Preview: Big Test in the Big House

No.6 Wisconsin is two wins away from a Rose Bowl birth because it has won with a strong running game and, as of late, a suffocating defense. If the Badgers want to win a share of their first conference title in over a decade, it needs to figure out a way to stop Denard Robinson, Tate Forcier and Michigan on Saturday

MADISON - After two embattled years and with his rear firmly sitting on the hot stove, Rich Rodriguez appeared to find his spread-offense quarterback in sophomore Denard Robinson.

It apparently didn't sit well with sophomore Tate Forcier. Minutes after an euphoric victory in the season opener against Connecticut, a game in which Robinson accounted for 383 yards and two touchdowns in his first start, Forcier, who started all 12 games for Michigan his freshman season, slumped off the field and apparently said to reporters: ‘All you need to know is I'm out.'

When he was finally given a second chance, Forcier has been lights out and has combined with Robinson to make one of the toughest and unique one-two quarterback punches in country, something No.6 Wisconsin is realizing as it prepares for its final road test of the season this Saturday in Ann Arbor.

Once hailed as the front runner for the Heisman Trophy, Robinson, despite the fall off, gives Michigan (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) it's most dangerous weapon in the Rodriguez era. Robinson has already established a Big Ten record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,417), leads the league in rushing (141.7 ypg, 12 TDs), is second nationally in total offense (340.7 ypg) and had four of the top 10 offensive performance in program history in the team's first five games, including 502 total yards in a win over Notre Dame.

With Robinson at the helm, the Wolverines have scored 22 touchdowns on drives of two minutes or less, and half of those drives have lasted less than a minute.

"We see a guy that can make huge differences with his feet," said senior cornerback Niles Brinkley of Robinson. "He can take a play that is broke and fix it. With Denard, they can run the ball each way."

Forcier has bided his time in the supporting role and has made the most of his chances. Against Bowling Green, he set a Michigan record for pass completion percentage (with a minimum of 10 attempts) by throwing a perfect 12 for 12. Subbing for Robinson twice against Illinois and Iowa, Forcier has completed 67.2 percent of his passes (44 of 64) for 480 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

In Michigan's 67–65 triple overtime victory over Illinois, Forcier led the team to a game-tying fourth quarter touchdown drive and three overtime touchdown-scoring drives, including a pass for the game-winning two-point conversion, to halt a three-game losing streak and allow Michigan to be bowl eligible for the first time under Rodriguez.

"He's able to pass the ball a little better than last year," said Brinkley of Forcier, who completed 20 of 26 passes for 188 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in UW's 45-24 win last year.

"He probably knows the offense a little better than last year. With Denard being the starter, he's been able to sit back and watch, develop his arm a little more and learn the playbook a little more. He's just getting better with the patience he had."

The duo has helped Michigan go from last in the league in total offense (290.8 ypg), last in scoring (20.2 ppg) and seventh in rushing (147.6 ypg) two years ago to first in the league and fifth nationally in total offense (521.8 ypg), first in the league in rushing offense (266.3 ypg) and third in the league in scoring (37.7 ppg).

"I believe there was one game where we commented there was over 40 different formations, so they really have become a little bit more multiple," Bielema said. "Obviously, the change that Rich brought has been a completely different venue, but they're clicking on what he believes in and what he coaches as well right now offensively as any other time during his time there."

Even with the dynamic offense, the Wolverines are still littered with nagging problems. The Wolverines are 15-19 overall and 6-16 in the Big Ten Conference under Rodriguez's watch and were just placed on three years probation for practice and training violations after a NCAA investigation concluded earlier this month.

The Wolverines are ninth in the Big Ten in punt returns (6.0-yard average) and kickoff returns (20.7-yard average) and their two kickers have combined to miss 8 of 12 attempts.

Even after limited Purdue to 256 total yards (124 rushing and 132 passing) last week, the Wolverines are last in the conference in total defense (433.9 ypg), last in pass defense (270.2 ypg) and last in turnover margin (minus .70).

"We've had obstacles," Rodriguez said. "We've had bumps in the road. We're pressing forward. I'm hoping there's enough positive momentum and talk that all the negativity that's been out there gets pushed aside a little bit."

Part of the turnover problem, ironically, has been Robinson. Robinson, who is tied with Minnesota's Adam Weber for the conference lead with nine interceptions, threw two interceptions, one of which was returned 94 yards for a touchdown, and lost two of three fumbles.

For a Wisconsin defense that has forced seven turnovers in the last two games and scored points off of each of them, totaling 45 points.

"When (Robinson) gets rattled, he starts to throw the ball around a little bit and it ends up in the other team's hands more times than not," junior defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We need to get to him, get some pressure on him so he'll make some bad decisions that will hopefully turn out in our favor."

Michigan's one-two punch will be rivaled by the thunder-lightening attack of the Wisconsin running game. Even without Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay, the Badgers rolled up 338 rushing yards and six touchdowns in the 83-20 victory over Indiana.

