Preview: No.8 Wisconsin vs No.4 Michigan

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2003.

That was the last time that “The Big House” played host to a game between top-10 teams. Now we are 24 hours away from kickoff between the No. 8 Badgers and the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines. So what should we expect?

These teams haven’t met since 2010, when Wisconsin won 48-28. However, I expect a lower score this time. The Badgers and Wolverines have two of the best defenses in the country.

Some big news leading into the game was the announcement that Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone would be out the rest of the year after having surgery to repair a back injury. Shortly after that, the Badgers got some more bad news as it was announced that Vince Biegel will miss 2-4 weeks after he underwent surgery to replace a broken foot late Thursday night.

Michigan leads the Big Ten in total defense, allowing only 269.8 yards per game. Wisconsin isn’t far behind, giving up only 277 yards per game. This tough defense for Wisconsin has only given up three touchdowns to opposing offenses all season and is allowing a league best 11.8 points per game. These are two teams that pride themselves on playing solid defense and getting the ball back to their offense.

One area that Wisconsin might be able to attack this Michigan defense is by effectively running the ball. The Wolverines are giving up just over 122 yards per game on the ground. On Tuesday, Wisconsin running back Corey Clement told reporters that his injured ankle is feeling fine and that he is at “100 percent.” Having a healthy Clement can only be a positive for the Badger running game, and it will need to be productive for Wisconsin to have a chance of winning.

Against then-No. 8 Michigan State last week, the Wisconsin offensive line was dealing with some changes. Brett Connors made his first career start at center and Michael Deiter moved from center to left guard. This week, starting left guard Jon Dietzen is still listed as questionable, so last week’s starting five will probably be out there again at Michigan Stadium. Connors performed well in his first start and will look to continue that this week against a talented front seven for Michigan.

Much was made about how well Alex Hornibrook played in his first start last week. The redshirt freshman looked calm and poised en route to completing 16-of-26 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. This week he will have to make sure he knows where Jabril Peppers is at all times.

Peppers does it all for Michigan. He is the Wolverines’ best player. Earlier this week Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said that Peppers is “the best player in college football.” Peppers will line up in all three levels of the Michigan defense. He can play up at the line like an outside linebacker or he might drop back and play safety/cornerback at times.

Wisconsin has beaten two top-10 teams already this season. The Badgers are battle-tested. The Wolverines? Not so much.

Michigan was at home against Colorado on Sept. 17. CU got off to a hot start and held a 21-7 lead after the first quarter. The Wolverines ended up rallying for a 45-28 win but showed that they could be vulnerable on defense.

As for the Badger defense, they have shown that they can hold up against the run, allowing 80.5 yards per game to their opponents but have been susceptible to some big plays through the air. Michigan has some very skilled position players in wide receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson to go along with skilled tight end Jake Butt. Wisconsin’s defensive backs are going to have their hands full dealing with this Michigan aerial attack and will need to keep them in check to walk out of Ann Arbor with a win.

One team wants to chew the clock and pound the ball inside; the other wants big plays through the air. They both want to play hard-hitting, smash-mouth defense. The atmosphere will be electric and both teams are going to feed off of it.

This is going to be one heck of a game and I can’t wait to watch.

The game will be broadcast on ABC and kickoff is set for 3:30 ET/2:30 CT

 

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Vince Biegel Out 2-4 Weeks After Foot Injury

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Hours after it was announced that kicker Rafael Gaglianone would miss the rest of the season due to back surgery it was announced that senior captain Vince Biegel needed surgery as well.

Jesse Temple (@jesseetemple) was the first to break the news. According to the report, Biegel had surgery late Thursday night to insert a screw into cracked foot. That is really tough news for a team looking for another high profile win this Saturday against No. 4 Michigan in Ann Arbor.

If you choose to look on the bright side– and there is a bright side — it is that this Wisconsin defense is loaded with talent at the linebacker position. Zach Baun looks to be the guy to fill in during Biegel’s absence. Baun has seen action in all four games so far this season for the Badgers either on defense or special teams. He has tallied 5 tackles, 2.5 TFL and has 1 forced fumble against Georgia State.

