Bob Wojnowski, Angelique S. Chengelis and Matt Charboneau preview the Michigan vs. Wisconsin and Michigan State vs. Penn State games.
The Detroit News
WISCONSIN AT MICHIGAN
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Records: Wisconsin 4-1, 2-0 Big Ten; Michigan 5-1, 3-0
Line: Michigan by 8
View from the other side
Jason Galloway covers Wisconsin football for the Wisconsin State Journal. He breaks down the Badgers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday night’s Michigan-Wisconsin game at Michigan Stadium. You can follow him on Twitter at @Jason_Galloway.
1.What should Michigan fans make of the Badgers’ issues in the secondary? They seem pretty beaten up, and Nebraska piled on the passing yards last week despite losing.
Galloway: That’s a huge concern for Wisconsin right now. Even without the injuries, the Badgers’ defense hasn’t been the same this season after replacing seven starters. Only one defensive back on the roster had any meaningful game experience heading into the year. With two of their top three cornerbacks questionable to play Saturday and another starter at safety, Michigan native Scott Nelson (U-D Jesuit), set to miss the first half after being ejected for targeting last week, Wisconsin may need to rely on a lot of inexperience at those positions going into a difficult environment on the road. Safety Eric Burrell will make the first start of his career, and true freshman cornerback Rachad Wildgoose could see a heavy load of snaps.
2.Staying with Wisconsin’s defense, there has been a lack of a pass rush. Only five sacks so far this season after the Badgers ranked eighth nationally last season with 42. What has been the issue there?
Galloway: The Badgers have been spoiled with NFL-level pass rushers at outside linebacker over the past few years, and the only candidate for that title this season, Andrew Van Ginkel, has been battling through an ankle injury at less than 100 percent over the last four weeks. Wisconsin also lost some experienced pass rushers on the defensive line, and their best remaining player in that spot, Isaiahh Loudermilk, will miss Saturday’s game. The pass rush did seem to improve a bit against Nebraska last week, but it still isn’t nearly consistent enough.
3.Michigan’s defensive line will face one of the better offensive lines Saturday night. Who has the advantage there?
Galloway: I’d take Michigan as the favorite to win that battle right now. Wisconsin’s offensive line hasn’t performed quite to the level you’d expect from a group that returned three All-Americans. Last week’s 370-yard rushing day certainly stands out as an encouraging one, but the Badgers were playing a Nebraska defense that’s made just about anyone look good this season. That isn’t to say Wisconsin’s offensive line has played poorly. The expectations for the group were just extremely high. Saturday should serve as a good measuring stick for those guys and show how much they’ve progressed since Week 1.
4.Wisconsin’s running game doesn’t seem to have lost a step with Jonathan Taylor doing what Jonathan Taylor does. He’s leading the nation in rushing and it appears the Badgers have a couple other backs who complement him well. How do you think Taylor and the run game will do against Michigan’s run defense?
Galloway: It won’t be nearly as easy for Taylor to rack up yards against one of the best run defenses in the country, but he’s always a threat to break off a long touchdown. He’s passed the 100-yard mark in 13 of his last 15 games, including his 132-yard performance on just 19 carries in Wisconsin’s win over the Wolverines at Camp Randall Stadium last year. Michigan should want to focus much of its energy on stopping Taylor and making quarterback Alex Hornibrook beat them. Hornibrook’s stepped up at times in big spots, but that’s always a better bet than allowing Taylor to get going early in a game.
5. The Wolverines’ offense has a renewed confidence with the line playing better than it has in a few years, and with quarterback Shea Patterson. How will the Badgers try to give Patterson problems?
Galloway: Going back to an earlier question, they’ve got to find a way to consistently apply pressure on him. It would help if Van Ginkel’s healthier than he’s been the past few weeks, but Loudermilk’s absence could play a major factor, too. This Wisconsin defense lived off putting teams in third-and-long situations in recent years, but the Badgers aren’t stopping the run well enough to do so nearly as often. They’ll also need to do a better job of keeping Patterson in the pocket. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez extended a lot of plays last week, leading to some big gains.
Players to watch
Alex Hornibrook, Jr., QB: The 6-4, 219-pounder has been quite successful his last 10 road games, leading the Badgers to wins in all of them. During those 10 games, Hornibrook has completed 68 percent of his passes (134 of 197) for 1,654 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions, good for a pass efficiency rating of 165.7. Hornibrook owns an 11-1 (.917) record in road starts. The third-year starter has completed 64 percent of his passes (73 of 114) for 963 yards, seven touchdowns and two interceptions. His 24 wins rank as the sixth-most in school history, while his .852 win percentage is the best of any UW quarterback with at least 15 starts. Hornibrook has gone 6-for-12 for 61 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions in the red zone this season (257.7 pass efficiency rating). Dating to the start of last season (19 games), Hornibrook has thrown 27 touchdown passes against only two interceptions in the red zone.
Jonathan Taylor, So., RB: The 5-foot-11, 211-pound Taylor is the nation’s leading rusher, averaging 169.8 yards per game. Taylor has gained 100 yards or more in all five games this season and is coming off his second 200-yard effort of the season (221 yards vs. Nebraska). He has scored eight rushing touchdowns. Taylor has averaged 154.7 rushing yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his 11 career Big Ten games, which includes nine, 100-yard performances. He has averaged 6.7 yards per carry in those league games. Taylor has rushed for at least 130 yards in three of his four previous games against ranked opponents. In seven career night games, he has averaged 140.9 rushing yards and scored eight touchdowns. With 849 rushing yards through five games this season, Taylor needs 151 to become the ninth player in school history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and the first since Melvin Gordon in 2013 and 2014.
Jake Ferguson, Fr. TE: Ferguson has 16 receptions for 213 yards (13.3 average) and is Wisconsin’s second-leading receiver. Of Ferguson’s 16 catches, 14 have gone for a first down or touchdown. He has been a favorite target of Hornibrook on third down, recording 10 catches on 13 targets by Hornibrook. He has averaged 13.6 yards on those 10 receptions, converting eight into first downs.
Facts and figures
Three’s a charm: This will be the third prime-time meeting between the Badgers and Wolverines, who have split the previous two night games, both at Camp Randall Stadium. Wisconsin comes in ranked No. 15 and Michigan is No. 12 for the night game at Michigan Stadium. The Badgers have won two of their last three road games against teams ranked in the top 15.
Lots of wins: Wisconsin is 49-11 (.817) the last five seasons and trails only Alabama (58-5, .920), Ohio State (54-6, .900) and Clemson (55-7, .887) in wins and winning percentage among FBS teams in that span. The Badgers are 15-1 (.938) in true road games under coach Paul Chryst and have won 10 straight road games, the nation’s second-longest active streak (Oklahoma has the longest at 17). Wisconsin’s only road loss under Chryst (14-7) was at Michigan on Oct. 1, 2016.
Keeping it going: The Badgers have won 17 straight regular-season Big Ten games, the nation’s longest active conference win streak and the longest run of consecutive league wins in school history. Wisconsin is 31-5 (.861) in Big Ten play over the last five seasons (since 2014).