"Oh, I know the score of the game." Senior safety Joe Stellmacher said in reference to the Michigan lopsided 47-21 victory on the road at then-number 2 ranked Notre Dame. "The scoreboard here is pretty big, so I kept seeing it on the bottom of the big screen. That is a pretty impressive score." He certainly was not alone in his scoreboard watching.
Freshman tailback PJ Hill, just an hour after trotting 53 yards down the East sidelines for a score, said the same thing. "I saw the score on the big screen. That is a pretty dominating performance. But, we beat them last year and can do it again."
Historically, the Wisconsin-Michigan matchup has shown to be very close on the scoreboard. If you look at the games in this millennium alone, the average margin of victory is just over four points a game. In 2005, the Badgers used some late game heroics en route to a very emotional 23-20 defeat of the Wolverines in Madison. In his weekly press conference, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema stated that the members of last year's victorious Badger squad would have to provide insight and example for this any newcomers on the 2006 roster. "Anyone on last year's team will have to let the new guys know what emotion they felt after winning against Michigan." Bielema said. "That can only help us. We need to recognize each situation they throw at as and be ready to cover it."
If the Badgers want to be successful, they will have to continue playing solid defense. Last week, San Diego State was only able to muster 115 total yards of offense on Wisconsin. To hold a team like the Aztecs, who gained 402 in their season opener, to below 100 yards for the majority of the game is pretty darn impressive. Senior LB and captain Mark Zalewski agrees. "That is a pretty good team we held down today." Zalewski proclaimed after the game. "If we can have an effort like that next week (against Michigan) we should be right in that thing."
Michigan's offense is explosive. RB Michael Hart, coming off an injury riddled 2005 season, is off to a wonderful start. He has accumulated 386 yards on the ground in three games, including 120 last week versus the Irish. That is just shy of 129 yards per contest. Quarterback Chad Henne picks them up and sets them down. He is only passing for 170 yards per game, which is a direct influence of the 206 rushing yards per game the Wolverines are averaging. Michigan will always be a run first football team, and it shows. But, do not tell that to the Notre Dame secondary. They will remember the name Mario Manningham for a long time.
The senior wideout had a career game last weekend, hauling in four receptions for 137 yards and three touchdowns. If most people were to be asked the question "who caught three touchdowns for Michigan today?", they would probably answer Steve Breaston. The speedy senior wideout and return man extraordinaire does lead the Wolverines with 12 receptions total. He has yet to find pay dirt, while Manningham has collected four TD receptions. Breaston makes an impact by just being on the field. You may not seem him in the end zone three times a week, but his ability to break a simple eight yard out route and take it 60 yards to the house (see Michigan-Iowa 2005) is what makes him scary.
"You have to know where that guy is at all times," Zalewski said. "When you step on the field and see him, your day is not going to be easy." The funny thing is that Breaston has only played in one game against the Badgers in this career – in 2005. His stat line in that game: 1 reception, minus-1 yard. Not exactly making the defense afraid of you. However, Wisconsin has really yet to do much on their offensive side of the ball except less Hill run and run and run some more.
Bielema stressed the importance of balance. "We have an understanding that all of our phases at some point in the system have played well," Bielema said. "What we're trying to do is put together a complete game." Michigan held Notre Dame to just four rushing yards. Yes, Wisconsin has the nation's seventh leading rusher in Hill, but the passing game has been a far cry from last season. In the SDSU win, the Badgers musted only 84 passing yards. To win this week, the Badgers would certainly need to be clicking on all cylinders. Senior QB John Stocco agrees.
"We will have to bring our ‘A' game to the Big House with us." Stocco stressed. "If you do not do that it could be lights out…quick." 110,000 people will await their arrival. A good number of them will have made the six hour trek from Madison, WI to Ann Arbor, MI to watch the game. Their cheers will be faint for a while because it is pretty hard to hear the minority in a crowd of 100,000+ maize and blue wearers. Not only that, the Wolverines are playing very inspired football.
That can be attributed to one thing in particular. "What I see in Michigan is a group of players that have experience." Bielema said. "They are a group of players that believe in what they are told and then go out and execute it. My guess? We will get a very well prepared team (on the other side) on Saturday." And they will be playing a pretty good one, too.
"No matter where you play, the field is 100 yards with two endzones and teams on opposite sides of the field." Bielema states matter of factly. "Michigan Stadium is big and not an easy place to win if you are not the Wolverines. But, the play on the field will decide the game."