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox could also move Jack Cichy back to the outside–Cichy’s natural position– and have Ryan Connelly start at inside linebacker alongside T.J Edwards. Connelly was the one to fill in when Edwards was not able to play against LSU and Chris Orr tore his ACL on the first defensive play of the game.

The loss of Biegel will put that much more pressure on players like T.J Watt to build on the big game last week against Michigan State and continue to create pressure on the quarterback.

Based on the timetable of 2-4 weeks it looks like Biegel will not only miss this weeks showdown with Michigan, but could also miss the game vs Ohio State on October 15th.

Hopefully this is the last bad news that Badger fans will have to endure this week.

Gaglianone to Miss Remainder of Season 


Rafael Gaglianone will miss the remainder of the 2016 season after undergoing surgery on his injured back Thursday morning. Gaglianone missed the game against Michigan State after tweaking his back in practice last week.

While the news last week caught most fans by surprise, it was not the first time Gaglianone had missed time with a back injury as he had missed some spring practice in 2015 recovering from a similar injury. Early indications this week were that he was feeling better but as the week progressed he began to feel worse.

“Unfortunately this isn’t his first experience with something like this,” said Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst. “But we’ve seen that Raf is going to do everything he can to get back on the field as soon as he can.”

This is a big blow to the Badgers as Gaglianone had connected on 7-of-8 attempts before he got hurt including going 3-for-3 against LSU in the opener and the game winner from 47 yards out.

Andrew Endicott will now be the primary placekicker for the rest of the season. Endicott was 1-for-1 in his only attempt against Michigan State a week ago. During last week’s telecast the commentators had mentioned that coach Chryst said he really only felt comfortable kicking field goals with Endicott from about the 25 yard line and in. We will have to see if after a full week of practice for Endicott if Chryst feels more confident from father distance in a game where kicking could play a pivotal role.

5 Keys to Victory: Michigan

After winning their second game in a season against an AP top-ten team for the first time since 1962, the Badgers head back to the state of Michigan to face another staunch opponent in the number four Michigan Wolverines.   

Michigan is coming off a 49-10 dismantling of Penn State at home and so far has an average margin of victory of over 38 points per game. However, their only real test of the season came September 17 against a very underrated Colorado team. The Buffs challenged Michigan for most of the afternoon until their starting quarterback Sefo Liufau was injured and Michigan pulled away in the second half.

 

Michigan leads the all time series against Wisconsin 49-14-1, but the Badgers have won four of the last six meetings, including the 2010 48-28 demolition of the Wolverines, where the Badgers threw the ball only once in the second half and famously ran on 31 straight plays to finish the game. Believe it or not, this is the first time Michigan has been favored over the Badgers since 2007. As we all know, Jim Harbaugh arrived on the scene for the 2015 season and drastically changed the culture and competitiveness of the program, so even after two big wins on the season, the Badgers face their toughest test of the year. They are currently an 11-point underdog, the second largest point spread of the season, following only the 13-point spread against LSU.

 

Here are our five keys to victory for the Badgers:

 

1. Keep Forcing Turnovers

One of the few improvements Badger fans expected from new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox after taking over for the departed Dave Aranda was his ability to force takeaways. Through four games, the Badgers defense has done a phenomenal job in that department, forcing nine turnovers through the first four games, including four last week against the Spartans. Michigan, meanwhile, has only turned the ball over twice so far this season behind quarterback Wilson Speight. If Wisconsin’s defense can get after the quarterback and continue to be opportunistic with timely takeaways, it would be a huge boost to their chances to win at Michigan Stadium.

 

2. Establish the Run

It seems intuitive, but despite a year of growing pains on the offensive line last year, and optimism that this year they would be back to their chain-moving ways on the ground, the team has struggled to run the ball. Averaging under four yards per carry, the Badgers haven’t truly be able to dominate on the ground for any of their four games, and have only averaged more than five yards per carry against Akron. Injuries to starter Corey Clement, and backsups Taiwan Deal, and Bradrick Shaw haven’t helped, but this is a program that hangs its hat on running the ball and face an even bigger test this week against a stout Michigan front seven.  

