At the beginning of the 2018, season Wisconsin’s offensive line was labeled one of the most talented groups in the country. Three starters, David Edwards, Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel stayed another season despite interest from NFL teams.
However, this unit has not lived up to expectations, allowing eight sacks for a total loss of 56 yards. The vaunted offensive line even got replaced in the BYU game due to their inability to stop the BYU pass rush.
This week, the offensive line is up for a huge challenge. Michigan has one of the best defensive lines in all of the college football with two returning All-Big Ten players in Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Along with those stars, Michigan’s defensive line has depth with almost all the linemen having at least one year of experience on the team.
Becuase of Alex Hornibrook’s lack of mobility and poor accuracy while on the run, the Badgers offensive line is going to need to shut down Michigan's impressive pass rush.
Start off Hot:
So far this season the Badgers haven’t been able to start games off hot. They ended the first quarter of the New Mexico game down 7-3, were down 14-7 midway through the second quarter against BYU and were tied 7-7 at halftime against Iowa. This is not how Coach Paul Chryst hoped to start these games.
Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in the first half of games, and that has to change if they are to win on the road in Michigan. For starters, Jonathan Taylor will have to rush the ball effectively early in the game, which will open up the passing game.
Michigan, on the other hand, has struggled in games where they gave away early leads. In their game against Notre Dame, they fell behind 21-3 in the second quarter and were unable to gain control of the lead for the rest of the game.
Wisconsin will need to score early if they want to exit Ann Arbor with the win.
Pressure Shea Patterson:
When Michigan starting quarterback Shea Patterson plays well, the rest of the team follows suit. The rhythm Patterson creates for his team is a big reason why the Wolverines are ranked No. 12 in the nation. However, one of the few weaknesses of Michigan’s offense is its offensive line, which has allowed eight sacks this season and has struggled to protect Patterson.
Michigan’s offensive line had a rough game against SMU as it was only able to rush the ball for 2.8 yards per attempt in the first half to an SMU team that allowed 233 rush yards the week before against mediocre TCU team.
In Michigan’s closest games against Notre Dame and Northwestern, Patterson had his lowest passer ratings of the season with 123.6 and 131.1, due to the solid pass rushes of the respective opponents. Wisconsin will need to rush Patterson and force him to release the ball early to get him out of rhythm.
Attack Wisconsin’s Secondary:
Over the past two weeks, Wisconsin’s secondary has had a hard time shutting down the pass. They allowed Iowa’s quarterback, Nate Stanley, to throw for 256 yards and two touchdowns and Nebraska’s quarterback, Adrian Martinez, to put up an astounding 384 yards and two touchdowns as well.
Further bad news for Badgers occurred during the Nebraska game. Starting safety Scott Nelson got ejected for targeting and is suspended for the first half of the Michigan game. To add insult to injury, the other starting safety, D’Cota Dixon, was injured with a foot injury and had to be taken out of the game early. Even more names from the Wisconsin secondary ended up on the injury report after the game, including Deron Harrell, Eric Burrell and Faion Hicks.
These injuries forced true freshmen Donte Burton and Rachad Wildgoose to play a lot more than expected. Michigan will need to attack this weak and depleted secondary to try to get in a groove offensively.
Shut Down Ferguson:
Throughout the course of the season Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook has put more and more trust in freshman tight end Jake Ferguson. Ferguson has become one of Hornibrook’s favorite weapons as he looks for him in clutch situations in the red zone and on third down. Ferguson has four receptions and a touchdown in each of his last two games.
Michigan should look to shut down Ferguson and make coach Paul Chryst decide between forcing Hornibrook to throw to receivers he’s not yet completely comfortable with or becoming one-dimensional and only running the ball.
Michigan’s defense has done a good job shutting down opposing quarterbacks as they haven’t allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 209 yards on them all season. Shutting down Hornibrook’s go-to guy will help Michigan keep this streak alive and beat a team struggling to throw the ball.
Get the Run Game Going With Higdon:
One of the most consistent running backs in all of college football this year has been senior running back Karan Higdon. Higdon has been explosive this season averaging over 10 yards per carry in two games; he’s also rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game this year, which is the game they lost against Notre Dame.
Higdon is great at getting extra yards after the initial contact and is able to turn plays that look like they should be losses of yards into positive yardage. This is bad news for Wisconsin, as the Badgers have struggled making tackles in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin hasn’t done a good job shutting down running backs as they’ve allowed at least 100 rushing yards per game to opponents in all but one game.
Michigan must look to get the ball into Higdon’s hands, whether that’s with direct handoffs or short dump-off screens from Patterson.