UW v. Michigan, matchup analysis

A close look at the Badgers and Wolverines leading up to Saturday night's game at Camp Randall

Michigan offense versus Wisconsin defense

Michigan projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

QB Chad Henne (So. 6-2, 226) MLB Mark Zalewski (Jr. 6-2, 228)
TB Max Martin (So. 6-1, 216) WLB Dontez Sanders (Sr. 6-1, 223)
FB Brian Thompson (Sr. 6-2, 237) SLB LaMarr Watkins (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LT Adam Stenavich (Sr. 6-5, 321) RE Matt Shaughnessy (Fr. 6-6, 230)
LG Leo Henige (Sr. 6-4, 328) RT Nick Hayden (So. 6-5, 302)
C Mark Bihl (Sr. 6-5, 303) LT Jason Chapman (Fr. 6-4, 280)
RG Adam Kraus (Jr. 6-6, 307) LE Joe Monty (Jr. 6-2, 252)
RT Rueben Riley (Sr. 6-4, 311) SS Joe Stellmacher (Jr. 6-1, 216)
TE Tyler Ecker (Sr. 6-6, 251) FS Roderick Rogers (Jr. 6-2, 181)
WR Jason Avant (Sr. 6-1, 213) CB Brett Bell (Sr. 6-0, 200)
WR Steve Breaston (Sr. 6-1, 178) CB Allen Langford (Fr. 5-11, 187)

Michigan will bring a balanced offense to Camp Randall Saturday, but just how balanced depends on several questions that will not be answered until after kickoff. First of all, who plays? The Wolverines are missing their best offensive tackle, Jake Long, and the Big Ten's best tight end, Tim Massaquoi. As if that were not enough, Michigan tailback Mike Hart and right guard Matt Lentz, two of the best at their positions in the Big Ten, are injured, and whether or not they will play is uncertain. Michigan's coaching staff has been tight lipped. If they do play, how effective they are is another question altogether. Michigan will also likely be without one of its top reserve lineman, tackle Mike Kolodziej. If Kolodziej was healthy, Rueben Riley would be playing guard, rather than filling in for Long at right tackle. If Lentz starts, right guard Adam Kraus will probably take over for Mark Bihl at center. 

All of these extremely significant injuries certainly dampen expectations for UM's vaunted offense. But the Wolverines have plenty of options left. While their makeshift offensive line is a weaker stepchild of the dominant corps the Wolverines came into the season with, this group is still capable of taking over a game, especially when facing a Badger defensive line that is similarly depleted by injuries.

If Hart is not up to full strength, the Wolverines still have two very good options at tailback. Fellow true sophomore Max Martin saw spot duty last season as Hart's backup, with 132 yards on 32 carries. He was the starter against Eastern Michigan last week, however, and is second on the team this year with 123 rushing yards and 31 attempts. He leads the team with two rushing touchdowns.  

True freshman Kevin Grady might be even more talented than Hart, but he is not as complete of a player, from a pass catching and blocking standpoint, or quite as refined a runner. Grady has 151 rushing yards and a touchdown on 35 carries, but he had two fumbles in UM's loss at Notre Dame two weeks ago.

Expect Michigan to have significantly more success running the football than the Badgers' first three opponents this season. That is not exactly a tall task: UW has allowed just 119 yards rushing combined in three games. Can the Badgers' beat up defensive line sustain its high level of play during the Big Ten campaign. Yes, it can, barring further depleting injuries. There is still quite a bit of talent here, and UM's line will have a tough time setting the tone. The question is how well the Badgers' front holds up over four quarters. The young defensive linemen who will be heavily relied upon Saturday night have little experience taking loads of reps. They did well at UNC last week, but this will be a greater challenge. Still, expect players like defensive tackle Nick Hayden and end Matt Shaughnessy to spend considerable time in UM's backfield.

The greater question might be if UW's linebackers are up to the challenge. Middle 'backer Mark Zalewski has been great, and edge players Dontez Sanders and LaMarr Watkins have made some plays. But Sanders and Watkins still need to improve at shedding blockers and taking on the run at the point of attack.

This just in: Michigan likes to throw the ball to Jason Avant. The senior receiver has been stellar so far this year, catching a Big Ten leading 22 passes for a Big Ten leading 310 yards. The rest of the Wolverines team has 38 receptions for 385 yards.

