Last week, the Wisconsin Badgers returned to Camp Randall and dismantled the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a score of 41-24. However, the 15th-ranked Badgers now face their toughest test of the season as the team travels to Ann Arbor to take on the 12th-ranked Michigan Wolverines. Michigan looked solid last week in a 42-21 thrashing of Maryland, which pushed the team’s record to 5-1. This is a must-win game for both programs and they each need to win in order to keep their Big Ten Championship and College Football Playoff hopes alive. Look for this game to go down to the wire.
Wisconsin is entering this game riding a two-game winning streak after suffering that shocking upset at the hands of BYU back on September 15. On a positive note, the Badgers have looked extremely focused following that loss and were able to win consecutive conference games by double digits, including a tough road victory against Iowa three weeks ago.
Leading the charge is Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor, who has been an absolute force in the backfield this season for the Badgers. So far this season, Taylor has 849 rushing yards with eight touchdowns while averaging an astounding 6.7 yards per carry. Last season, Taylor finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting after finishing with 1,997 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns. It is very rare to see a player duplicate such an unbelievable season, but that is exactly what Taylor is doing.
In every game this season, Taylor has not had less than 113 rushing yards and he has even improved his ball security. After being plagued with fumbles in the first 16 games of his collegiate career, Taylor has not fumbled the ball once in the last three games.
Last week, Taylor obliterated the Nebraska defense as he carried the ball 24 times for 221 times and three rushing touchdowns. Taylor also broke his career-high for longest rush when he took a fourth quarter carry 88 yards for a touchdown. Taylor is the heart and soul of this Wisconsin offense and he will need to have another big game if the Badgers plan on upsetting the Wolverines on the road. Last season, Taylor ran for 132 yards against Michigan as the Badgers won 24-10 in Camp Randall.
Although the Badgers’ offense looked prolific against Nebraska, the same cannot be said about the team’s defense. Last week, the Badgers’ pass defense looked atrocious as Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez torched Wisconsin for 384 passing yards and three total touchdowns. Martinez was able to elongate plays due to his mobility as the inexperienced Wisconsin secondary was unable to stay with the Nebraska receivers. Now, the Badgers will have to deal with another mobile quarterback in Shea Patterson.
Patterson made headlines this offseason when he announced his decision to transfer from Ole Miss to Michigan. As a Wolverine, Patterson has struggled at times but has looked solid most of the time. This season, Patterson has ten touchdowns and only three interceptions. Although he only has 31 rushing yards so far this season, Patterson definitely has the ability to extend plays and can use his legs to grant his receivers more time against this inexperienced Wisconsin secondary.
However, Michigan’s early success is due to its elite defense, which ranks 15th in points allowed per game. Michigan has the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks with ease as the team is currently tied for 20th in the nation in sacks per game. Michigan’s pass rush can be a potential problem for the Badgers considering quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s lack of mobility. If Michigan’s front four is able to hold its own against Wisconsin’s elite offensive line, expect the Badgers to struggle offensively.
As for my prediction, I have to side with Michigan. I simply think Michigan is the better team. Michigan has the better defense and the better quarterback, so it makes perfect sense to assume that the Wolverines will take care of business on their home field. I expect Wisconsin to hang around and give Michigan all that it can handle, but I think that Patterson will make enough clutch plays late to get the Wolverines the victory.
Prediction: Michigan 20, Wisconsin 17