 

3. Red Zone Offense

After really struggling in the red zone to start the year, Alex Hornibrook has breathed life into the offense. The redshirt freshman has showed tremendous poise in the red zone and has limited mistakes. Wisconsin has great weapons this year, both on the outside, and over the middle, making it easier to score if the quarterback is delivering the ball on time. If they can run the ball better, the offense will only continue to improve inside the 20.

 

4. The Kicking Game

Starting kicker Rafael Gaglianone remains questionable with a back injury so this may be more solid as the week progresses, but as of now, Alex Endicott is scheduled to make his second career start at kicker. After missing an extra point in the second quarter, Endicott calmly hit a 41-yard field goal in the third quarter, extending the Badger lead at the time to 23-6. As evidenced by his role on kickoffs, Endicott has a big leg, but just needs to conquer the mental part of being a starting kicker especially in a hostile environment. It will be tough for the Badgers to win in anything other than a close game, so kicking will be of paramount importance.  

 

5. Contain Jabrill Peppers

I was originally going to add Peppers above and make it about the greater special teams component, but Peppers is that good and deserves his own key to the game. He is a three-way threat, who can impact the game on returns, defense, and has an increasingly important role on offense. He is a modern day Charles Woodson for the Wolverines. Coach Paul Chryst told media Monday that Peppers is the “best player in college football”. Peppers has an eye-popping 9.5 tackles for loss, and is third in then nation in punt return yardage. Peppers will certainly make an impact, but it is very important to limit just how much of an impact he makes.

 

This Badger team relishes the underdog role and certainly has the tools to upset Michigan on the road, but it will take a monumental effort to beat a team as talented and as well coached as the Wolverines.  

 

Written by Sam Maxwell (@smaxwell713)

Position Group Grades Through Week 4


—By Cory Hilborne (@RodgersToJordy)

 

The Wisconsin football team is off to a 4-0 (1-0 Big Ten) start following a decisive win over Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday. The schedule only gets tougher from here starting with a trip to Ann Arbor and a showdown with fourth ranked Michigan. Ahead of this week’s matchup, I want to take a look back through the first four weeks of the season and grade the different position groups.

 

Quarterbacks – B

 Bart Houston showed some flashes in the three and half games he started for the Badgers. He ultimately struggled with accuracy which lead to Alex Hornibrook taking over against Georgia State and getting the Start against Michigan State. Hornibrook looked calm and cool for someone getting their first collegiate start in a Big Ten opener against a top-10 team on the road. Turnovers have been a problem in the early part of the season for these two and will need to improve if they plan on getting through this daunting schedule with a winning record. Hornibrook seems to have all the tools to be the leader of this team not only this year, but for years to come.

 

Running Backs – B-

 We all know the rich history that is the Wisconsin run game. With recent success from tailbacks such as Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon III and the success that Corey Clement showed his first two years in Madison we have come to be a little spoiled. So far this year Corey Clement is averaging just 3.9 yards on his 65 carries. In comparison, in 2013 he had 67 carries for an average of 8.2 yards per carry. Dare Ogunbowale has showed some flashes but as a whole the group has some work to do. 

 

Wide Receivers – B+

 While they aren’t necessarily putting up huge numbers, they have been successful when called upon. Jazz Peavy leads the group with a line of 16 catches/274 yards/2 TD’s. Robert Wheelwright is right behind him with 15/228/0. I’m still waiting for a third WR to step up and make plays on a consistent basis, but right now I have been very pleased with how these two have stepped up and taken advantage of the opportunities they have had.

 

Tight Ends – B

 Troy Fumagalli had a huge game against LSU in the opener catching seven passes for 100 yards. Since then,he has just seven catches for 69 yards. Granted he missed most of the Georgia State game with an injury. Kyle Penniston dropped a couple passes early on in relief but bounced back with the game-winning touchdown. Eric Steffes caught his first career touchdown last week against the Spartans. For a team that rarely uses three WR sets on offense, the tight ends are going to have to continue to play well on third downs going forward.