The feeling, though, is that Steve Breaston is just waiting to bust loose. An athletic, talented receiver who has been a dynamic return man, Breaston was supposed to be the heir apparent to Braylon Edwards. So far, he has caught just five passes for 44 yards and has had some trouble catching the ball. UM has tried to get him involved in other ways; he has three rushing attempts for 41 yards. 

Avant and Breaston, along with some very athletic reserves (Mario Manningham, Carl Tabb, Doug Dutch and Antonio Bass) present the greatest challenge yet for the Badgers' young and improving secondary.

And despite losing Massaquoi, UM is getting very good production from its tight end position. Ecker has been a revelation, a security blanket who is second on the team with seven catches and 74 receiving yards. Backup Mike Massey has four catches for 25 yards. 

At the controls for Michigan is true sophomore signal caller Chad Henne, who has been remarkable in his two seasons at Michigan. The exception to that rule came two weeks ago when he struggled against Notre Dame. But that was an anomaly. Henne is a terrific talent who could make life miserable for UW Saturday night.

Do not, however, expect Michigan to roll over UW's defense as Bowling Green did in the season opener. The Badgers' front seven will make its share of plays and contain UM's running game. Henne and Co. are going to have success passing the ball, but not enough to turn this into a shootout.

Wisconsin offense versus Michigan defense

Michigan projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

ILB Chris Graham (So. 5-11, 224) QB John Stocco (Jr. 6-2, 197)
ILB Dave Harris (Sr. 6-2, 251) TB Brian Calhoun (Jr. 5-10, 203)
OLB Prescott Burgess (Jr. 6-3, 243) FB Matt Bernstein (Sr. 6-1, 260)
RLB LaMarr Woodley (Jr. 6-2, 274) LT Joe Thomas (Jr. 6-8, 303)
DT Pat Massey (Sr. 6-8, 283) LG Matt Lawrence (Sr. 6-5, 295)
NT Alan Branch (So. 6-6, 311) C Donovan Raiola (Sr. 6-3, 294)
DE Rondell Biggs (Sr. 6-3, 270) RG Jason Palermo (Sr. 6-3, 307)
SS Brandent Englemon (Jr. 5-11, 202) RT Kraig Urbik (Fr. 6-6, 317)
FS Willis Barringer (Sr. 6-0, 207) TE Owen Daniels (Sr. 6-3, 247)
CB Leon Hall (Jr. 5-11, 194) WR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
CB Grant Mason (Sr. 6-0, 192) WR Jonathan Orr (Sr. 6-3, 190)

Act IV of the Brian Calhoun show begins at 5 p.m. Central.

The Colorado transfer has accounted for 43 percent of UW's total yards so far this season, and that statistic would be much higher if the Badgers had not had the opportunity to clear the bench during the 65-0 blowout win over Temple. Calhoun ran the ball 43 times in the season opener and 38 times last week an UNC. He had just 11 carries against the Owls, but all of those came in the first quarter. For those scoring at home, that is 10.2 carries per quarter for Calhoun. If that pace were to continue through the Big Ten season, and assuming Calhoun plays every quarter, he would run the ball an incredible 327 times in the next eight games.

While that pace is likely to slacken as the Badgers get into conference play, UW is going to continue to pound the ball to their best offensive player. So far Calhoun has proven up to that challenge, averaging more than five yards per carry while scoring eight touchdowns. Michigan's run defense had holes to fill against Northern Illinois, giving up 211 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 32 attempts in its season opener. The Huskies are a very good running team, but with fullback Matt Bernstein and left tackle Joe Thomas leading the way for Calhoun, UW's rushing attack is more dangerous.

UM looked better in this regard versus Notre Dame and pounded on a rather overmatched Eastern Michigan running game last week (sort of like UW's performance against Temple two weeks ago). The Wolverines have the talent to slow down Calhoun, but look for the Badgers to have success here, if not nearly to the level of the first three games.

The Wolverines have an abundance of athleticism defensively, highlighted by rush linebacker LaMarr Woodley, one of the better defensive players in the conference. Do not expect Woodley to have much success against Thomas, but he could seriously challenge UW right tackle Kraig Urbik, if he lines up to that side of the formation.

