No.8 Wisconsin goes back to Michigan this weekend, this time to Ann Arbor to face No.4 Michigan

Badger Nation's Front Seven ranks the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need for this week's game at No.4 Michigan in Ann Arbor.

After opening up conference play on a high note with its impressive victory at then-No.8 Michigan State, Wisconsin quickly turns its focus to another road test at No.4 Michigan.

It has been six years since the two schools faced off, and the Badgers would like nothing more than to walk out of Ann Arbor with a win like they did in 2010. Putting together back-to-back road wins against top 10 opponents is no easy task, considering the Wolverines are averaging 52 points a game (fourth nationally) and have held teams to 13.8 points per game (13th nationally)

For a touch of irony, the last time UW won its Big Ten opener was 2013. The Badgers lost their next game, which happened to be on the road to the fourth-ranked team in the country (Ohio State).

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a victory over Michigan.

Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses

1, Vince Biegel OLB (2): Biegel finished the game with one tackle but registered his first two QB hurries of the year. The stats are misleading, as Biegel was consistently supplying the pressure and effort that the Badgers need to frustrate highly-ranked teams. The senior showed that he doesn’t necessarily have to record a lot of defensive stats to still make an impact. Biegel will need to either assist on tackles, deliver sacks or register tackles for loss to get Michigan’s offense consistently in third-and-long situations. If Biegel and the defense can do that, it should force quarterback Wilton Speight to feel the same kind of pressure that State’s Tyler O’Connor did last week.

2, Corey Clement RB (1): Clement made it through a physical Michigan State game only to see another physical opponent this week. Like he did against the Spartans, Clement will have to work for each yard he gains against a stingy Michigan’s run defense, which allows 3.4 yards per carry and has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher. Averaging 3.9 yards per carry, Clement will need to be patient with each run, hit the hole when it opens up and make sure he isn’t consistently tackled behind the line. The Wolverines’ front has been swarming, causing teams to lose an average of 42 yards per game on the ground.

3, Alex Hornibrook QB (3): Hornibrook’s first career start against Michigan State was tremendous, as the Big Ten’s freshman of the week threw for 195 yards in the win. Hornibrook did a lot of things well but certainly excelled on third down (9-for-12 for 136 yards and six first downs). That kind of performance will need to carry over against a Michigan defense holding opponents to a 12 percent conversion rate on third down. While repeating the numbers for last week will be next to impossible, Wisconsin has to do a better job of getting into more manageable third down opportunities to increase the odds of moving the chains. A good portion of that falls on Hornibrook, who will need keep the offense in rhythm and be accurate with his reads at the line of scrimmage.

4, T.J. Watt OLB (NR): Playing off Biegel has been tremendous for Watt, who registering new career highs in tackles for loss (3.5) and sacks (2.5) against the Spartans to earn a bevy of conference and national awards for player of the week. Watt’s strength is the pass rush and teams have averaged 5.7 tackles for loss per game against Michigan. If Watt can supply the pressure on Speight, it should cause him to speed up his progression. Speight has shown to be deadly when he’s comfortable in the pocket, averaging 218.8 yards passing a game.

5, Ryan Ramczyk LT (5): After containing a talented defensive line in Michigan State, Ramczyk will be going up against a Michigan defense that has registered 45 tackles for loss, tops in the country. Ramczyk has consistently improved since the first half against LSU and will need to deliver a strong push up front to control the line of scrimmage, protect the pocket and open up lanes to get the running game moving. Ramczyk will need to contain Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, who both have 4.5 tackles for loss, or Chris Wormley (three TFLs). Wisconsin can’t afford to fall behind the chains consistently, which will most certainly give Michigan the green light to bring pressure to test the young Hornibrook.       

6, Sojourn Shelton CB (NR): A steady influence through four games, Shelton will likely be going up against Amara Darboh, who leads Michigan in receiving yards (248) and touchdowns (four). Speight hasn’t given opposing defensive backs many chances to intercept him, giving up only one on the season in his 114 pass attempts. If Shelton can’t create turnovers, he’ll need to make sure that Darboh can’t create the necessary separation to hit his average of 4.2 receptions a game. Shelton has shown he’s able to shut down his side of the field while being disciplined in his coverage (tied for the team lead with five pass break ups). That kind of play will need to continue.

7, T.J. Edwards MLB (4): Since Edwards has returned to the lineup, the sophomore leads the team with 17 tackles over the last three games. Edwards will be relied on in a combination of areas to help slow a balanced Michigan offense down. His biggest impact could come in the run game with Michigan averaging 42.5 rushing attempts and 229.8 yards rushing per game. De’Veon Smith (259 yards) and Chris Evans (213 yards) are the top two rushers for Michigan, and although the Wolverines split carries among four running backs, Smith leads the team with 39 carries and is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game this season. Edwards’ ability to play the run strong will help make sure that Michigan’s running game doesn’t get the big chunk plays, as the Wolverines had four runs of 25 yards or longer against Penn State last week.

Others to Note

Anthony Lotti P: Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst called Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers the best player in college football because of how he can impact the game in all three phases. Outside of Peppers playing both offense and defense for Michigan, Peppers has shown to be electric in punt return, averaging 22.7 yards per return with a touchdown this year. Lotti has punted the ball consistently over the last three games with four of his nine punts landing inside the 20-yard line. Lotti has to minimize the chances of a Peppers return and try to give Michigan’s offense a long field to work with.

Leo Musso S: Musso continues to play well (16 tackles) and will need to provide backup to both corners against Michigan’s passing attack. Outside of Darboh, tight end Jake Butt is another favorite target with an average of six receptions the past three games. Musso will need to be aware where he is on the field; Butt has at least one reception of 20 yards the last three games.

Jazz Peavy WR: Peavy was one of Hornibrook’s go-to targets against Michigan State in clutch situations. All four of Peavy’s catches went for first downs, including three on third down. Peavy is a strong route runner and needs to create the necessary separation in order to keep Wisconsin’s offense on the field.

Olive Sagapolu NT: If Wisconsin’s linebackers are going to create pressure up the middle, it will begin with Sagapolu absorbing offensive linemen to open up blitz lanes. A repeat of his performance against the Spartans will be key against Michigan to help make sure the linebackers have opportunities to make plays, since three Michigan’s backs average at least 6.6 yards per carry (minimum 20 attempts).

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