College GameDay is headed to Michigan vs. Wisconsin this week as the Wolverines have their sights set on dethroning the only undefeated team in the Big Ten.
The Wolverines (8-2, 5-2) snuck past the Badgers (10-0, 7-0) last year, 14-7 (thanks Jourdan Lewis!), in an Oct. 1 matchup of undefeateds. This year, the series shifts to Madison and… one of the teams is still undefeated.
I tracked 28 categories and Wisconsin ranked number one in the conference in eight of them. Sure, that’s partially a byproduct of playing in the Big Ten’s junior varsity, the West division, but it’s also indicative of a really good team.
Wisconsin is obviously good at football, but do the they struggle in any categories? Here are the three strengths and weaknesses of third-year coach Paul Chryst’s squad.
Wisconsin has given up the fewest points and the least amount of yardage in the Big Ten, and the rush defense is a big reason why. The Badgers allow a scant 81.5 yards per game on the ground. It will be a big test for Michigan’s rushing offense that took a step back last week at Maryland after performing very well against Rutgers and Minnesota. Michigan has to get the running game going to stay out of obvious passing situations because Wisconsin is also very good at…
The Badgers average 3.5 sacks per game, tops in the Big Ten. They’re led by senior linebacker Garret Dooley, who is tied with Chase Winovich for the conference lead in sacks with five solo and three assists. Senior defensive end Alec James (five solo, one assist) and junior linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel (five solo, one assist) are right behind Dooley and all three rank in the top eight of Big Ten sack leaders.
This is a horrible matchup for the Wolverines. Brandon Peters will want to listen close as he drops back, so he can hear his o-linemen yell “LOOK OUT!” when they inevitably miss a pass-blocking assignment.
Michigan can’t exactly hang its hat on defense in this game, either, because Wisconsin also excels at…
Third Down Conversions
Yet another category where the Badgers are best in the Big Ten at 52-percent. Wisconsin’s rushing offense is second in the conference with 5.2 yards per attempt, and that plays a big part here. The Badgers don’t face difficult 3rd down yardage often because they can dominate 1st and 2nd down. If Michigan has any chance of winning this game, it will be because of…
It’s not easy to find a category Wisconsin struggles in, but with leading receiver Quintez Cephus lost for the season two weeks ago, this will have to do.
Senior tight end Troy Fumagalli still exists and is now the leading receiver with 33 catches (all that with one finger). After that, freshman Danny Davis has 12 catches and one touchdown on the season, including four for 74 yards last week in the 38-14 victory over Iowa. Sophomore wide receiver AJ Taylor has 15 catches this year.
The Badger receiving corps is young and unspectacular. And not only do they have to make up for the loss of Cephus but also lost yardage due to poor Wisconsin…
The Badgers only average six yards per return, 10th in the Big Ten, and they haven’t taken one back to the house. For the sake of comparison, Penn State is tops in the conference, averaging a healthy 14.1 yards per return. Wisconsin hasn’t generated any fireworks in the return game, even in the…
Big Ten West
Yeah I’m listing this as a weakness. The Badgers are undefeated, but they haven’t played any of the East’s big four (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State). And that’s really what this game comes down to, isn’t it?
Wisconsin has a shiny record and is racking up stats, but how much of that is due to playing little sisters of the Big Ten? The Badgers are one of the few undefeated teams in college football and play in a Power Five conference, but the College Football Playoff Committee very noticeably ranked them fifth — behind two teams with a loss — because they don’t play in a good Power Five?division. We’ll find out if that’s fair come Saturday.