Preview: Wisconsin 2010 Comment Count

Brian November 19th, 2010 at 12:23 PM

Other stuff: Lights have been installed. Mathlete preview gives Wisconsin a one point edge. The Wolverine Blog interviews Bucky's Fifth Quarter. Other People's Pressers returns. MZone's know your foe.

wisconsinhelmet Essentials

WHAT Michigan vs Wisconsin
WHERE Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
WHEN Noon Eastern, November 20th 2010
THE LINE Wisconsin -4
WEATHER Mostly sunny, mid 40s
10% chance of rain

Run Offense vs. Wisconsin

This preview chalks up the bleah results for Michigan against Purdue as an artifact of the weather and Michigan's confidence in their lead resulting in grand swathes of rock-rock-rock playcalling against eight man fronts. And even considering that Michigan is still the #9 rush offense, averaging 5.9 YPC. (They've fallen from that club of teams averaging over 6 but so did Oregon, leaving just Nebraska, Auburn, and Nevada.) The usual goes here about how it's awesome and so forth and so on.

A couple things might swing Michigan's performance Saturday to the good or bad: Taylor Lewan's availability—he was listed as "questionable" on the injury report—and the situation at tailback. Michael Shaw has spent most of the year hobbled and is also questionable with a concussion, but Vincent Smith has been more effective the past two weeks than he was early in the year. Fitzgerald Toussaint also saw a few snaps as he returns from a shoulder injury. Smith figures to get the bulk of the running back carries, and since no tailback has really distinguished himself the Shaw injury won't be a big deal.

Lewan's absence would be more problematic. Michigan would likely bring in Mark Huyge, who's started most games this year due to Lewan's youth and Perry Dorrestein's back. He's all right, but a clear step down from Lewan in all areas except taking penalties.

Wisconsin's run defense is its usual self, 25th nationally. They're giving up 3.8 YPC. Relevant game-by-game numbers:

Opponent Carries Yards TD YPC
ASU 26 183 1 7.0
MSU 41 194 0 4.7
Minnesota 30 114 0 3.8
OSU 37 177 2 4.8
Iowa 28 133 1 4.8
Purdue 34 172 0 5.1

(Indiana was omitted; the Hoosiers actually did pretty well—167 yards on 34 carries—but that game was all garbage time.)

That's… actually way more encouraging than I thought it would be. Wisconsin has given up at least 4.7 YPC to every I-A opponent and the closest thing to a spread 'n shred on the list—Purdue—has the best performance of any Big Ten team. The Boilers were within seven points of Wisconsin halfway through the fourth quarter, so those are real numbers for an injury-shattered offense. It appears the overall statistics conceal a run defense that can be had. This may be a reason the spread seems relatively small (and has plunged from –7 at open to –4-ish now) to most observers.

Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin

Even if we throw last week's whatever that was in the bin of muddy, wet games past and reduce its importance we're left with an increasingly wobbly, turnover-prone passing game. After starting the year insanely accurate Denard Robinson's come back to earth and departed the top ten in passer efficiency—he's down to #14. Large chunks of that were built on play action that opponents are figuring out. Not so much QB Lead Oh Noes, which remains effective whenever deployed, but Michigan's standard stretch-to-pass play action has seen opponents shoot defensive ends into the quarterback's face before the pulling guard can adjust. Denard's mobility has mitigated the problem but when you're asking your quarterback to make plays like this…

…it might be time to switch it up.

At receiver, Junior Hemingway is emerging into the primary outside threat. To date he's show surprising escapability after the catch. His hands aren't great but he can high-point deep balls if they're thrown in his vicinity. Roy Roundtree remains the #1 guy, all things considered.

The Badgers have good yardage numbers—26th—but like the rush defense a deeper look finds a team that's just okay. They're 51st in efficiency; last week the knocked Ben Chappell out of the game and the week before that they participated in their own Sean Robinson experience, but relevant opponents do exist:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
Arizona State 33 21 211 0 0 6.4
MSU 29 20 269 3 2 9.3
Minnesota 25 11 249 3 0 10.0
OSU 28 14 156 0 1 5.6
Iowa 37 25 258 3 0 7.0

That's… weird. Highly variable with the best performance against Pryor, who was in arm punt mode, and… uh… the worst against a Minnesota team that averaged over twenty yards a completion but completed fewer than half its passes. Stanzi, Threet, and Cousins all did essentially the same thing—it looks like this, too, is a Wisconsin secondary that can be had. JJ Watt is a great defensive end and a complicating factor but Wisconsin is only average at collecting sacks and Michigan is still in the top ten at avoiding them even after Ryan Kerrigan destroyed all comers.