 

Offensive Line – B

 In week one against a very talented front seven for LSU this unit held up above expectations. Bart Houston was rarely pressured and the offense rushed for 134 yards. The coaching staff had finally seemed to have found the starting five guys up front. Then came injuries to Micah Kapoi and Jon Dietzen, the teams top two guards. Michael Deiter, who normally starts at center moved to LG against Michigan State and Brett Connors stepped in at center. The line held up well in pass protection but struggled to open up holes consistently in the run game. Getting Kapoi and Dietzen back hopefully this week can only improve things for this offense.

 

Defensive Line – A-

 Olive Sagapolu, Connor Sheehy, Chikwe Obasih and Alec James have anchored a d-line that is allowing the fewest rush yards per game of any Big Ten team at 80.5 yards/game. This group is playing really well in the early part of the season and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

 

Linebackers – A+

 This group is once again playing lights out football. We saw what Jack Cichy was capable of in the bowl game last year when he recorded three straight sacks (I still can’t believe he did that). Vince Biegel was an absolute monster last year and early on this season is playing how we have come to expect him to play. The only real surprise, if you want to call it that, is the emergence of T.J Watt. He leads the Big Ten in sacks with 4.5 and is ninth in the Big Ten with 5.5 TFL. The linebackers lead a defense that is the top scoring defense in the Big Ten allowing just 11.8 points/game and number two in total defense holding opponents to 277 yards/game.

 

Defensive Backs – B+

 The DB’s have been flying around the field making a ton of plays. Wisconsin already has 6 INT’s through the first month of the season (had 12 all of last year). Sojourn Shelton has played like the shutdown corner he was his freshman year. Leo Musso showed his ball skills with that 66-yard scoop-and-score fumble return that was forced by week one hero D’Cota Dixon.

 

 Kickers/Special Teams – A-

 Rafael Gaglianone has connected on 7 of 8 FG attempts this year with a long of 48. Andrew Endicott made his first and only FG attempt last week hitting from 41 yards out. He did however miss an extra point. P.J Rosowski has been great on Kickoffs with 15 touchbacks on 25 attempts. Him and Anthony Lotti have combined to average just less than 40 yards a punt and have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on 6 occasions.

 

 

Badgers Bully #8 Spartans in East Lansing

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Before a 30-6 rout of the Michigan State Spartans, the Badgers had questions at quarterback, injury question marks at running back, and injury question marks on the offensive line; but the Badgers only needed one answer to these questions on Saturday.

That answer is that this team is a direct reflection of their head coach Paul Chryst; no matter who lines up for the Badgers they are going to be ready to play and will lean on one of the top defensives in all of college football.

The turning point in the 30-6 road victory was early in the second half. After Michigan State gained possession at midfield, trailing 13-6, Spartans running back LJ Scott fumbled into the hands of Leo Musso who returned it 66 yards for a Badgers touchdown.

The Badgers continued to pull away as kicker Andrew Endicott nailed a 41-yard field goal after showing inconsistencies on extra points earlier in the game. Moments later, Wisconsin capitalized on a fumbled snap deep in Michigan State territory. Corey Clement scored his second touchdown of the day from five yards out to extend the Badgers lead to 30-6.

The Wisconsin defense continued to make plays throughout the game as they forced four Spartans turnovers including interceptions by Sojourn Shelton, Derrick Tindal, and T.J. Edwards. The Badgers rush defense was stout as they allowed 75 rushing yards on 27 attempts.

Wisconsin also had four sacks on the game including 2.5 sacks by T.J. Watt and 12 QB pressures by Vince Biegel.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook provided the offensive attack in the first half to help the Badgers bring a 13-6 lead into the break. Hornibrook threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Eric Steffes to give Wisconsin a 7-3 lead late in the first quarter. Alex continuously moved the chains on third down with passes to a wide variety of wide receivers as the freshman finished 16-for 26 with 195 yards, a touchdown, interception, and fumble.

The Badgers rushing attack was held in check for most of the day but Clement was able to finish the game with 23 carries for 54 yards and two touchdowns. While senior Dare Ogunbowale had some success with 55 yards on nine carries.

Through the air Wisconsin was led by Jazz Peavy, who finished the game with four receptions and 96 yards.

Up next, the Badgers travel to the Big House to take on #4 Michigan.

Wisconsin Players + Former Players React to Big Win