Friday, November 19, 2010

Wisconsin preview

After locking up a bowl game against Illinois and a winning record against Purdue, Michigan heads into its unquestioned most difficult two-game stretch of the season against Wisconsin, followed by The Game. If things seem grim, it's because they are:
Passing28th nationally
190.50 YPG
74th nationally
200.30 YPG
Rushing25th nationally
125.10 YPG
12th nationally
228.20 YPG
Scoring23rd nationally
19.50 PPG
8th nationally
40.20 PPG
Passing114th nationally
270.20 YPG
31st nationally
255.50 YPG
Rushing75th nationally
163.70 YPG
9th nationally
266.30 YPG
Scoring93rd nationally
32.10 PPG
14th nationally
37.70 PPG
The thing that sticks out in these numbers is Wisconsin's passing ranking. Though Scott Tolzien has been incredibly efficient this year, Wisconsin is not necessarily putting up the bulk numbers you might expect. And while that may be encouraging, Wisconsin is still Wisconsin, and their running game is as strong as ever.

Wisconsin boasts a stable of freakbacks like they usually do. The headliner is John Clay who, despite missing the thrashing against Indiana last week, is averaging 5.4 YPC and has 13 TDs. Clay is every bit as good as we expected him to be, and if he's healthy, Michigan is going to have a really hard time containing him. If he's not, he's backed up by freshman "speed back" James White and sophomore Montee Ball. Both of these two would end up as starters on most Big Ten squads, averaging 6.8 and 5.6 YPC respectively. Wisconsin's run game is no joke.

Chances are that Michigan's defense is going to struggle to contain them. Without a healthy Mike Martin, Michigan is beyond sunk. With Martin, Michigan will still probably have to go to a four-man defensive line to stop free-releasing offensive linemen rumbling downfield. If Michigan can find some way to slow the run game (they probably can't), they might, might, have a chance in this game.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan is coming off of two horrendous games, combining for 10 turnovers. Denard has returned to his status as Turnover Machine and will need to do a significantly better job holding onto the ball if Michigan is going to have any chance to win. Taylor Lewan was concussed against Purdue and likely won't see the field in this game, meaning Mark Huyge will have the task of blocking Wisconsin's all-world defensive end JJ Watt. Mike Shaw was also concussed and probably won't see any playing time, which means that Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins, and (probably) Fitzgerald Toussaint will have to carry the load at tailback.

Prediction: This one is bleak. Michigan's defense doesn't have the firepower to hang with Wisconsin's beefy offensive line and stable of backs. Neither do they have the secondary to compete with an experienced and talented quarterback. Chances are high that Wisconsin will start rolling and never slow down, much like they did last week against Indiana. They won't hang 83 on the Wolverines, but scoring on 75% of their drives wouldn't surprise anyone. Wisconsin will score early and probably get up 14-21 points in the first half and try to run out the clock.

Michigan will lose the turnover battle again. Denard throws at least one pick and Michigan probably fumbles the ball a few times. I doubt if they gain any turnovers as Wisconsin is pretty judicious with the ball. Michigan will lose the ball at least once on their side of the field and it'll probably be a bullet in Michigan's chances to win. If they can find a way to shift this tide, they'll stand a decent chance to win, but in all likelihood, Michigan gets crushed in the turnover department.

Offensively, Michigan will probably put some points on the board. They scored 24 on the road last year against Wisconsin and are a wildly improved outfit. Michigan will miss at least one field goal in this game and the cameras will pan to a clearly distraught Rich Rodriguez as everyone in the stadium wonders why he didn't just go for it on 4th and 12. Michigan will probably have to rely a lot on their passing game against an oversized Wisconsin defensive front. How well Denard handles his reads and throws will be crucial.

There are just too many factors working against Michigan in this one. Then again, the same could've been said about Michigan's improbable win against Wisconsin in 2008. But expecting, or even hoping for, a similar outcome is just denying the mass of evidence that says Michigan is going to get bulldozed in this game. Wisconsin scores on their first drive, forces a Michigan punt, and takes firm control of the game in the 1st quarter. Wisconsin 52-35


Unknown said...

I think this game should tell us a lot about Denard. He probably wont be able to run much. He may even get banged up again. But more importantly, while he has shown some ability to throw, he has shown very little ability to manage the breadth of the passing attack in tough situations and under pressure. By pressure I mean not only the pass rush on individual plays, but also the pressure of difficult or key or life-altering game situations.

This is the end of the season. He should be growing up some by now. If not, I'll have some difficulty believing he has a real shot a being a fully fledged QB in the future.

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