Friday, November 9, 2007

Trap Game in Madison May Mean Loss for Michigan

Following an unforgettable comeback victory in East Lansing last week, Michigan could be caught in a trap game this week against Wisconsin with Ohio State looming. Wisconsin took a lead into the third quarter at Columbus last week before giving up 28 unanswered points to lose 38-17. They are now completely out of the Big Ten title race with only Ohio State and Michigan still in contention. Michigan and Ohio State both remain unbeaten at 7-0 in the conference while every other team has at least two losses. Wisconsin has three, which has to be disappointing considering many had picked them to win the conference prior to the season.

Michigan Offense vs. Wisconsin Defense

Wisconsin, usually known for having a stout rush defense, has not had its normal dominance on the line this season. The Badgers give up 148.1 yards per game on the ground which ranks a mere 8th in the Big Ten and 57th in the nation. Michigan has to take advantage of Wisconsin’s sub-par rush defense and this will be the key not only to this game, but potentially looking ahead to next week as well. Chad Henne’s partially separated shoulder is still a concern and even though he had quite a remarkable performance on the final two drives last week, Michigan needs to save his arm for a much tougher Buckeye defense. The only way that can happen is if the Wolverines get off to a running start and can continue to pound away at the Wisconsin defense. Mike Hart says he should be getting close to 100% by game-time and if he is, Michigan can look to jump on his back. Playing Ryan Mallett may also be an option for the Wolverines in order to rest Henne. Mallett did lead the Wolverines to a win over Penn State earlier this season, but the concern may be throwing him into a hostile environment in Madison and with his fumbles so far. If Mallett does play, however, and does not lose the ball too much, he did show against Minnesota that he can throw the deep ball pretty well and Michigan should give him some chances to do so. That, however, was the worst pass defense in the Big Ten while Wisconsin comes in much better at 3rd in the Big Ten in that category. The Badgers secondary is young with a freshman starting cornerback and two sophomores at the safety position, but they have been solid most of the year with sophomore free safety Shane Carter leading the way with 4 interceptions. This only gives the Wolverines more reason to milk the running game. Still despite the fact that Wisconsin has struggled against the run at times they still have talent in the front seven. Led by outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas, the Badgers also return end Matt Shaughnessy and tackle Nick Hayden. So the talent is there, but a finally healthy (relatively speaking) line for Michigan should be able to get the job done. Adam Kraus is now at center permanently, at least for the end of the season, and Alex Mitchell is back in the lineup. The Wolverines should be able to run successfully, but the key is to stay healthy.

Advantage: Michigan

Wisconsin Offense vs. Michigan Defense

Michigan’s defense played lights out in the first half against Michigan State until getting run over in the second half. That second half is a not a good sign coming into this Wisconsin game and their power rushing attack, especially if star back P.J. Hill plays. Hill missed last week’s game in Columbus, but if he returns against the Wolverines, the defense will have to find a way to slow down one of the best backs in the country. Hill, a stocky 230 pound sophomore, has rushed for over 1000 yards and 14 TDs this year. Michigan held him to just 54 yards on the ground last season, but that was at the Big House. After Caulcrick and Ringer pounded away at the defense last week, Hill has to be a concern for Ron English and company. The offensive line and Hill have made Wisconsin second in the country in time-of-possession as they will look to keep the ball away from the Michigan defense. If Hill does not play, however, Wisconsin should struggle on the ground as they did last week when they only gained 12 yards on the ground without him. Still quarterback Tyler Donovan does have plenty of playmakers to look to other than Hill. The main target is junior tight end Travis Beckum who leads the team in receiving with 765 yards and is considered the best tight end in the country by many. Donovan will look to him often and he can even go deep to Beckum as shown last week with a 46 yard connection between the two. Other than Beckum, wide receiver Luke Swan should be a key target if healthy. Swan is known for making big plays, but has missed four games this season due to injury. If he plays, that will be another big play man for Michigan to account for. Michigan’s secondary, however has been playing well and should be able to handle Wisconsin when they go to the air since they do not usually spread the field which is where Michigan struggles. The main question will be with the front seven who often in the second half were staring at the backs of Michigan State ball carriers as they ran on by. Shawn Crable must lead this defense to shore up their gap control and the defensive line needs to slow down P.J. Hill right at the line. If he gets momentum, Michigan’s secondary will have a very tough time bringing down the power back. But with his health in question:

Advantage: Michigan

Special Teams:

Wisconsin has a clear advantage in placekicking here and if the game comes down to a field goal, they have a kicker in Taylor Mehlhaff who can boot it through the uprights from over 50 yards. Mehlhaff is 15-17 on the year for field goals including a 51 yarder against UNLV. Michigan’s K.C. Lopata has not missed yet, but has not proven to be reliable from long distances. While Michigan’s kicking game has improved, it still has no where near the consistency of Wisconsin’s. Punting wise, as this could become a game of field position, it’s nearly a statistical draw with Michigan’s Zoltan Mesko and Wisconsin’s Ken DeBauche both averaging about 40 yards per punt. Both punters are very solid, but Mesko was shaky last week at Michigan State. In the return game, Michigan continues to struggle with even catching the ball so Wisconsin gets the advantage by default. They have not scored a touchdown on the return, but David Gilreath does average 11.3 yards per return.

Advantage: Wisconsin

Intangibles:

Despite the hype for this game in the preseason which suggested it would not be a trap game, with the way Michigan won last week, it does set up in such a way. The Wolverines are coming off an emotional comeback victory last week and are only a week away from the Ohio State game which will be for the Big Ten title. The leaders of the team specifically came back to beat Ohio State and with this Wisconsin game having no effect on their Big Ten title hopes, the Wolverines could easily fall asleep on the Badgers. In addition, Wisconsin is still bitter about last season’s 27-13 loss to Michigan as it was their only blemish to an otherwise perfect season concluding with a bowl victory over Arkansas. Wisconsin has all the reason to try to salvage their lost season with revenge, while Michigan may be more focused on Ohio State next week. Regardless of what Michigan players may say:

Advantage: Wisconsin (and I forgot to even mention the game is at Camp-Randall, one of the toughest places to win a road game: 13 game home winning streak for the Badgers)

Prediction:

While Michigan may have the better team, this has all the makings of a game with Michigan being asleep at the wheel and focused on Ohio State.

Final Score: Wisconsin 20 Michigan 17

Player of the game: P.J. Hill 31 carries 155 yards, 2 TDs. Hill comes back in style and pounds away at the Michigan D all day eating up the clock. Wisconsin controls the ball and wins it on a Mehlhaff field goal midway through the fourth quarter. Chad Henne does not play much and Michigan suffers the consequences losing for the second straight time in Madison.

- Rushi Vyas

2 comments:

Andrew said...

wots is that pj hill will not play. how does that affect your prediction?

http://blogs.jsonline.com/badgers/archive/2007/11/08/hill-not-likely-to-play-against-michigan.aspx

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