A new week brings a new matchup which brings a new opportunity for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. This week, Michigan hosts the Badgers. Let’s take a look at Wisconsin:
Overall Record: 4-0(1-0 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (14-3 record at Wisconsin)
Key Wins: LSU, Michigan State
Key Losses: N/A
Key Players: Corey Clement(RB), Alex Hornibrook(QB), Jack Cichy(LB), T.J. Watt(LB)
Score vs. Michigan Last Season: N/A (Michigan won 27-25 the last time they played in 2008)
What We Know
Alex Hornibrook is as cool as the other side of the pillow
Wisconsin opened the season with senior Bart Houston under center. Houston was 19-31 with 205 yards and two interceptions, in his first game. The Badgers escaped with a 16-14 win over then ranked No. 5 LSU, at Lambeau Field. He then led them to a home win over Akron, where he was 15-22 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. Houston also started as the Badgers topped Georgia state, 23-17 at home.
However, the Badger coaching staff wasn’t happy with the team’s passing attack, which led to them naming sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook as the new starter. The stage couldn’t have been much larger for Hornibrook in his first career start for Wisconsin, as the Badgers traveled to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans. Horninbrook’s first pass of the game came on a 3rd and 11, from his own 15. As Hornibrook dropped back, senior defensive line standout Malik McDowell came unblocked, and right for him. Alex stood tall in the pocket and confidently stepped into his throw, just before McDowell could level him. Hornibrook completed the pass and the Badgers were able to move the chains. This was just the start of the afternoon for the Badgers, as they would eventually roll the Spartans, 30-6.
There’s not many places like the Big House, in college football. The fans are loud, the stadium is big and the tradition is bigger. Alex Hornibrook will have to bring his A game again this weekend if he wants to help take down the Wolverines. He showed a lot of poise for a sophomore in his first start. Spartan Stadium has become a tough place to play the past few seasons, and he didn’t look flustered…..not once. The stage will be a little bigger this Saturday, so keep an eye on Hornibrook and his demeanor.
Wisconsin’s Defense Is Tough
Leonard Fournette was an early season pick to win this year’s Heisman Trophy..until he met the Badger defense. Although Wisconsin gave up 138 yards to Fournette in the first game of the season, they managed to keep him out of the endzone. Other than a run he busted for 30 yards, they were able to keep him in check all night. The same can be said about defending Michigan State running back, LJ Scott. Scott is arguably one of the best rushers in the Big Ten this season, but the Badgers held him to just 61 yards on 14 carries—again, keeping a great runner out of the endzone. In fact, the Badger run defense is so good, they currently rank No. 1 in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin has some big players on their defensive line, and their defense is led by linebackers Jack Cichy (23 tackles), T.J. Edwards (17 tackles, 1 INT), and T.J. Watt(18 tackles, 4.5 sacks). They are a ferocious group, and I look for this week’s matchup to be a defensive battle all afternoon.
What We Will Learn
As the Wolverines host Wisconsin this weekend, I’ll be looking for two things:
Will Michigan’s offensive line show up again, or was the stellar performance against Penn State a fluke?
Leading up the the Penn State game, the Michigan offensive line was under a lot of criticism. Michigan’s rushing attack was basically non-existent, as they couldn’t break any big runs between the tackles. Michigan had to resort to jet sweeps and pitches to the outside, against both UCF and Colorado. After seeing what Wisconsin has done to both LSU and Michigan State, this is a great test for the Wolverine offensive line to show what they are made of. They are coming off a game where Michigan rushed for 326 yards, and had five different running backs find the endzone. Michigan now ranks 4th in the Big Ten in rushing this season. Wisconsin already has two wins over AP Top Ten teams this season, so this is HUGE game opportunity for the Wolverines to silence the critics.
Just how good is Wilton Speight?
Let me start out by saying, I am a big fan of Wilton Speight. I have been since he signed his NLI with the Wolverines. I love the presence he shows in the pocket, and how he is able to slide up and confidently make a strong throw down the field. Mistakes don’t seem to rattle him, and he seems very even keel, which will help him through the Big Ten schedule. Through four games this season, Speight is 72-114 for 875 yards, nine touchdowns and one interception (He threw his INT on his first pass attempt of the season). Michigan ranks 6th in passing offense this season, and will look to improve their numbers against the Badgers.
Naturally, critics of Speight—and of the Wolverines—will look at his numbers and argue that Michigan “hasn’t played anyone yet”. That may be somewhat true, but let me remind you that Colorado just beat the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. I don’t care if the Ducks are in a “down year,” that is not an easy place to play. I think Colorado will finish the year ranked inside the top 25, and will win a decent bowl game. Nonetheless, Michigan gets its first “real” test this Saturday. Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Conner was rattled all afternoon last weekend versus the Badgers. He finished just 18-38 for 224 yards and 3 interceptions.
The Badgers are able to get constant pressure on quarterbacks, because of their size up front, and their solid linebacker play. I think Michigan will struggle to run the ball against Wisconsin (most teams will), so I think Speight will have to have a big day through the air in order for Michigan to win. If he can take care of the ball and make the plays he is supposed to, I see Michigan coming out victorious.
I look forward to another week of Big Ten play, and a great game in the Big House on Saturday afternoon. Go Blue!