Bailey: The pass rush. There is too much talent in the front 7 for the pass rush to continue to be this ineffective for the third straight week.
Stephen Osentoski: Not jumping offsides every drive? That should be correctable, as most pop warner teams figure that out.
Think of your biggest concern about this team. How likely do you think it is that it stays that way the rest of the year?
Von Lozon: Pass defense — it’ll be an issue for longer than this season, IMO.
Chris Castellani: I don’t think they are a well coached football team. I don’t see that changing. My biggest concern right now is whether or not they’ll make it to 3 wins.
Trevor Woods: The lack of fundamentals across the board. Dropped passes, a variety of silly and unnecessary penalties on defense, not tracking the ball in pass coverage. They’re not doing the simple things, they’re shooting themselves in the foot. Harbaugh and the other coaches believe these are quick fixes, but until they’re fixed quickly I’m concerned with their tendency to be undisciplined.
Anthony Broome: The talent and depth on defense remain a concern and I do not know how much it improves. More game reps will help, but they are still weaker at corner and defensive tackle than they should be, which is arguably the key to this entire defense.
Jacob Shames: My biggest concern is probably the defensive line, considering that a strong pass rush can neutralize a team’s passing attack more than a shutdown secondary can in lieu of the other. At the start of the season, it appeared Michigan had the pass rush part somewhat down, at least. It’s not clear that’s the case anymore, and that was true even before Aidan Hutchinson’s injury. The Wolverines have talent. Kwity Paye, if he stays healthy, is a stud. I’m optimistic that Taylor Upshaw, Luiji Vilain and more could break out at some point. And Michael Barrett at VIPER might be the Wolverines’ most impressive all-around defender so far. That doesn’t mean I think the pass rush will be able to carry a lackluster secondary. It simply has yet to come close to doing that, talent or not.
Andrew Bailey: Don Brown’s inability to adapt & evolve and I think it will last as long as he is on the sideline.
Stephen Osentoski: The running game. This isn’t the year to depend on Milton. I like him a lot, but he needs a bit more experience / marinating to get to that point. With 4 legit running backs, not establishing the run issues could squander arguably the most talented position group on the roster.
I think it improves marginally, but the OL is dinged and Gattis’ aversion to running the quarterback is now a multi-year issue. I’m not optimistic about the running game elevating to anything other than serviceable.
What happens on Saturday night?
Von Lozon: Loss. 34-24
Chris Castellani: Wisconsin wins 31-21. I think Michigan will show a bit of grit, as their backs are against the wall following the last two weeks. But they aren’t as good as Wisconsin. They aren’t as well coached, they aren’t as disciplined. I’ve been wrong each of the last 2 weeks but I don’t think I will be this time. Wisconsin pulls away in the second half.
Trevor Woods: The home team has won the game in this series in recent years, I think the same trend will continue and Michigan will win. I think the amount of time Wisconsin had off, along with the amount of players they may have sitting out in this one, is going to lead to an uphill battle for them. Michigan isn’t going to look great in this one, but they’ll improve enough to squeak by Wisconsin. There’s been a mass amount of shade thrown at the program the past couple weeks, and I believe that could be a motivating factor. However, if they continue to play with a lack of fundamentals, this will be a long day for U-M once again. 27-20 Michigan.
Anthony Broome: Michigan can’t embarrass itself at home again, right? That’s what I’m going with this week, but still think that Wisconsin comes in and grabs a victory. Those errors in coverage are not going away and I feel like the Badgers are going to be excited to hit someone in different colors for the first time in almost a month. Wisconsin 34, Michigan 27.
Jacob Shames: Honestly, no clue, seeing as there are so many uncertainties. I’ll do a worst-case/best-case scenario. If Graham Mertz is active and Michigan once again can’t generate pressure up front, it won’t matter if the Wolverines solve their third-down or rushing issues — they’re likely to lose and lose big. But if the Wolverines can find the kind of offensive rhythm they had against Minnesota and the secondary has even a slightly-below- average game, they’ll have a chance. All things considered, I’ll say my final prediction is 28-17 Wisconsin. Don’t hold me to it.
Andrew Bailey: Wisconsin exploits our weak corner and controls the ball, while the Michigan offense finds the occasional groove. Badgers: 41-30
Stephen Osentoski: Saturday night I’m predicting that I’ll be typing sadly on my chart table/notes on my couch. I predicted a 38-27 loss to Indiana, which I thought was pretty pessimistic. Turns out I wasn’t pessimistic enough?
Even against what should be a depleted Wisconsin team, I’d expect them to be chomping at the bit to play some actual football. I’m expecting pain, and a decent amount of it. Wisconsin wins 31-17.