This game could be won or lost in the middle, though, where UM's interior linemen will try to control the line of scrimmage and take away the Badgers' inside runs for Calhoun. The great enigma for Michigan has been defensive tackle Gabe Watson, a mammoth (6-4, 331) senior who was expected to be one of the best in the league prior to this season. He has not started since UM's opener, however.

UW's interior offensive line has played well this season, but expect this to be a pretty even matchup. The player to watch is UM inside linebacker Chris Graham, who is second on the team with 21 tackles. He will have frequent encounters with Bernstein and Calhoun Saturday night and must win his share of those meetings for UM to have success on defense.

UW quarterback John Stocco has played well through three games. He has not been called upon often, but he has been very efficient, boasting a 157.03 passer rating. He too will face his stiffest challenge this week. The Badgers will be able to run the ball, but they are going to need a steady passing game to keep UM from fervently loading up the box.

Michigan's defensive backfield has good size and athleticism and, despite the season-ending injury to starting free safety Ryan Mundy, has decent depth. Corner Leon Hall is the best the Badgers have faced so far this year, and is an all-league caliber player. But UW's Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr are playing at a high level and should be able to get some separation versus Hall or senior Grant Mason. Sophomore Morgan Trent has an interception and two pass breakups in reserve.

With Mundy out, UM still has a pair of rangy safeties, but Badger tight end Owen Daniels should find the middle exploitable from time to time.

Stocco should have time to throw if UW contains Woodley; UM's pass rush has not been anything to write home about so far this year. However, watch out for Hall off the edge. The corner has two of UM's six sacks. 

Wisconsin versus Michigan special teams

Michigan projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

PK Garrett Rivas (Jr. 5-9, 216) PK/KO Taylor Mehlhaff (So. 5-11, 179)
P/KO Ross Ryan (Sr. 6-1, 206) P/H Ken DeBauche (So. 6-2, 219)
LS Turner Booth (Sr. 6-2, 260) LS Steve Johnson (So. 6-3, 247)
PR/KR Steve Breaston (Sr. 6-1, 178) PR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
H Matt Gutierrez (Sr. 6-4, 231) KR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)

The last several Badger/Wolverine matchups have come down to a few plays, and do not expect this game to be any different. Special teams will be huge for the field position battle and for putting points on the board.

Michigan place kicker Garrett Rivas is one of the favorites for the Lou Groza award. He has made 11 of his last 12 field goal attempts, including 4 of 5 this season. For his career, Rivas is an impressive 32 of 42. However, he is a respectable but less imposing 7 of 12 from beyond 40 yards and has never attempted a field goal of 50 or further.

UW kicker Taylor Mehlhaff still gets an incomplete to a degree, but so far the signs are good. In his first year as UW's field goal kicker he has had just two attempts. He made a 39-yard try versus Temple and just missed a 51-yarder at UNC that had plenty of leg.  

Mehlhaff's leg strength will be key in slowing down UM kick returner Steve Breaston, who averaged 24.6 yards per return last season. Breaston, however, has only had three kick return chances this season, and has picked up 47 yards.

Breaston is more effective as a punt returner; he enters this game with three career punt return touchdowns. So far this season he has returned eight punts for 103 yards, a 12.9-yards per return average. He averaged 13.8 yards per return and scored two touchdowns as a sophomore and averaged 12.2 yards per return with one touchdown last year.

UW's Ken DeBauche, however, leads the conference in punting at 47.2 yards per punt, and is averaging nearly 40 yards per punt net. This is one of many matchups that deserves special attention.

The Badgers have a high-caliber returner of their own in Brandon Williams, one that opponents have preferred to avoid, often sending kickoffs short or well angled toward personal protector Zach Hampton. Williams has only had two opportunities (also the result of the Badgers defense only yielding one score the past two weeks) but he has taken them for 85 and 38 yards, respectively. Williams is averaging 19.2 yards per punt return, with one touchdown.

Final thoughts

The Badgers have been waiting for this game, wanting to make it a marquee matchup under the lights. Having succeeded in that goal, expect UW to come out with an incredible amount of energy. Michigan will absorb that initial wave and turn this into an extremely contentious game. Wisconsin and Michigan will each prove to have a slight edge on the offensive side of the ball, but for the first time in 11 years, the Badgers will make one or two more beneficial plays than the Wolverines, and will win a close one.

BadgerNation.com projection: Wisconsin 23, Michigan 20

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