VEQ comes to you from the belly of the cheesebeast itself, except not really because Bruce Ciskie lives in Minnesota. He bounced some questions off me; you can find my answers over at his blog.
You've been unusually skeptical about this Wisconsin team... why?
I have yet to see this team put together anything that remotely resembles a four-quarter performance. The Akron game is much closer if the Akron QB can hit the broad side of a barn. Marshall jumped to a 14-0 lead while Wisconsin was sleepwalking. Fresno State should have beaten them by at least two scores.
When you are not consistent on either side of the ball, it's only a matter of time before someone beats you for it.
How has Evridge been? Competent? Do they trust him enough to go over the middle frequently? Michigan's linebackers have been bad in pass coverage and you've got that Beckum guy, so that would seem to be high on the list of things to find out about him. Can he run at all?
Evridge has been okay. I like his moxie and I like the fact that he seems willing to spread the ball around and not always look for Beckum. Of course, not having Beckum for two games probably helped him on that. Anyway.
My only issue with Evridge is that I've seen some horrible decisions (goal-line pick against Akron) and some pretty bad throws. As far as going over the middle, they seem to be gaining trust in him. I'm willing to give him some more time to get more comfortable with the offense and his skill-position players.
Beckum and The Other Tight End (Garrett Graham, who's also pretty damn good) will eat Michigan alive if they can't figure out a way to cover them. And I am pretty sure the linebackers won't get it done.
Ever try a 3-0-8 defense?
[I think we'd probably go 5-0-6, actually. –ed]
How are the other receivers? They haven't caught anything even in Beckum's absence.
I really like David Gilreath. Fast as hell and decent hands. Still has to refine his route-running, and he's a bit more of a threat as a kick returner at this point. Kyle Jefferson seems to be in the midst of taking a giant step back from a promising freshman year.
No one else has been worth a mention so far.
Wisconsin 13, Fresno State 10. Fresno State 55, Toledo 54. Is that a bad sign for the Wisconsin offense? What happened in that game?
I'm not too concerned about it. Surely, Fresno was pumped for that game, as it was probably the biggest home game they've ever played. Going to Toledo after that (no offense to Rocket fans) had to be a letdown for them. And Toledo runs the fast-break spread, which Fresno was bound to have a tougher time defending because they just aren't that good at getting at opposing QBs.
In defense of the Wisconsin offense, Evridge was cramping up and had issues throughout the game. And he still did a good job taking care of the football.
I think it can be fuzzy logic to directly compare two results like that. Plus it's not favorable to Wisconsin, so I'm choosing to forget it happened. K?
Expect lots of this. Not that you weren't already expecting it.
I just sort of assume PJ Hill is PJ Hill and the Wisconsin line is its usual grinding self. Any surprises in there? I am not looking forward to the matchup of Hill and the fullback versus Michigan's craptacular linebackers.
Nothing surprises me there. The line was supposed to be solid again, and it is. Hill has stayed healthy, and Zach Brown is a good change of pace.
If Michigan can't solve the Wisconsin run game, you could chop off Evridge's left arm without it making much difference in the end result.
Michigan got the run game going against Wisconsin by blowing out their defensive tackles with double teams. How are the Wisconsin DTs? You've expressed some concerns about the linebackers and their angles, which could be relevant against Michigan's zone-stretch happy rush game. Do you foresee issues there?
Many. Combine the usual issues with the spread with what I've seen so far, and you have issues.
Newkirk is an okay tackle, and so is Chapman. They miss Nick Hayden because of his ability to hold his ground.
Perhaps an extra week of rest will help Jonathan Casillas. He played the Fresno game with a huge brace on his knee, and he looked like he was about as uncomfortable as humanly possible. DeAndre Levy is good, but they have struggled in the middle ever since Mark Zalewski and his mohawk left.
How has the pass rush been? Michigan's line has been surprisingly decent pass-blocking.
Wisconsin has Shaughnessy at one end, but not much else on the line. They'll probably struggle to generate pressure without blitzing, and that is going to be a problem against the spread.
When you blitz a spread team, you damn well better get home on the play. Quickly. I am not sure I trust Threet any further than I could throw Tim Jamison, but I don't want to see Wisconsin in a position where they have to rely on unforced bad reads and bad throws to keep the passing game at bay. And that's usually what happens when they play a spread team. I see their overall defensive speed as having improved, but it's not where they need it to be.
The secondary is down one Ikegwuonu; any concerns there? How have they been in tackling?
Bleh. Mario Goins is okay. Better than Allen Langford. Langford has actually played better so far (not that he could get much worse).
Jay Valai and Shane Carter are solid in the back. Aubrey Pleasant sees the field seldom enough to not mess things up.
You can tell Ikegwuonu is gone, though. No team is trying to avoid one side of the field during the game. They're picking on both sides pretty much evenly.
What has Wisconsin's reaction been to spread shotgun formations? Utah went with a 4-3; Notre Dame had their nickel package in the whole game. Zone or man?
I'd like to see them go man, but I don't know that they have the personnel. My guess is that they'll do the "Mix it up and try to confuse Threet" defense. Because of the troubles at MLB, it wouldn't shock me to see a 3-2-6 look for a good portion of the game. The problem is that it would really leave them open to draw plays and quick hits, and I honestly don't know how well they'll do defending the zone read play.
(Remember, Wisconsin hasn't really faced a "shotgun spread" team, at least not like the way Rodriguez runs his offense. From what I've seen of Michigan, Threet - immobile as he may be - will be more of a run threat than any QB they've faced so far.)
Beckum and some others have had injury problems, but everyone except John Clay is supposed to be a go. Any other injury issues we should know about? Is Beckum fully healthy?
Cornerback Aaron Henry (ACL) won't play this season. He was going to try, but it just isn't healed enough.
Clay isn't a terribly huge loss. He's a physical runner, but so is Hill. He's not as fast as Brown. Expect to see tons of Hill and Brown Saturday.
Casillas and Beckum both played hurt against Fresno, and neither looked sharp or healthy. Again, the hope is that the bye week will help them be ready. Having one or both of them at less than 100 percent would royally suck.
Have a prediction?
Wisconsin wins, but it will be close, and I'm not terribly confident. I'll go 23-17.
I just don't see the Badgers as being ready to play their best football. But I do think they'll take a positive stride forward after the week off.
Pressure's on, though. They are expected to win a game AT Michigan, and they have to avoid "looking past Michigan", because tOSU and Penn State are coming up the following two weeks.