For the fifth time in five years Michigan and Wisconsin will square off in a cross division matchup. It has been a series that started out highly contested with close games in 2016 and 2017, but has since been blowouts for both sides in 2018 and 2019. What 2020 brings, we have very little idea as the last two weeks have not been good for either program, albeit for different reasons.
The Badgers have battled COVID-19 and canceled their last two contests, but there is still a “0” in the lose column. Michigan has played, but it’s been an ugly two week stretch. Both teams are in desperate need of a victory, here’s what the Badgers need to do to make sure that it’s them that comes out on top.
Air it out
If you’ve watched Michigan football this season you’ve probably seen the opposing quarterback throw to virtually whoever they want to, with plenty of time to do so. Coming into 2020 Michigan’s secondary appeared to be a strength of the unit, and defensive coordinator Don Brown usually has the Michigan secondary playing at a very high level.
Well, that hasn’t happened yet and the Wolverines have suffered dearly from it. Currently Michigan ranks No. 104 in pass defense, giving up an average of 287 yards through the air each week. Add in the opposing run game, and the Wolverines defense is giving up 411 yards per game.
If Michigan State’s Rocky Lombardi can throw for 300+ yards on this Michigan secondary, I am excited to see what Graham Mertz will be able to do against them. Yes, I believe it will be Mertz even on one day’s practice, and if he’s out there he should have plenty of time to sit back and find the open target. We saw a strong debut from him, and now he’s got the chance to continue that mark against a struggling secondary.
Another thing you’ve probably seen from Michigan if you’ve watched the last few weeks is a run game that appears to be non-existent at this point in time. The Wolverines ran for 152 yards as a team against Michigan State and a WHOPPING 13 yards against Indiana. Due to that, the team has been forced to put it all in Joe Milton’s hand which doesn’t seem like a plan that is working at this point in time. He’s throw for 300+ yards in each of the losses, but Michigan wants to be more balanced in their attack than they have been thus far.
For the Badgers getting pressure and push from the defensive line will be key in this game for a few different reasons. One, pressure from the line can help take away the Michigan run game once again. Last week Indiana made Michigan one dimensional and it allowed them to pin their ears back and disrupt the passing game as well. The Hooisers only got home for two sacks, but they hurried plenty of throws to make Milton miss targets or throw interceptions.
The Badgers appear to have a stronger front seven, so getting pressure and forcing errant throws should allow Wisconsin to get home and force some turnovers in this one. We saw what Keeanu Benton could do in this game last year, and I’d look for more of the same this time around against an inexperienced offensive line for Michigan.
Take advantage of the opportunity
In classic Paul Chryst fashion, it’s time for the Badgers to take advantage of the opportunity in this spot. In the latest installments of this series the Badgers and Wolverines have split two games a piece. This year you have to travel to Ann Arbor, a place the Badgers haven’t won at since 2010. Normally that is a tall task, but in 2020 you go to a place that is far less intimidating without fans and you have an opponent that appears to be reeling.
Yes, Wisconsin should be without some players on Saturday evening but they still have a chance to really make their mark on this series and get a road win. Michigan comes to Camp Randall again in 2021, so getting this one would help not only for the 2020 season but for the future as a whole. This UM program is still looked at as a blue blood program (idk why either) and getting a win there, no matter the circumstances, is always something to be happy about.