UW v. Michigan, five things to watch

BadgerNation.com's keys to Saturday night's tussle between the Badgers and Wolverines

Passing fancy? On paper, both Wisconsin's and Michigan's secondary looks vulnerable. The Wolverines pass defense gave up too many big plays last season, particularly late in the year. Despite posting some good numbers so far this year, UM's back four is likely at a disadvantage against UW receivers Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr and tight end Owen Daniels. Williams has been a big play waiting to happen this season, and UW will need him to get involved early and often Saturday night. UM must go on without the services of starting free safety Ryan Mundy, who is out for the season with a nerve injury.

However, give Michigan receivers Jason Avant and Steve Breaston and tight end Tyler Ecker an edge against Wisconsin's secondary as well — and the advantage here is probably more pronounced than when UW has the ball. The Badgers' pass defense has given up too many big plays this year, even in the 14-5 win over North Carolina last week, when the Tar Heels had six pass plays of at least 20 yards in the second half. UW's secondary is facing its starkest challenge of the season in Michigan's receiving corps and must step up for the Badgers to have a chance.

Aching lines: Wisconsin's defensive line and Michigan's offensive line have already undergone an incredible amount of transition in just three games. The Wolverines are missing their best offensive tackle, Jake Long, and potentially their best guard, Mike Lentz. UM left tackle Adam Stenavich sat out more than a half last week with a back injury, but will play this week, and a top reserve tackle, Mike Kolodziej, is likely out. UW's defensive line is missing its best defensive tackle, Justin Ostrowski, and its best defensive end, Jamal Cooper, but has still managed to play very well this season.

This game will be the Badger defensive line's biggest challenge to date, and the same goes for Michigan's offensive line. And the greatest challenge for each will be simply holding up from an endurance standpoint in what could be a grueling game.

"They are by far the best offensive line that we'll see, probably all year," UW defensive line coach John Palermo said. "They're really good in the offensive line, they're really physical kids. They're tough kids. They play together. We got a hell of a damn job ahead of us on Saturday night. But by the same token if we play our game and if we're physical and we play hard, it should be a good matchup."

Feel the rush: A corollary to the above keys is that without a consistent pass rush and quality play up front, each of these defenses could get torched.

Expect both teams to be persistent with their running games in an effort to move the chains and wear down their opposites on defense. But both Michigan's and Wisconsin's defensive line is capable of gumming up the works in a significant way, thus forcing the passing games to decide the outcome. The feeling here is that if the aerial offenses have time to develop, the receivers for both teams will have big games.

The best way to stop that from happening, of course, is with a good pass rush. The matchups to watch in this regard will be UW true freshman defensive end Matt Shaughnessy versus UM left tackle Adam Stenavich, and UM rush linebacker LaMarr Woodley versus Badger offensive tackles Kraig Urbik and Joe Thomas.

Brian Calhoun: If Wisconsin has the luxury of giving its star tailback 30 carries Saturday night, the Badgers will win. Michigan absolutely must slow down Calhoun to have a chance at a victory in Madison. As UW gets into Big Ten play, expect the Badgers to expand upon their offense, but the bread and butter will remain Calhoun, Calhoun, Calhoun, as it was in wins over Bowling Green and UNC, when Calhoun had 43 and 38 carries, respectively.

If Calhoun's carries are mounting against UM, it means the Badgers have been able to have some success sustaining drives and keeping the Wolverines' offense off the field. And Calhoun is always capable of making the big play. On a side note, Calhoun's mounting carries could also mean the Badgers are stubbornly refusing to pass, as they did when Ron Dayne's rushes mounted to futility against eight- and nine-man fronts that swarmed him under in losses to Michigan in 1998 and '99.

Michigan. Night game. Big Ten opener: Camp Randall will be rocking Saturday night to a degree not seen since the Badgers upset defending national champion Ohio State two years ago. UW circled this game on its calendar before this season, and fans have been looking forward to it since last season ended. The enthusiasm will be palpable. UW will try to ride that emotion from start to finish while UM strives to overcome it.

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