Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Bryan MacKenzie
A lot can change in a year.
Last season, Michigan and Wisconsin entered their matchup moving in very different directions. For Wisconsin, things were looking up. They were 10-0 and ranked #5 in the country. They were coming off a series of clubbings of inferior opposition who ranged from “meh” to “Big Ten West.” They were outscoring their opponents by 22.9 points per game. They featured a ferocious, attacking, smothering defense.
The 2017 Wisconsin team was quite something
Michigan, meanwhile, was ranked but clearly wounded. They were coming off a dominant yet heartbreaking 2016 season, and they were expected to be one of the best teams in the country once again, reaching as high as #7 in the polls. Yet they were still psychically shell-shocked after missing out on a college playoff berth by inches in a gut-busting loss to Ohio State. They entered the season assuming, almost as an article of faith, that Jim Harbaugh would get quality play from the quarterback position. Yet because of a combination of injury and poor play, it was the quarterback position that led them to a lethargic, underwhelming season.
Michigan went on the road, and put up a solid, spirited effort against the Badgers, actually holding a 10-7 lead late in the third quarter. But it still all felt so transitory. So fleeting. So artificial. So when Wisconsin took the lead, and Brandon Peters was knocked unconscious on the ensuing drive, and Wisconsin immediately scored on the next possession, it served as a final coup de grâce on a season Michigan fans had already written off as a lost venture.
This year, it is Wisconsin who enters as the ranked but wounded team. They were coming off a dominant yet heartbreaking 2017 season, and they were expected to be one of the best teams in the country once again, reaching as high as #4 in the polls. Yet they may still be psychically shell-shocked after missing out on a college playoff berth by inches in a gut-busting loss to Ohio State. They entered the season assuming, almost as an article of faith, that a Wisconsin team would get quality play from the back seven. Yet, as a combination of injury and poor play, it was the back seven that is leading them toward a lethargic, underwhelming season.
[After THE JUMP: You see where this is going, but that doesn't mean you can stop it]
Michigan, meanwhile, enters this home game ranked #12 in the country. They are coming off a series of clubbings of inferior opposition who ranged from “meh” to “Big Ten West.” They are outscoring their opponents by 22.4 points per game. They feature an ferocious, attacking, smothering defense. They are a bigger home favorite than Wisconsin was last year.
Wisconsin has won exactly one game in Ann Arbor since 1995, and two games in Ann Arbor since the Kennedy Assassination. And now they are bringing a limping squad into a night game against a Michigan team that looks to be hitting its stride. The last time the Badgers played in the Big House, they put up 7 points and 153 total yards, and their only scoring drive covered 31 yards. Last year, they didn’t score an offensive point in the first 41:28 of the game. And now, their defense has regressed to a sandwiched-between-Nebraska-and-Rutgers 6.01 yards per play, which has been a B1G-worst 7.56 yards per play against conference opponents (despite those conference opponents being Iowa and Nebraska).
Wisconsin isn’t a complete team. Michigan might be. And this time, under the lights, Michigan gets to deliver that clarifying moment of “sorry, not this year.” Michigan 34, Wisconsin 17
By Internet Raj
It’s difficult to describe the Wisconsin Badgers football team without being seduced into using the usual assortment of sports clichés. Labels like “grinders”, “gritty”, “lunch pail”, “hard hat” and “blue collar”, however, have become overused to the point where much of their meaning has been diluted or lost entirely. That’s why when I sat down to assess Michigan’s foe this weekend, I tried to dig a little bit deeper to identify a suitable comparison. And I ended up digging all the way back to September 17, 1991, when the American television sitcom Home Improvement premiered on ABC.
The series centered around Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, a boorish yet lovable “man’s man” whose principal claim to the 1990’s zeitgeist was his trademark catchphrase, which actually wasn’t a phrase at all, but rather an incoherent series of crude grunts.
Listening to this video brings back fond memories of Lou Holtz on ESPN Gameday.
Tim Allen’s guttural symphony of jarring vowels and consonants stirs something deeply familiar yet unmistakably distant within your soul. An era long past yet fondly remembered. And I can’t think of anything that better typifies the brand of smashmouth, old-school football played by the Wisconsin Badgers over the last decade-plus. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that both the Badgers and Home Improvement each feature their own sensational Johnathan Taylors.
Surprisingly, JTT demonstrates superior ball security and pad level.
If you google image search “Wisconsin offensive line” you will be hit with a barrage of what is essentially the same photo over and over again: a hulking unit of nearly identical 300+ pound behemoths. It doesn’t matter what season it is, the Badgers reload their offensive line with stunning efficiency and machine-like consistency. It makes me wistfully imagine a farm in upstate Wisconsin, just a little bit north of Duke’s Plumlee Orchard, where the Badgers raise their own endless supply of free-range guards and tackles. Sure, the actual linemen change from year-to-year, but—just like the infinite permutations of a Tim Taylor grunt—they are all ultimately cut from the same Panda Express Orange Chicken-soaked cloth.
Left to right: UuuuuuAH? AaaaaaoOH! Ooooooog? Ugh-ugh-ugh! Aghhhhhuuuuu! Hunnnnghhhhh?
This year is no different. The Badgers enter today’s game against Michigan with a punishing run game ploughed by their offensive line and star running back. Last week, Johnathan Taylor racked up 221 rushing yards against Nebraska at a clip of 9.2 yards per carry. Over the season, Taylor has 849 rushing yards in five games and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in each game. Michigan’s notoriously stingy defense, meanwhile, has only allowed 2.6 yards per carry on the season.
Something has to give. And while I would almost always give the automatic edge to a Don Brown defense, Michigan’s suddenly paper-thin depth at defensive line could not have come at a more inopportune time. The Michigan fan in me wants to point to Wisconsin’s struggles against Iowa or their inexplicable early-season loss to BYU, who scored so much against the Badgers that their entire roster was suspended for violating the school’s premarital honor code, as a comforting basis for predicting a Michigan win. But the realist in me is staring at this game vigilantly and solemnly, much like a creepy next-door neighbor whose face is always obscured by a fence.
Making matters worse for the Wolverines, the Badgers’ formidable ground game is only further supplemented by quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s uncanny ability to fit throws in windows tighter than Mark Dantonio’s clenched cheeks when he thinks about being disrespected.
Michigan is heavily favored in this matchup, but Wisconsin brings the hammer.
Michigan: 21 Wisconsin: 24