1, Through four games against overmatched teams, what have you learned about Michigan?
Sam Webb: The defensive line is one of the deepest Michigan has ever had. The linebackers are faster and more physical than last year's. Offensive adjustments are swift. If an aspect of the attack isn’t working (pounding the ball up the middle? Throwing deep?) the staff can alter the game plan on the fly to take what the defense is giving them.
2, It looks like Michigan has settled on junior quarterback Wilton Speight. Numbers aside, how has he looked taking over the offense?
Webb: He has looked like a poised veteran. While Michigan has dominated on the scoreboard, Speight has experienced a little adversity (especially against Colorado, who it turns out is pretty good). Early in the game one of the backs blew a blitz pick-up assignment. Speight was hit harder than he ever had been, fumbled and the ball was returned for a touchdown. Accuracy in that game suffered, but he made a few key throws and made it through the game. He came back against Penn State and was back to playing at the level of efficiency we'd seen in the first couple of games. He throws with really good touch and has shown more escapability in the pocket than most expected. That said, he hasn't faced a front seven the caliber of Wisconsin's. Whether the Badgers can pressure him or not may tell the tale of this game.
3, UW outside linebacker Vince Biegel touted Michigan’s offensive line as “physical and tough.” Where is the real strength of the unit?
Webb: The receivers are the strength. The line is better at pass protecting than run blocking, but blitz pick-up has been spotty at times (sometimes due to backs or tight ends). However, when Speight has time, he has two receivers on the outside that can get deep, are willing to make tough grabs over the middle and can take short passes the distance. Then there's Jake Butt, one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country. They also have receivers on the bench that have shown the ability to come in and make plays.
4, Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst called Jabrill Peppers the best player in college football right now because of his ability to impact all three phases. What part of the game does Peppers make the most impact?
Webb: Peppers’ biggest impact is unquestionably at linebacker. He is a fierce tackler that routinely blows up plays in the backfield (tied for the nation's lead in tackles for loss). He is the ultimate chess piece, very tough to deal with as a blitzer because of his speed but can step out and cover a slot or a back man to man.
5, How has defensive coordinator Don Brown impacted Michigan’s defense and its scheme?
Webb: The major differences haven't been realized yet. Michigan has looked very similar to how it looked last year under D.J. Durkin's aggressive man-to-man scheme. Gradually over the past couple of weeks Brown has implemented more zone concepts and the blitzes have grown in complexity. In this game, however, I expect the approach to be more like the first couple of games.
6, The Wolverines have held opponents to 6-for-50 on third downs, a scary good number. How have they done it?
Webb: Pressure. Michigan almost always brings the heat in third down scenarios, and they've disrupted those plays at a very high rate.
7, The Harbaugh Effect – what’s your take on how it’s impacted the program and can it be sustained?
Webb: He has instilled toughness and belief in every team he has touched and has done so almost instantly. He has also drastically improved the performance of the quarterback at every stop and is a savant when comes to X’s and O’s. The offense routinely creates favorable match-up through formation and motion. I don't expect the effect to wear off.
8, Who is the x-factor Saturday?
Webb: Jabrill Peppers. He's the only player in the game that will have a say in all three phases of it.
9, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Michigan trouble? Where do you think the Wolverines have the edge over the Badgers?
Webb: I think Michigan will have a tough time running on the Badgers, especially between the tackles. On the flip side, the Badgers will have a tough with Michigan's play-action passing game. The loss of Biegel (the best linebacker I've seen this year) is huge.
10, What is the one thing Michigan needs to do well in order to win?
Webb: Attack down the football field and connect on a few chunk plays. Wisconsin's victories over LSU ad MSU were/are extremely impressive, but neither of those teams fielded a quarterback adept at throwing the ball deep. Michigan has a more balanced offense and must make the Badgers pay for the aggression in the front seven.