I know, I know. This is a total cop out, but bear with me.
My first thought (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) was quarterback Alex Hornibrook. In fact, I’m fighting the resistance to start this all over and go with the freshman. After all, Hornibrook is coming off a wildly successful first career start where one would probably say he was the offensive key to Wisconsin’s victory over Michigan State. He converted key third downs, made several great throws and minimized mistakes. His second start will take place against another top-ten team, on the road, in the state of Michigan and against another terrific defense. Did I just talk myself into Hornibrook? Nah, too easy and why would you read this column if it was the same stuff each week?
My second option was to go with running back Corey Clement. He’s two weeks removed from his ankle injury and is coming off a game where he scored twice but only averaged 2.3 yards per carry. Time for a bounce back, right? In a perfect world, Clement gouges Michigan, goes into the bye week with time to get 100 percent healthy and gains some momentum (if you believe in that type of thing) going into the Ohio State game. If Clement runs the ball successfully, everything falls into place: Wisconsin dominates time of possession, keeps Michigan’s offense off the field and takes the pressure off the aforementioned Alex Hornibrook. Then I started thinking, “Well, it doesn’t matter how Clement looks without...”
Option three: the offensive line. All of ‘em. If we’re being completely honest, UW’s linemen haven’t dominated like Badger lines of the past but they’re young and have struggled through some injuries and, in turn, shuffling around. They’re facing an extremely talented Michigan front and will be counted on to open lanes for Clement and give time to Hornibrook. Boom, done. But let’s get real—the article says One Badger, not One Badger Unit.
“But what about someone on the defense?” Michigan does average 52 points per game and defense has been known to win championships, but is there one defender that could go out and win it for Wisconsin? The lack of Vince Biegel? Too soon.
Lastly, I was thinking special teams. Rafael Gaglianone is out, Michigan’s special teams has made a bevvy of plays this season, it just makes sense. But then I thought, “No, you idiot. You can’t call literally one-third of the game a ‘key to the game’ and call yourself a genius when it makes a difference.”
Truth be told, there isn’t just one Badger that can or will (probably) go out and win the game for the team. A win this week is going to take everyone that touches the field in the Big House on Saturday.
Michigan: linebacker/safety/returner/running back Jabrill Peppers
These are just two plays from this season that exemplify the play-making ability of Jabrill Peppers. Do yourself a favor and search YouTube for the others. Go ahead, treat yourself. I’ll even do the work for you: click here.
Pretty electric, huh? Peppers has garnered some Heisman whispers already this season, and rightfully so. He ranks second on the team in total tackles with 33, 9.5 of which have been for loss. He’s totaled 2.5 sacks but is still looking for his first career interception. Peppers also leads the team in all-purpose yards with 332 (83 per game), 227 of which have come from punt returns. Oh yeah, he also took a punt 81 yards to the house. He’s had a chance at two kick returns and took one of them 55 yards. Just for good measure, he’s appeared on offense in each game and has carried the ball twice for 24 yards. But he’s only six-feet tall, he can’t play on Sundays, right? Wrong.
tl;dr: Peppers is really good and will be on the field a ton (he played over 80 plays last week). Whether it’s in the blitz-heavy Michigan defensive scheme, via the return game or out of the backfield, Wisconsin will want to keep several pairs of eyes on Peppers at all times.