Michigan and Wisconsin both have postseason dreams on the line Saturday when they face off in Camp Randall. Here are the keys for each team to win.
Establish the run
In last year’s Michigan-Wisconsin clash, Michigan running back Karan Higdon diced the Badgers defense for 105 yards on 19 attempts, while quarterback Shea Patterson added 90 yards on nine carries. Michigan as a whole rushed 48 times for 320 yards, averaging 6.7 yards a carry in a dominant win over the Badgers. Should the Wolverines experience similar success, they must replicate their rushing dominance on Saturday.
Against Army last week, however, freshman running back Zach Charbonnet rushed 33 times for just 100 yards, a disappointing three yards per carry. The team averaged 2.4 yards per attempt on the ground, and nearly fell victim to a shocking upset at home.
Michigan returns four of five offensive line starters from last year’s team, but will be facing a vastly different Badgers front. Nose tackle Bryson Williams, defensive end Garrett Rand, and end Isaiah Loudermilk didn’t play in last year’s contest, but if the Wolverines can find success against that group, they’ll have a huge leg up on Wisconsin from the get go.
In both of its opening two contests, Michigan has started slow, and they nearly lost because of it when Army came to Michigan in Week 2. Army led 14-7 entering the second half, and were a 50 yard field goal away from coming away with the shocking upset.
Wisconsin did not play well as a team when playing from behind last year, and trailed early on in losses against BYU, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Paul Chryst can be unimaginative and conservative when trying to come back from big deficits, which reared its head in a baffling punt in Michigan territory on fourth and short in Ann Arbor last year.
If the Wolverines can establish an early lead, the Badgers will be forced to lean on the passing game, which would make defensive coordinator Don Brown’s job significantly easier.
Force Jack Coan to beat you
Jack Coan hype reached unprecedented heights last Saturday, as the quarterback threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in a resounding 61-0 victory. Still, Coan is relatively unproven, and was ineffective in a big game against Penn State last year. Coan finished 9-20 for 60 yards and two interceptions, and the Badgers scored just 10 points.
Wisconsin has one of the best players in college football in its backfield in Jonathan Taylor, and the Wolverines must devote their initial defensive efforts to stopping the run. The Wolverines boast excellent run disruptors on their defensive line in defensive tackles Carlo Kemp and Michael Dwumfour, and can send additional pressure via linebackers Khaleke Hudson and Josh Uche.
Expect to Michigan to stack the box early and often, in an attempt to stop Jonathan Taylor..You should also expect Don Brown to get creative with his blitzes to force Jack Coan to recognize more complicated coverage looks and to release the ball quicker. We’ll see from the get go whether the real Jack Coan is the quarterback we saw against Central Michigan or the one we saw play Penn State.
Win the battle in the trenches
The vaunted 2018 Badgers offensive line entered Ann Arbor with playoff hopes still intact, but left knowing they didn’t do enough to keep Wisconsin’s chances alive. Alex Hornibrook was sacked twice and was under constant pressure all game. The badgers offense failed to run the ball with any kind of consistency, and Hornibook never established a rhythym under consistent duress.
The 2019 Badgers offensive line returns just one starter, center Tyler Biadasz, but has played extremely well so far this season. Left tackle Cole Van Lanen, has been the anchor in pass protection, allowing Jack Coan considerable time in the pocket.
If Wisconsin is to have any kind of success on offense, they must keep a clean pocket for Coan to work with. In addition, they have to establish dominance in the run game from the opening kick off. That all starts with the offensive line, and if the Badgers can win up front, it could be a very long day for the Michigan defense.
Win the turnover battle
Michigan won the turnover battle 2-0 in last year’s contest, but has struggled with ball security to begin the year. The Wolverines fumbled four times against Army and lost three of those fumbles, but the Black Knights failed to capitalize, turning the ball over three times themselves.
Wisconsin forced three turnovers against South Florida and forced another against Central Michigan last week, a result of excellent secondary play and a pass rush that has consistently got home so far. Linebacker Zach Baun has been one of the most disruptive players this year, and his strip sack against South Florida resulted in a Badgers touchdown from defensive end Matt Henningson.
The Badgers lost the turnover battle in four of five defeats last season, so it’s imperative that they play mistake free football against an unforgiving Michigan defense. In a game where points will likely be at a premium, a single turnover could turn the entire game on its head.
Play a clean game on special teams
Last year, the Badgers really struggled on special teams, with kicker Rafeal Gaglianone making just 10 of 17 field goals and punter Anthony Lotti averaging a mere 38.8 yards per punt.
Redshirt sophomore kicker Colin Larsh is just one of three to start the year, including a 30 yard missed field goal against South Florida. Opportunities like that cant be missed in a tight game against the Wolverines.
In last year’s defeat in Ann Arbor, the Badgers found themselves consistently losing the field position battle, punting from deep within their own territory and allowing the Wolverines to start near midfield on several key drives. Anthony Lotti shanked one punt last year, and the Badgers cannot afford to be giving away the field position battle to the Michigan this time around.