In yet another nighttime match-up, Wisconsin (4–1, 2–0 Big Ten) faces its third straight primetime conference game against a Michigan (5–1, 3–0) squad riding a five-game winning streak after a rough season-opening loss to a strong Notre Dame program.
This will be a tough challenge for the Badgers on both sides of the ball, as along with UW’s injuries on defense, the Wolverines boast playmakers on both side of the ball.
- Scoring offense: 38.2 points per game (t-29th in nation, third in Big Ten)
- Total offense: 420.7 yards per game (55th in nation, sixth in Big Ten)
- Rushing offense: 199.8 yards per game (41st in nation, sixth in Big Ten)
- Passing offense: 220.8 yards per game (81st in nation, ninth in Big Ten)
- Third-down conversion: 40-of-81 (49.4 percent; 15th in nation, second in Big Ten)
Like Nebraska last week, Michigan’s offense showcases a balanced attack with a playmaking quarterback.
“Very balanced,” defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said this week when asked what makes Michigan’s offense so difficult to defend. “Physical running the ball. Running backs are explosive and they’ve got make-you-miss ability. They’re winning in the hole. Tight ends are match-up problems. They use them well in the run game, and then in the pass game they have some different dynamics that they use all those guys with. Receivers, they got it all. They have big physical guys on the outside that go attack the football. You got those classic slot guys that are really twitchy and can run, use them in the run game, so to me it is that balance.
Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson has stabilized the quarterback position for Jim Harbaugh’s unit. He has completely nearly 69 percent of his passes for 1,187 yards with 10 touchdowns to only three interceptions so far.
“Quarterback’s making plays,” Leonhard said. “He’s been very efficient and when they need him to break contain and extend a play or need him to make a play with his feet, he’s done it for the most part this season. They present a lot of problems just because of that balance. You can’t really focus on any one area.”
“He’s a dual threat. He can run, but he’s more of a passing quarterback,” Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon said on Monday. “He’s pretty accurate. He makes pretty good decisions. He’s has a slinger, he’s got a pretty good arm, and he has good athletes to distribute the ball around to, so he’s a great quarterback. He’s a really good quarterback, no question about it.”
The run game’s primary beneficiary is back Karan Higdon, who has rushed for 582 yards on 5.8 per touch with five touchdowns. Juniors Tru Wilson and Chris Evans have rushed for 188 and 172 yards, respectively, with three touchdowns on the ground combined.
In the passing game, senior tight end Zach Gentry leads the team in receptions (20) and receiving yards (306) through the first half of the regular season. Wide receivers Nico Collins (14 receptions, 265 yards, one touchdown), Donovan Peoples-Jones (18, 217, five), and Grant Perry (13, 89) all have caught over 10 passes.
“I think they’ve just been very efficient, whether it’s running the ball, putting themselves in manageable third downs, big plays down the field. You name it, they’ve done it,” Leonhard said. “Biggest thing that I’m impressed with when you turn their film on is just how hard they play. Doesn’t matter whether you watch an offensive snap, a defensive snap, special teams. They’re playing with passion and they’re playing extremely fast and physical.
“We got our hands full this week and I’m excited for the challenge. I think our guys are ready for it, and we got to go in there and play physical, and we got to communicate on the road in a tough environment.”
- Scoring defense: 15.8 points per game (10th in nation, first in Big Ten)
- Total defense: 230.5 yards per game (first in nation, first in Big Ten)
- Rushing defense: 96.5 yards per game (sixth in nation, third in Big Ten)
- Passing defense: 134 yards per game (first in nation, first in Big Ten)
- Third-down conversion: 34.1 percent (36th in nation, fourth in Big Ten)
Make no mistake, defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit is an elite one.
According to Wisconsin right tackle David Edwards, the first two players that come to mind right away on Michigan’s defense are defensive linemen Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary.
“Those guys are pretty good players, wreak havoc on quarterbacks, and give fits to o-linemen,” Edwards said. “Those two jump off the film, but Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson, I mean those guys are also elite players, and then those two inside guys. The thing about it is their front seven is really good, so everybody pretty much stands out.”
Winovich leads the team in tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (three) in six games played. Gary did not play last week against Maryland but has registered 4.5 tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, and two sacks along with 22 tackles.
Bush leads the team in tackles (40) and has also tallied five tackles for loss and two sacks, while Hudson has notched 19 stops, 1.5 for loss, with a sack.
In the secondary, defensive backs Josh Metellus and Brandon Watson have recorded two interceptions, with both having pick-sixes to their names already this season.
Edwards noted the athleticism of the players in how they execute Brown’s scheme.
“I think each guy brings a twitchy athleticism, so trying to match their ability to get hands on as quickly as you can,” Edwards said. “They’re very difficult to move off the line of scrimmage, which allows their second-level players to make plays and keeps everything kind of in front of them, if that makes sense.
“In terms of their scheme, their blitzes, the things that they do against us—particularly last year—brought us some pretty significant challenges, and it’s going to be cool to kind of see how we can combat that and learn from what we did last year and what we’ve learned on film this year.”
Punter Will Hart averages 51.7 yards per boot, leading the Big Ten, with 13 of his 18 attempts going 50 yards or longer.
Kicking-wise, Quinn Nordin has connected on eight of nine field-goal attempts through six games, while Jake Moody has recorded touchbacks on 25 of 42 kickoffs.
In the return game, Peoples-Jones already has one punt return for a touchdown and has averaged 8.5 yards per return on 15 attempts. That one for a score came at home against Nebraska on a 60-yard return.
Ambry Thomas recorded a 99-yard yard kickoff return for a score against Notre Dame and averages 27.1 yards per attempt.