Key Matchup: Hitting Wisconsin for big plays on rushing downs. To keep offensive efficiency in the realm it will have to be to keep pace with Tolzien, Michigan's going to need a cheap, long touchdown or two and of late those have come in the passing game.

James_White Run Defense vs. Wisconsin

@ right: Wisconsin tailback James White. Probably.

Badger fatback John Clay is officially out this weekend, leaving Wisconsin bereft. In Clay's absence the backups only have 197 carries for 1227 yards this year. Wait. Goddammit.

Michigan will get a heavy dose of freshman James White, who missed the Purdue game and was limited against Iowa but seemed just fine last week with 144 yards on 19 carries. A lot of his production is against the who-dat section of the schedule but he also tacked on 99 yards (on ten carries) against MSU and 75 (on 17) against OSU. He's decidedly not a fatback at 5'10", 198, and while Ray Vinopal thanks John Clay's ankle profusely now Michigan has to deal with more speed and shiftiness.

Badger third-stringer Montee Ball hadn't done much against actual teams until the last two weeks when he put up 127 on Purdue and 167 on Indiana. Numbers put up on Indiana should be ignored but Purdue has Ryan Kerrigan and an average-ish run defense. One slightly encouraging thing for Michigan: last year Clay went ham on Michigan while Ball averaged 3.9 YPC.

Wisconsin is also down their starting center; they'll deploy senior Bill Nagy in place of Peter Konz. This, like the Clay issue, isn't likely to make much difference. Wisconsin's rushing offense is the same grinding thing it's always been. I won't bother with a full stat breakout but White and Clay averaged 4.7 YPC on 38 carries against Ohio State and 6.6 on 27 against MSU; Ball and Clay combined for 5.1 on 33 carries against Iowa. Those are the top three rushing defenses in the Big Ten that aren't Wisconsin or Penn State, who the Badgers don't play.

Michigan is not any of those defenses. They've flopped around from 4-3 to 3-4 to 3-3-5, swapped starters at five positions voluntarily and had to do so at three more because of injury, and gotten gashed by running attacks pro-style and spread. The one lingering hope for Michigan is that a combination featuring a full speed Mike Martin and Kenny Demens has not seen the field and it's possible Michigan held Martin out of last week's Purdue game just so he'd be healthy for the stretch run. If that's true and Martin returns to his defense-wrecking form of the first half of the season, Michigan might be able to make that backup center relevant and Demens could be free to scrape to whatever hole the Badgers go after.

If that's not the case—and after this long with a gimpy ankle it's unlikely Martin is fully healthy until the bowl game—expect a heavy dose of power plays, a lot of pulling guards, and a lot of runs that don't get stopped at the line and see everyone fall forward for four to eight yards.

Key Matchup: Martin versus his Ankles. Most important player on the defense in the game he's needed most. Saving that, Adam Patterson versus Please Don't Get Crushed Five Yards Backwards.

tolz Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin

Photo not specifically chosen to make Tolzien look stupid in revenge for projected Michigan-looks-stupid passing tomorrow, but not complaining about it either.

If this is anything like last year's bombing you can just replace this section with a long string of expletives with "Tolzien!" interspersed at appropriate intervals. Scott Tolzien averaged 10 YPA, mostly on breathtakingly wide open passes across the middle, and things were sad.

This year he's done virtually the same thing to every opponent on the schedule. Small children and pregnant women who enjoy modeling the future should look away:

Opponent Att Cmp Yards TD Int YPA
ASU 25 19 246 1 0 9.8
MSU 25 11 127 1 0 5.1
Minnesota 23 17 223 1 0 9.7
OSU 16 13 152 0 1 9.5
Iowa 26 20 205 1 1 7.9
Purdue 19 13 130 1 1 6.8

Yeesh. Aside from one terrible game against Michigan State, Tolzien has been robotically efficient. He hardly ever throws, but when he does it is complete and goes for a lot of yards. This is an artifact of having a running game with over 2100 yards to its name without requiring the assistance of the quarterback. This is the usual array of guys in single coverage getting open 20 yards downfield as the opponent's cover three tries to limit the damage and get them in a third down by stuffing the run; big chunks given up in the passing game are just part of life against Wisconsin.

Michigan… well… yeah. Not much pressure, not much coverage, lots of eight man drops and play-action bites, freshman everywhere, night terrors, etc.

Key Matchup: God, seriously? If the defenses on this schedule couldn't hold Tolzien to something less than around 8 YPA the key matchup is you versus the locked drawer with the gun in it. HA HA HA HA JUST KIDDING.