With Clay not expected to be at 100 percent, the Badgers look to be in good shape with sophomore Montee Ball, who has gone over 100 yards in back-to-back games, and James White, who has rushed for 594 of his 735 yards this season and all 11of his TDs over his last six games.

That backfield has helped Wisconsin go 2-1 against top-25 teams in 2010 while Michigan is looking for its first top-25 win in its third try. With the Wolverines traveling to eighth-ranked Ohio State next Saturday, two victories would drastically alter the conference title race.

The Badgers know that two wins will send them to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 2000.

"We definitely understand the situation we are in and need to keep a level head," Watt said. "We need to take it one day at a time because you aren't going to win a championship in one day or a game in one day. You need to prepare every single day, every single practice, every single minute the way you need to prepare to win a game."

Michigan (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten) vs. No.6/5/7 (AP, Coaches, BCS) Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, November 20 at 11 a.m. CT

Stadium –Michigan Stadium (109,901/FieldTurf)

Television - ESPN (Dave Pasch, Bob Griese, Chris Spielman and Jeannine Edwards)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas), Westwood One Radio (Brad Sham and Eddie George), Satellite Sirus (ch. 122) and XM (ch. 143)

Series – Michigan leads 49-13-1 (UM leads 27-6-0 in Ann Arbor)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 45-24, on Nov. 14, 2009 in Madison

Series Notes:

The home team has won each of the last six meetings between the teams.

Including this season, one or both of the teams has been ranked at the time of the game in each of the last 35 meetings, dating back to 1968.

In its last three games against Michigan, the Badgers have averaged 206.3 yards rushing per game. In two games against the Wolverines, RB John Clay has rushed 29 times for 203 yards (7.0 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.

This is a matchup of the two top rushing teams in the Big Ten. Both teams are ranked among the top 12 in the country in rushing offense and they are two of just nine teams in the country with more than 30 rushing TDs this season.

After not scoring more than 17 points against Michigan in a span of six games against the Wolverines, Wisconsin is averaging 28.6 points against UM in the last five meetings.

Wisconsin Notes:

Wisconsin scored 83 points against Indiana, its most-ever in a Big Ten game and its most since beating Marquette 85-0 on Oct. 8, 1915. It is the highest point total in the modern era of UW football (since 1946). That's the most in a Big Ten game since Ohio State scored 83 against Iowa on Oct. 28, 1950 and tied for the third-most in the history of the league.

UW leads the country in fewest penalties per game, averaging just 3.1 flags per game. Wisconsin's 30.8 penalty yards per game is good for third in the country.

UW is bowl-eligible for a school-record ninth-straight season, including all five of head coach Bret Bielema's seasons. Entering this season, only 12 schools in the country had a longer current streak than Wisconsin, including just one Big Ten team (Ohio State).

The Badgers have recorded at least nine wins for the fourth time in head coach Bret Bielema's five seasons. Prior to 2006, UW won at least nine games just 10 times in 117 seasons.

Michigan Notes:

Prior to today's game with Wisconsin, the University of Michigan will honor 21 senior football players who will be playing their final home game at Michigan Stadium.

U-M has compiled an impressive 300-122-20 all-time record in November, but is 3-6 mark in the 11th month of the year under Rich Rodriguez.

Michigan has gained 500 yards of total offense in six of 10 games this season, including 721 yards against Bowling Green, 532 yards against Notre Dame and 525 yards against Massachusetts. The 721 yards is the most ever for a Michigan team against a BCS conference school.

Michigan passed for 419 yards against Illinois, the most passing yards since 2000.


Being the last away game and with eyes on a Big Ten title, Saturday's content could provide the perfect opportunity for Wisconsin to exercise some demons … or to suffer another embarrassing defeat in Ann Arbor.

This Michigan team is much better than the squad UW melted down against two years ago and a big reason for that is Robinson, who is 73 yards away from setting a new NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Senior safety Jay Valai says he knows that stat, and so does the rest of the UW defense.

Wisconsin is 29-2 when the Badgers allow less than 20 points and the Badgers have allowed only four rushing touchdowns this season, tied for the second-fewest in the country. It could be a minor miracle, and a huge badge of honor, if they keep the high-powered Wolverines under those numbers.

Wisconsin is a 5.5 point favorite in a game that probably scares most Badgers fans. We've all seen what has happened in Ann Arbor over the years against lesser competition, which makes this the ever so dangerous trap game. Can Wisconsin finally bury the ghosts of 2008 by playing its best defensive game of the year? Can the Badgers get a big win and take a step closer to the Rose Bowl? Can UW's high-powered offense cut through the Michigan offense like a hot knife through butter?

My question to all those answers is yes. I don't care how ugly it looks. As long as UW leaves the state of Michigan with a win for the first time since 2002, Badgers fans will be very, very happy.

Wisconsin 45, Michigan 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 7-3

Against the Spread: 8-2

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