John Stocco is off to a pretty good year so far… 34 of 52 (65.4 %) with four touchdowns and only one interception. While he hasn't faced any great defenses yet, he looks more decisive, his accuracy has improved and he looks like an overall better quarterback. Of course, this is his first big test to show if he's really at the next level. A good ground game will certainly help Stocco; the Badgers have passed well off play action all year and it has improved their aerial attack. I wouldn't be surprised to see Barry Alvarez test Michigan's defense with backup Tyler Donovan getting a few snaps. Donovan is an elusive runner out of the pocket that can really do damage with his feet. Given Michigan's long history of problems with mobile quarterbacks, the temptation should certainly be there.
I had Brian Calhoun ranked as the conference's third best back coming into this season behind Mike Hart and Laurence Maroney. Calhoun is one of those backs that can really be a mismatch for a defense. He isn't very big, but this kid can flat out fly. He's very elusive, can make that extra man miss in the box, and he's extremely hard to tackle in the open field. Some people compare him to Garrett Wolfe from Northern Illinois but he's much faster and is overall, a better back. He's got excellent vision, patience, and shiftiness. He was impressive as a freshman at Colorado, and he tore up the scout team last year. Now he's back on the field and better than ever. He may not have a whole lot of power, but he CAN run inside. Calhoun is also a very capable receiver. Wisconsin will split him out and run twins or trips to the other side of the field to isolate him on a defender. They find ways to get the ball in his hands because he's a playmaker. On the year, Calhoun has ran 471 yards on 92 attempts (5.1 avg.) for eight touchdowns. He has also caught six passes for 85 yards (14.2 avg.). Booker Stanley is back from suspension and off to a hot start. Stanley is shifty, powerful back that has good vision. Thus far he has run for 139 yards on only 21 carries (6.6 avg.). Jamil Walker is a physically gifted runner with good size and power. He is averaging 6.1 yards a carry on 13 runs this season.
Fullback Matt Bernstein is one of the best, if not THE best, fullbacks in the entire country. Not only can he run the ball well, but he is an outstanding blocker. That part of his game reminds me a great deal of Kevin Dudley. He can do it all blocking wise; ISO blocks with linebackers up the middle, seal blocks on the outside and in space…you name it and he can do it. Bernstein certainly has a career ahead of him in the NFL. He almost always leads the way in the running game, so as a rule of thumb, #45 will take you to the ball.
Brandon Williams has recovered well from a stress fracture to his shin and looks to be healthy. He's the teams leading receiver so far with 10 catches for 144 yards. Williams isn't very big but has done a good job throughout his career of being a deep threat and getting separation on cut routes. Senior Jonathan Orr has looked impressive this season. Orr has been a dominant blocker on the edge but has also begun to develop a rhythm as a receiver. The 6'3 speedster is a playmaker and is capable of breaking the game open. None of the other receivers have seen much action this year, but look for speedsters Jarvin Minton and Marcus Randle El to see time in larger sets. Brandon White is a good medium range receiver with a nice frame and reliable hands. He's yet to make in impact this year, but he could get his first catch this game.
I had Owen Daniels rated as my #2 tight end in the Big Ten, so it's no surprise he's off to a hot start. Daniels is a former quarterback who is very athletic and has excellent hands. Reviewing the film, it is obvious Daniels has improved his blocking skills and it's upped his NFL stock in the process. On the year he has eight catches for 103 yards (12.9 avg.) and three touchdowns. He also had a long reception called back on a very questionable call. His backup, Jason Pociask, will see a lot of time in Wisconsin's two tight end sets. Pociask is more of a blocker than a receiver and he will sub in for that purpose.
#72 Joe Thomas, 6'8-303, Junior
#71 Eric VandenHeuvel, 6'7-340, Freshman
#63 Kraig Urbik, 6'6-317, Freshman
#62 Mike Van Someren, 6'7-315, Sophomore
This group is hard to gauge so far because they've put on an absolute clinic each week but against weaker teams. This offensive line was a joy to watch against Bowling Green and they've played well the last two weeks despite losing three starters to graduation. They are a good pulling team and will do it very often. They pull multiple lineman on stretch plays and they hit their marks well. They can execute a variety of blocking schemes; they track block well, they zone block well and they cut block on the edge well. They also sustain blocks and shield away from the playside gap well. The coaching staff asks a lot of these guys in terms of blocking assignments and they've answered the call. Donovan Raiola in the middle is a good one. He's nimble, yet strong enough to take on most interior lineman. Jason Palermo is good in space and is a solid pulling guard. Joe Thomas is the best offensive tackle in the Big Ten. I've spoken with several scouts who love this kid's potential for the NFL. If he leaves this year he could be a 1st rounder. He's huge at 6'8 yet plays with an amazing amount of athleticism for a 300 plus pounder. He's very strong and his technique is sound. The depth here is extremely young.
I really like this offensive line so far. They've been very impressive. Michigan's front line is really going have to step up this game. I think that it is critical that Gabe Watson play a role in this game. Michigan must get off blocks and pursue the play up front and jam up the gaps. Wisconsin will test the Wolverines in a variety of ways… counters, stretch plays, pulls, track blocking, and off tackle plays. It is very important for Michigan to get off blocks and play with discipline. Brian Calhoun is not a guy you want to give space to. Michigan must contain him. The corners have force the run inside and the linebackers/safeties have to make plays. Wisconsin's game plan will be heavily predicated on the run. Not only does is allow them to win time of possession but it also allows them to play-action pass. Brian Calhoun is not easy to stop, but Michigan will at least have to slow down this running game or things could get very difficult. John Stocco has improved from a year ago and he has more seasoned options. I really like Orr and the tight end Daniels. Brandon Williams is Mr. Reliable but he can make a big play if needed. This offense will certainly be a test for the defense. I think holding Wisconsin to anything under 20 points is a good day from this unit.
-Michigan will be looking to win it's 24th consecutive Big Ten Conference opener and has won 36 of its last 37 openers. Ironically, Michigan's last loss in a home opener was to Wisconsin in Madison on Sept. 12, 1981.
-Michigan still holds the nations longest consecutive weeks ranked in the AP poll active streak at 112 straight weeks. Miami (FL) is in second with 92. Michigan has also appeared in the AP poll the most of any team at 715 polls.
-Michigan is 15-1 against Wisconsin in conference home openers.
-Michigan is 19-3-1 when playing Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium and is 21-3-1 overall playing Wisconsin away.
-Michigan is 17-8 in night games and has one 10 of its last 11 night games.
-Right tackle Adam Stenavich is the lone Michigan player from Wisconsin. Assistant Head Coach and running backs coach Fred Jackson coached at Wisconsin from (1982-86) where he coached the receivers, including NFL All Pro Al Toon. Al's son Nick is a Michigan recruit.
-Jason Avant has provided the offense new downs on 15 of his 22 catches, five of which have come on third or fourth down.
-Wisconsin has only allowed nine points in the second half combined for the season.