Registering its second win over a top-10 opponent last weekend, something the program hasn’t done since 1962, No.8 Wisconsin will shoot for the trifecta for the first time in program history when it takes on No.4 Michigan this afternoon at Michigan Stadium.
Here are BadgerNation’s five keys to a Wisconsin victory on Saturday.
1, Bringing the Defensive Pressure
Can Wisconsin’s defense disrupt Michigan’s offense like it did at Michigan State? Supplying the defensive pressure became a lot more difficult with the news that Vince Biegel is out indefinitely following Thursday foot surgery. The absence of Biegel hurts Wisconsin’s chances of supplying the same kind of pressure they did last week and consistently forcing Michigan’s balanced offense to have to convert a third-and-medium or third-and-long. The loss of Biegel makes it important that T.J. Watt fills the void, builds off of last week’s performance (3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) and provide pressures. UW could go with redshirt freshman Zack Baun (Biegel’s listed backup) or bounce Jack Cichy to the outside, a position he’s previously played
Either way, Wisconsin will need to repeat last week’s defensive pressure on third down, registering two sacks and two quarterback hurries. If Wisconsin can consistently get Michigan’s offense to work behind the chains, it will allow them to bring pressures and make sure quarterback Wilton Speight uncomfortable.
2, Keeping Alex Hornibrook upright
Whether it’s tackling the ball carrier in the backfield or sacking the quarterback, Michigan’s defense has shown to provide pressure. Wisconsin’s offensive line has been able to keep its quarterbacks upright, only allowing six sacks through four games. In order to allow Hornibrook time to examine his options down field, the line is going to need to keep the pocket clean against a defensive front that has 17 sacks on the season. If Hornibrook has the time he needs, he should be able to help keep Wisconsin’s offense on the field and prevent short drives.
3, Containing Jabrill Peppers
Peppers hasn’t touched the football much on offense (two carries for 24 yards) but he has shown that he’s capable of changing the game on defense and punt returns. Defensively Peppers has been able to become a main stay in offensive backfields with a team-high 9.5 tackles for loss and is tied for second on the team with 2.5 sacks. Making sure Peppers can’t get into Wisconsin’s backfield is important but the Badgers also have to devise a game plan to make sure he doesn’t have an opportunity to impact the game as a returner. Peppers averages 22.7 yards a punt, third in the country and one return for a touchdown. Wisconsin punter Anthony Lotti has been able to drop four of his nine punts inside the 20, but the key for the true freshman is to not hit line drives on long punts, allowing Peppers a chance to return with a head start on the coverage units.
4, Converting on Third Down
Wisconsin has struggled to convert on third down this season (45.2 percent on 62 attempts), but the Badgers have converted on 52.1 percent (12-for-23) on third downs since Hornibrook was inserted into the lineup against Georgia State. In the three games Hornibrook has played, Wisconsin has a conversion rate of 55.5 percent. There’s still work to do but the young quarterback has given Wisconsin’s offense the chance to stay on the field. That will certainly be tested against a Michigan’s defense that leads the country in third down defense (6 of 50, 12 percent). It’s vital Wisconsin has success on first and second down in order to have a manageable third down, something they got away with not doing last week. If they consistently face third-and-long, Michigan will have the green light to bring the pressure.
5, Establishing the Ground Game
Michigan has been able to hold opponents to 122.5 yards a game by generating pressures in the backfield that create negative plays. Wisconsin can’t afford to be behind the chains and tailback Corey Clement needs to generate more success than the 54 rushing yards he had a week ago. With Clement’s left ankle supposedly being healthier than it was last week, it should help his burst through the open holes and help him pick up positive yards. Clement and the rest of Wisconsin’s running backs will be relied on to make sure the Badgers can continue to control the clock.
Can Wisconsin put together another statement win under Paul Chryst? Wisconsin certainly is capable of doing that after improving to 5-0 in Big Ten road games under Chryst and having scored at least 30 points over their last three road wins. Considering Michigan is allowing 13.7 points a game, however, this is expected to be a typical hard-nosed Big Ten game opposed to a shootout. In games like this, the winner usually is the one who can make the fewest mistakes against a talented defenses and who can execute consistently on offense. In the end I think Michigan comes out on top, as the loss of Biegel hurts Wisconsin’s chances of pulling the upset. The Wolverines win, 24-17.