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Michigan football vs. Wisconsin: Staff roundtable and predictions

The picks are in from the staff.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Members of the Maize n Brew staff got together this week to share their predictions on Saturday’s game at Wisconsin. Here’s what our panel of seven came up with this time around.

Do you chalk last week’s second-half up to a sign of what’s to come or a blip on the radar? Explain your answer.

Tyler Helsel: I think it’s a wake-up call of what could happen if Michigan is too reliant on the run and unwilling to adapt in-game. Michigan, on offense, isn’t exactly known for its offensive adjustment, so let’s hope that changes.

Von Lozon: Both? I think the passing game is a serious issue, but they also didn’t let Cade McNamara air it out very much either. I’d be curious to see if he’s put in a better spot to succeed.

Scotty White: Michigan has looked good besides the second half of the Rutgers game. I think that Michigan can get back to the way they were playing and bring that level of play to Madison.

Stephen Osentoski: I think it shows that the offense needs adjustments overall, and against better opponents won’t be able to run them over strictly with Corum / Haskins. So I think it’s more than just a blip on the radar. Now, how QUICKLY Michigan adjusts to this depends on (1) better execution at the QB position and (2) the willingness of the staff to become a bit more creative in the run game. I bet they still struggle against Wisconsin, but not as much as they did in the 2nd half against Rutgers.

Dan Plocher: I fear it is what is to come. Michigan has an identity but they are one-dimensional on offense. This week they face the No. 1 run defense in the country. That is concerning, to say the least. They need to be able to move the ball through the air when the run game isn’t doing it. This week will be a true test of that.

Matt Eifert: The second half against Rutgers was a sign of what’s to come. Cade McNamara won’t be that inaccurate again. However, we now have a large enough sample size to know that the Michigan coaching staff will try to establish the run at all costs, even when the defense is stacking the box. It worked against Rutgers but it won’t work against stiffer competition.

Jacob Shames: Why not a little bit of both? Michigan didn’t seem to take Rutgers seriously after halftime, insisting on not changing a thing from the first half despite the Scarlet Knights making adjustments on both sides of the ball. That’s not a good sign moving forward, and it won’t win them Saturday’s game, but it’s not like the Wolverines haven’t had long in-game stretches in past seasons where they just completely fell asleep and barely got away with it. Ideally, the second half last week was the wake-up call they needed to start Big Ten play.

What do you expect to see from Cade McNamara and the Michigan offense on Saturday?

Tyler Helsel: I hope to see progress in the passing game. I expect to see drives with success and three and outs.

Von Lozon: I think it’s gonna be a struggle to move the ball. Wisconsin’s defense is among college football’s best, especially its rush defense. I expect Michigan to let Cade let it rip a bit more this week than previously because they’re gonna need him to step up.

Scotty White: I expect Michigan to come out and try to establish the run but I don’t think it’s going to go well. I expect Cade to make some plays through the air to make up for it.

Stephen Osentoski: Expecting around 25-30 passes from McNamara, and testing Wisconsin with a fair number of screens. I think if they want to run the ball on Wisconsin, they need to stress that the QB can keep on the read-option. Otherwise, it’s simply not going to work against the Badgers.

Dan Plocher: I think it’s going to be an ugly Big Ten game. That’s what Wisconsin loves to do, and they usually win because of it. The difference is this season Wisconsin’s offense is as anemic as ever and is turnover prone. They should have beaten Penn State and kept it close for most of the game against Penn State before 2 pick-sixes opened that one up.

As for McNamara, we need to see more confidence and execution on the easy plays. He completed just one ball in the second half last week. That’s unacceptable. If he doesn’t find it, maybe it is time for J.J. McCarthy to get a shot.

Matt Eifert: I expect to see run play after run play. Cade McNamara will play better than last week, but won’t be asked to do much as Michigan will rely heavily on Blake Corum, Hassan Haskins, and the offensive line. Saturday will be peak “three yards and a cloud of dust” football.

Jacob Shames: I don’t expect McNamara to throw it more than 20 or so times, but I’d hope to see a few more downfield shots and play-action passes among them. Just enough to where Wisconsin doesn’t put eight in the box on every play. Michigan can win this game if McNamara only throws 20 passes if he does so with his normal level of efficiency.

Can Michigan’s defense take advantage of a Wisconsin offense that has struggled or will this be a get-right game for Graham Mertz?

Tyler Helsel: Mertz will be better but I’m not sure he’s good enough to move the ball like Wisconsin will have to do against Michigan’s defense.

Von Lozon: Michigan can take advantage. Mertz hasn’t been good since playing the Wolverines a season ago, but this is a brand new defense that hasn’t made a ton of mistakes. Force some pressure on him and see what can happen.

Scotty White: I think Wisconsin’s offense is going to struggle against the Michigan defense. Graham Mertz hasn’t looked great and I think the defense can force some mistakes out of him.

Stephen Osentoski: Michigan’s coverage has been super soft on short throws, and it seemingly isn’t going to change. So I am worried this is going to be the game that Mertz gets back on track, mainly for that reason. I still think the defense is good enough to limit Wisconsin, overall, but it’s not a defense that’ll completely shut down Mertz without him making unforced errors.

Dan Plocher: I don’t think this will be a get-right game. Mertz has three times as many interceptions as touchdowns since the last time these two teams met. He has zero confidence right now as the fan base calls for his job. I expect Michigan to force some turnovers this week, and for Aidan Hutchinson to be in his face all day long.

Matt Eifert: While the Michigan defense is still learning the scheme and getting better over time, it cannot be understated just how bad Graham Mertz has been this year. He has been inaccurate, has turned the ball over, and generally locks onto one receiver for an entire play. I expect (and hope for) Michigan to sell out to stop the run. Mertz may beat the secondary over the top once or twice but it’s a gamble that will pay off in Michigan’s favor.

Jacob Shames: Mertz has not had a great game since the first start of his career, against Illinois last season. He’s been inaccurate and turnover-prone against decent opponents his entire career. He’s in for a rough afternoon.

Give me your score prediction and a player of the game.

Tyler Helsel: 21-17, Haskins.

Von Lozon: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 10. The Player of the game goes to Hutchinson.

Scotty White: Michigan wins this one in a gritty low scoring battle, final score 20-17. The Player of the game goes to Josh Ross who has a big day for the defense.

Stephen Osentoski: 23-20 (OT) win for Michigan. Hutchinson is player of the game with a pair of sacks and a nightmare off the edge that Wisconsin never figures out how to handle.

Dan Plocher: Give me 14-10, Michigan. It’ll be closer than most people would like and just as gut-wrenching as the second half of the Rutgers game last week. But, the result will be the same and the Wolverines will hang on.

Matt Eifert: 19-16 Michigan. Each team with one touchdown. Michigan with four field goals as opposed to Wisconsin’s three. The Player of the game is Aidan Hutchinson.

Jacob Shames: Michigan wins 20-13 in a game that sees more tackles for loss than plays of over 20 yards. Player of the game: Aidan Hutchinson with three sacks and a strip-fumble of Mertz in the fourth quarter.