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