If the Badgers want to avenge their 38-13 blowout loss to Michigan last year, they’ll have to do two things perfectly: maintain possession and get stops on early downs.
In Michigan’s previous game against Army, the Wolverine offense was stagnant for most of the game as they couldn’t run the ball effectively on early downs. As the game wore on, Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson found himself having to convert less-manageable third-and-long situations. On most third downs, Army simply sat back in a deeper zone and allowed Michigan throws underneath. They then rallied to the ball, made the tackle and got their offense back on the field.
Army’s defense also did a superb job covering Patterson’s first or second read, which forced Patterson to stay in the pocket much longer than he would have liked. Since Patterson had to sit in the pocket longer, it gave more time for Army’s pass-rush to get to the quarterback. Patterson was under duress all game, and fumble twice because of the constant pressure. This set up the Army offense with amazing field position all afternoon, and they promptly scored a touchdown after one of Patterson’s fumbles.
The Badgers don’t have to replicate this defensive performance, but they do have to watch the tape to understand Michigan’s offensive vulnerabilities.
With two weeks since the previous game, expect Badger defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard to design a complex gameplan to confuse and attack the Michigan offense. Players like linebackers Zach Baun and Jaylan Franklin have to play well for the Badgers to win Saturday. Patterson has been prone to losing the ball early in the season, which should be a point of emphasis for Wisconsin. Against Army, Patterson was strip-sacked twice and set up the Golden Knights with great field position.
The Badgers also have to control possession for a majority of the game. If they can slow the game down and tire Michigan’s defense line with long drives, the Badgers will dominate this game. With a running back like Jonathan Taylor Wisconsin shouldn’t have a problem controlling the pace of the game.
However, it’s just as important that the Badgers take play-action shots downfield early in the game to Quintez Cephus. In his first two games back, Cephus has added a new element to the Badger offense. Last year, the Badgers didn’t have a true deep threat or a quarterback who could deliver an accurate deep pass. This meant teams could simply stack the box to stop Jonathan Taylor and dare former UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook to pass.
While Jack Coan is yet to have a true test this year, he’s been efficient and accurate in his first two games. The Badgers don’t need Coan to win them games; they have Jonathan Taylor for that, they just need him to protect the ball. Coan has zero interceptions in his first two games, and has looked more than competent in those games. If he can prove himself in this game and complete a few downfield throws to keep Michigan’s linebackers and secondary honest the Badger offense should fly high. If Coan can’t, the offense will struggle mightily.
Ultimately, the Badgers have a massive opportunity Saturday against the Wolverines. If they win, they’d be an instant top 10 team with a great chance of returning to the Big Ten Championship game.