If you watch the film from the first three Wisconsin games, you will see a glaring trend from the offense. The Badgers have a propensity for running on first and second down, hoping that a third down pass completion will keep the drive alive. Michigan exploited this today by bringing two, sometimes three, extra pass rushers from the edge. It allowed Wolverine defensive linemen Tim Jamison and Alan Branch freedom to run, and that led to each picking up QB sacks and tackles for loss more than once today. John Stocco is not going to last much longer if he continues being hit like this. The protection for him has been below average all year. Run blocking is good. So, the coaches need to work with the line to find a happy medium or equal to the top.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Wisconsin showed in the first half it was prepared for this game. Until Mario Manningham's reception that tied the game in the second quarter, Wisconsin had gone almost 158 minutes without allowing a touchdown. At halftime, the Badgers had Michigan in a position to pop the momentum and crowd balloon that come with playing in Michigan Stadium. However, the Badgers went three and out and Ken DeBauche marched on the field for what would be one of his 11 punts on the day. Wisconsin has to sustain drives in key situations in order to compete with the Michigans, Ohio States, and Iowas in the Big Ten this season. Those three teams all have 25 wins since 2002 in conference play only. The next closest is at 20.
NOT A SPECIAL DAY...AT ALL
There were only two things that happened which could be labelled 'good' for the Badgers' special team units today. The first, DeBauche is a pretty darn good punter. He averaged 46 yards on his 11 punts today. His average would have him ranked number three in the NFL right now. Additionally, Taylor Mehlhaff was superb in his efforts today. Mehlhaff made good on three of this kicking attempts (2-2 FG, 1-1 XP) and did not allow a kickoff return. Unfortunately, the special teams will be seen as a red flag today. The usually dependable Zach Hampton had a rough day. His muffed punt return led to a game tying field goal in the second quarter. He was also flagged for a penalty in the opening moments of the third quarter on punt coverage. KR Josh Nettles decided to bring two separate kickoffs from the endzone. Bad decision. He was stopped at the 14 and 15 yard lines, respectively.
GLIMMER OF HOPE
Stocco threw for 236 yards on 22 of 42 passing, no interceptions. Nearly half of those yards (114) came when Michigan was nursing a 27-10 lead late in the game, and sat back in a prevent/3-deep coverage which will allow the deep middle and sideline routes. But, Stocco knows that and took advantage of it. When you give him time and chance, he can pick you apart with accuracy and poise. The guy threw for almost 3000 yards last season so he has the ability. Hopefully, the play action passing will become more successful - because PJ Hill is going to continue to be successful running the ball. Travis Beckum re-emerged as Stocco's go-to guy today. He is going to need that feeling of confidence in somebody because the receiving corps is pretty much non-existent.
A DEFENSIVE RESPONSE
Wisconsin entered the game with the second worst turnover margin in the Big Ten - Iowa is at the bottom. Allan Langford had two interceptions off of Chad Henne today. The first, on a dropped pass by Manningham, came to him on the old tip drill. That interception gave the offense a spark and it caught fire when Hill hauled in a Stocco pass for 29 yards and a TD which gave the Badgers a 7-0 lead. Jack Ikegwuonu grabbed another pick late in the fourth quarter. Michigan entered the game ranked number two in the country in TO margin at +2.67. That is going to take a hit thanks to the Badger defense.
Flipping through the calendar, this is why I predicted the Badgers would win up to 10 games. The next three games are @ Indiana, vs. Northwestern, and vs. Minnesota. Only one game of the three should post much of a threat. The obvious: Minnesota. When you have a rivalry like these two teams have, it will always be a game where the records do not matter. But, a loss today to Purdue will hurt the Gopher psyche. Wisconsin should be 6-1 when it goes to West LaFayette, IN to face the Boilermakers.