Um… so… key matchup. Let's go with Ezeh/Mouton/Demens/Gordon against play action. Last year Tolzien got to stand in the pocket and zip 20-yard routes right down the middle of the field with maddening consistency. We've seen Michigan get burned on this stuff from time to time this year—second and 22 for the Illini, anyone?—and this will be the a real test for Demens and Vinopal.

Special Teams

The usual when it comes to the kickers: massive field goal advantage, approximate draw with the punters with a slight edge to Hagerup since he's still carrying around a series of poor efforts from early in the season when he was wide-eyed and shanktastic. Wisconsin has a big advantage in returns, but their #28 ranking in punts is based on just 17 attempts, less than two per game. So whatever, that's five to ten yards for Wisconsin.

Kickoff returns are far more frequent and relevant. Where Michigan's happy just to get it back to the 20 they're regularly giving up returns to the 35 or worse. Wisconsin's not great at returns themselves but the numbers here are very silly, based solely on return yardage and not where you actually start your drive. Michigan figures to give up between five and ten yards of field position on every kickoff for and against.

Wisconsin's kicker is 13 of 17 on the year. Michigan's blah blah blah.




"Badger cat"

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...

  • Lewan is out, exposing Mark Huyge to JJ Watt for extended periods of time.
  • Scott Tolzien completes every pass he throws.
  • Denard's interception trend kills another scoring drive.

Cackle with knowing glee if...

  • Purdue's spread 'n shred success presages similar for Michigan and what seems like a statistically overrated run defense.
  • Mike Martin's back and healthy.
  • Tolzien comes down with the yips in the state of Michigan or something.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh God The Tolziening, +1 for One Loss Top Ten Team Versus Thoroughly Mediocre One, –1 for But Dude The Run Defense Can Be Had, –1 for Missed Extra Points Are A Girl's Best Friend, –1 for 5.1 YPC To Purdue Two Weeks Ago? Yes Please, +1 for Any Run Defensed For Less That Five Yards Is A Win, +1 for And I Don't Think Martin Is Full Go, And Ditto Lewan, +1 for Hurray Turnover Implosion Always)

Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Locking In Genuinely Decent Season Given Everything, Exceeding Expectations, Getting Everyone To STFU About Rich Rodriguez, +1 for Seriously, The Getting Everyone To STFU Bit Cannot Be Overstated, +1 for STFU Already, –1 for This Is Not Really A Game Michigan Should Win, –1 for Expectations Basically Achieved, +1 for But Man It Would Be Nice)

Loss will cause me to... repeat "I expected 7-5" to myself a thousand times.

Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:

You could make the case that Wisconsin is a hideously overrated team that scraped by Arizona State and Iowa because of missed extra points and was so thoroughly clunked by Michigan State they lost that game solidly despite being +3 in turnover margin and they've got like one win over anyone half-decent, that being Iowa… if they hadn't beaten Ohio State by 13. This throws a wrench in the plans a bit.

I do think the Vegas guys are on-point, as they usually are, because hidden in Wisconsin's rushing defense stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Hidden in the passing stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Michigan should move the ball at least as well as they did against Iowa and Michigan State, which is "quite well, thank you, now if you would please take this foot-ball before we do anything as dishonorable as score." Turnovers will tell the tale; if Michigan goes in at halftime with 230 yards and 14 points they're likely to have blown it already. I think they're likely to blow it.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:

  • Wisconsin leaves at least one deep safety back and the Michigan ground game ramps back up to its dirty levels past.
  • Hypothetical third and longs for M go very, very poorly if Lewan does not play.
  • Tolzien completes 75% of his passes.
  • Wisconsin, 34-27.



November 19th, 2010 at 12:44 PM ^

Senior Day

Home Game

New Michigan lighting system fails and accidentaly pops up and turns on at every Wisconsin 3-and long play.

Wisconsin brings their natural turf cleats by mistake

OMG someone in the Michigan Secondary wakes up an sees a hovering angel that touches him on the forehead and then he says: "So that's what the coaches were talking about!" and goes out and has two picks.


November 19th, 2010 at 12:46 PM ^

Based on the Chart? Chart presented, I'm going to believe that "Yeesh. Aside from one terrible game against Minnesota, Tolzien has been robotically efficient" should be "Yeesh. Aside from one terrible game against Michigan State, Tolzien has been robotically efficient."


November 19th, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

Was not sure what I was going to do in the event of a win, but now I do.

Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide.

Make that 2. I'll be in my living room with my 2 year old son who likes to do it anyway so I'll join in.    If we can get everyone to do it maybe we can make the world spin back to signing day 09 Superman style and tell JT Turner to take a hike and sign a couple of servicebale corners and as we're sliding back to present day we can whisper in RR's ear to pull Troy from drills on that sad August day to talk about life for a few minutes.


November 19th, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

"Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide."

