MADISON, Wis. — Although it feels like Wisconsin is in the middle of their schedule with two games against LSU and Michigan State already in the rear view, we are merely at the beginning of what most likely is the toughest schedule in all of college football.
This week, Wisconsin is on the road in Ann Arbor playing the No. 5 team in the nation, the Michigan Wolverines. Coming into the matchup, the defenses on both sides are the top story.
Currently, Michigan’s defense leads the nation in sacks (17 – tied), tackles for loss (45) and third down conversion percentage (12%). They also rank 13th in points allowed. Arguably, Michigan has the best pass defense in the nation.
Against this defense, Wisconsin is expecting a dog fight against one of the best defensive lines the Badgers will see all season. But thanks to a tough schedule, it is something they’ve come accustomed to.
“They’re big, they’re physical and they’re a unit with ten seniors,” tight end Troy Fumagalli said. “So they know how to play together, they’re expecting to come out and hit you in the mouth. So our mindset is going to be just like Michigan State, we’re going to have to get out there and be physical each and every play.”
The heart and soul of this defense though is far and away junior Jabrill Peppers. He seemingly can play at any position on the defense and makes his presence felt in every aspect of the game. Peppers has 33 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and also has 2.5 sacks to lead the Michigan defense.
“He’s got to be the best player in college football right now,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said of Peppers.
Passing wise, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, coming off of a strong first career start, will be facing plenty of blitzing pressure. Coverage wise though, he will need to be on the look, not just for safeties or corners, but for linebacker Mike McCray as well. McCray is tied for the team lead in pass breakups and also has an interception on the year.
One of the most important keys for Wisconsin going in is going to be the run game. Last game, the Badgers struggled to get star back Corey Clement going. Clement average a rough 2.3 yards per carry for only 53 yards. He salvaged the day with two touchdowns thanks in large part to the passing game being so effective.
The running game starts up front though, with the offensive line.
“We’ve got to finish better,” starting left guard Michael Deiter said. “I mean, there’s some plays where some guys don’t finish here or there, and we’re all guilty of it, and instead you get six yards when you could have got 20.”
Going up against Michigan, that difference will make or break the game for Wisconsin.
Photo courtesy of Doug Pensinger, Getty Images.