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By The Numbers - Wisconsin Preview
The first matchup, where the rubber meets the road. This is clearly a huge battle of strength vs strength. If Michigan is going to win on Saturday, they have to find success in the running game. With some unique elements to Michigan's running game, there is at least the potential that they could provide a real challenge to the stout Wisconsin rush defense.
Michigan O: +3 (20)
Ignoring what appears to be a major outlier in the Illinois game, Michigan's rush offense has had their three best Big 10 performances over the last three weeks. In fact, if we selectively choose those three games, Michigan's run offense averages out to a spectacular +7.2, which if maintained over the course of the season, would be good for third nationally behind Georgia Tech and Nevada. Now that is obviously being very selective, but at the same time, there is nothing in the other 8 games that indicates Illinois was anything but an outlier and Iowa, PSU and Purdue have all been very solid games.
Wisconsin D: +3 (15)
This is a Wisconsin defense that essentially has not had a bad day of rushing defense all year. With that said, you can see that their overall value is highly inflated because MAC and WAC teams can't stop Northern Illinois and Fresno State on the ground and Wisconsin could. In the Big 10, Wisconsin is a good but not great +1.1, good for about 5th in the Big 10. Don't get me wrong, this is a very good run defense, but some of the numbers can be a bit misleading.
There is a huge challenge and what I believe to be a real opportunity for Michigan on the ground. If Wisconsin wins here, game over, if Michigan wins here, game on.
Pass OffenseNeither team has stood out here as either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad.
Michigan O: +1 (49)
Michigan's pass offense appears to be headed in the right direction. Against Illinois and Purdue Michigan posted its best passing performances since September. +3 and +5 are good but not great numbers, but Michigan's offense will need to find points and opportunity wherever it can and a third straight game in the +'s could come in very handy.
Wisconsin D: +0 (56)
It has been a very mixed bag in pass defense for the Badgers this year. A great game against Purdue and host of other solid performances have been tempered with last week's dreadful showing against Indiana and poor games against both Iowa and Minnesota. The Fresno and State games both netted out in the middle, but even those games featured quite a few yards, TD's and interceptions.
There will be no easy wins on the offensive side of the ball for Michigan this week, but Wisconsin has demonstrated that their defense can produce a wide range of outcomes, opening the door for Michigan to look good until...
Rush Defense...uh oh.
Michigan D: -2 (103)
This one doesn't look so hot. Still sitting in the triple digit national rankings after the debacle at Illinois, this is not the opponent to have an off day against. Because...
Wisconsin O: +3 (13)
Playing the selective game here, as well, if you remove the Iowa game Wisconsin is averaging about +6.5 in the those four games which is right where Michigan has been removing its bad game. The only difference is that Michigan has to face the very good Wisconsin rush defense and Wisconsin gets to face something less than that.
Best case scenario here is probably a Penn State like performance where Wisconsin gets 150-200 yards but it takes 40+ carries to get there.
Pass DefenseThis match-up is nearly identical to the Michigan pass offense in that both teams are decidedly average.
Michigan D: +1 (41)
This has been the one metric that has never felt quite right this year. The feeling is that surely this unit is much worse than 41st nationally. I have looked into this a lot and come up with a couple of ideas. There are a couple of things coming into play here. #1, started the year with a very strong September, putting up a big number against Western, holding our own against ND's 6th ranked passing game and then going 0 TD's 4 INT's over the next 3 games. #2, Warren's pick 6 against Iowa dramatically changed that game score. #3 and I think this is the biggest. The game of football is changing and tilting towards the pass. Performances in the past that would have seemed poor, are now closer to average as the passing games have evolved and a play calling balance shifts more towards the pass.
Wisconsin O: +0 (54)
Since the blowup against Michigan State in the Big 10 opener, Wisconsin has been on a bit of a rough stretch through the air. They have had a 2/7 TD/INT ratio and averaged nearly -3 over the last five games.
I don't consider anything a sure thing the way Michigan's pass defense has looked lately, but this is a Wisconsin team that doesn't show any major indications of being able to greatly exploit it either.
PaceThis will be another battle of contrasts as Michigan takes its 12.1 possessions a game against a Wisconsin team that has kept its games under the 11 mark.
TurnoversWith the exception of throwing picks, Wisconsin has been about as average as they get in the turnover department. Overall the point impact (not turnover margin) of turnovers for Wisconsin has been -4, 69th nationally. They have a higher volume of both picks thrown and caught and are right in the middle on both fumble categories.
Special TeamsMichigan should have a decided advantage over the mediocre special teams of Wisconsin. If Olesnavage can regain his form and put last week out of his mind, Michigan should have the advantage of two solid kickers. With the exception of Michigan's kickoff return, don't expect a lot to happen on the other units as both punt teams outshine the oppositions return units and Wisconsin hasn't been great on kickoff return themselves. Stonum should have the opportunity to keep plugging away, however, as Wisconsin has one of the poorer kick coverage units in the conference.
PredictionsWisconsin 35 Michigan 27
Wisconsin's rushing game and a bit of home field advantage provide the difference. There appear to be opportunities for Michigan to close the gap, but the gap between these teams right now is very real. Has the potential to be a very interesting game.
Penn State 35 Indiana 13
Illinois 24 NW 21
Ohio St 17 Iowa 7
Purdue 28 Michigan St 31