This is why I read blogs and not newspapers.  Brian could not have relayed my sentiments any better. 


November 19th, 2010 at 12:54 PM ^

I have to agree, after Troy Woolfolk went down expectations were around 6-6(please let UM go to a bowl). Now a winning season the last two could be "icing on the cake". I Hope to see a perfect game on all three fronts but I'd rather have it for next week, maybe Wisconsin has no answer for a true duel threat QB and Tolzien has an all you can eat sushi problem (Allstate commercial mayhem).  


 Last victory in AA 1994, before that...1962.


November 19th, 2010 at 12:58 PM ^

Not cool Brian, your totally rational and statistically based analysis has caused me to begin to build my hopes up. Hope is a many dreaded thing.

The main difference is that a loss will only cause me to say "7-5 is what I expected" over and over as well. Which sure beats that dark place that 5-6 took me to after losing to Wiscy last fall.

Martin was so good against Wisconsin last year. Oh great, here I go with that hope thing again


November 19th, 2010 at 1:05 PM ^

Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide.


This will be the greatest cause ever. The mods on livechat should have this ready so we can all create some type of UM vortex space time thingy right after the game if we win.


November 19th, 2010 at 1:05 PM ^

Arizona State, who we can now officially declare bad, was not exactly impressed with Wisconsin's kick/punt coverage units. I seem to remember something like 200 yards of returns for the Sun Devils. Who, again, are probably bad enough to fire the coach at the end of the year.

MMB 82

November 19th, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

We will win this game (and likely OSU, too) simply because it would be far to convenient for me personally to have to drive all of 20 minutes to Tempe from the NE Valley for the Insight Bowl.


November 19th, 2010 at 1:11 PM ^

I fully expect 3 long completions (40+ yards) to hand wavingly wide open recievers in the first half.  Wisky is going to try to sell out on the run and attempt to knock Denard out of the game with hard hits because Belima is a meat head.


November 19th, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

I agree with Brian's analysis for the most part.  My basis for hope is that no one -- other than the weather -- has stopped our offense.  I also see steady progress on the defense (though again last week wasn't comparable).  

If we avoid self-destruction in the red zone, I can see us scoring in the 30s.

One thing I think that might sense is to throw Tate in for a couple of series, especially if Denard looks shaky in the passing game.  He was effective against Illinois, and is a somewhat more accurate passer.


November 19th, 2010 at 1:19 PM ^

Since the end of last year I have been counting the next two weeks as loses. Even before the loss of Turner, Dorsey and Woolfolk, when I had the team going 9-3, I thought we would lose to Wisconsin and OSU. They are just as good as I thought they would be and we have no margin for error if we want to have a chance.

That being said, we do have a chance if we play our best game of the year. There should be no pressure. Play loose and fast. Have fun. No one is expecting you to win. And if the winds blow the right way, who knows what could happen.

In my mind the team has already done what is needed to and the rest is icing on the cake.


November 19th, 2010 at 1:25 PM ^

The only reason Minnesota's passing stats were good against Wisconsin is because they were down by 30 in the fourth quarter, and Wiscy was playing a prevent. Minnesota quickly scored 2 TDs (sandwiching Bielema's 2 point attempt) on long drives through the air.

El Jeffe

November 19th, 2010 at 1:29 PM ^

The following is what I hope will be the game plan for the week (see if you can tell that I know nothing about football afterwards):

  • RR: Denard, we've installed a passing package with three elements: (1) a high percentage, low risk first read, (2) a high percentage, low risk second read, and (3) if 1 and 2 are not there, you are to take off and run and are under no circumstances to throw it.
  • DR: But coach, remember my TD to Hemingway against Illinois? On that play--
  • RR: Bup bup bup... Remember the three options. Low risk I, low risk II, run rabbit run.
  • DR: But coach--
  • RR: Bup bup bup... Shhhhhh... (puts index finger on DR's lips).


Srsly. Has Denard thrown any INTs that were the result of a flat out bad read, or have they all been because of trying either to fit a pass into a difficult window (the two MSU INTs) or to do too much when the play breaks down (the PU INTs)?

I think I might have what it takes to be a football coach, gaiz!


November 19th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

Excellent preview.  There is reason to think we can move the ball a bit.

At the end of the day, though, I see this going very much like the MSU/Iowa/PSU games... but perhaps without the semi-comebacks in the latter two.

I don't think we'll see Wisconsin's punter more than twice - tops.  And I'm afraid I won't go into a Big 10 game expecting less than 3 turnovers until Denard's a junior with one full year of starting experience under his belt.

I could see something like 42-21.... a total bummer, but really - Wisconsin's built to exploit every single weakness we have.