Who: Michigan Wolverines @ Wisconsin Badgers
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Big Ten Network.
When: Saturday, Nov. 14, 11:00 AM CST.
You have to feel sorry for Michigan.
This week The Detroit News reported that the state expects to lose a total of one million jobs this decade, largely due to the collapse of the U.S. automobile industry.
The Pew Center reported this week that the most optimistic of projections suggest that the state won’t regain those jobs lost until 2025 or 2030.
Many of the more famous people born in Michigan are going through difficult times, like disgraced former ESPN analyst Steve Phillips (a Michigan alum), Bob Seger (it’s been 23 years since “Like A Rock”), and TV legends Ed McMahon and Soupy Sales (both dead).
And of course, the Detroit Tigers choked away their 2009 season and the Detroit Lions continue to be one of the very worst in a long line of bad NFL teams.
And then of course there is the Michigan Wolverines football team.
Echoing perhaps the story of the 2008 Wisconsin Badgers, most had high hopes for the 2009 Wolverines, and Rich Rodriguez’s team did live up to their promise early in the season with four straight wins, including a high-profile victory over Notre Dame.
Then, like the Badgers last year, the Wolverines went into a quick tailspin upon entering conference play, losing five straight Big Ten games, including last week’s home loss to Purdue, a team that just the previous week had shown all of the collective talent of the Kardashian family in a 37-0 loss to Wisconsin.
But unlike the 2008 Badgers, a late-season rally for Michigan appears extremely doubtful as the Wolverines have to head into Madison on Saturday and then host No. 10 Ohio State the following week to close out the season.
The Badgers, meanwhile, continue to impress after losses to Ohio State and Iowa. With winnable games against Michigan, Northwestern, and Hawaii coming up, Wisconsin is playing for a 10-2 record and an invitation to one of college’s better bowl games.
Here then are the Channel 3000 three storylines for Saturday’s game at Camp Randall, Wisconsin’s final home game of the season.
1. Best Served Cold. Much is being made of the revenge factor in this game, as Michigan last year came back from a 19-0 halftime deficit to beat Wisconsin 27-25 in a game that began Wisconsin’s long four-game losing streak.
Though it’s being hyped as a “revenge game,” retribution should not be a major motivation for this game: Michigan can hardly be blamed for all four of those losses in 2008, Wisconsin not only bested Michigan’s record last year but will this year as well, and many of this year’s players on both sides of the ball for both teams—most notably both quarterbacks—didn’t even play in that game.
It’s almost as ludicrous as if the Packers were to play the Colts this season and someone were to suggest that Green Bay was out for revenge for their embarrassing 1997 loss to the then-winless Colts. It’s just irrelevant history at this point.
But despite Michigan’s recent struggles, Wisconsin will certainly take some measure of satisfaction in beating a team that has run up an all-time 49-12-1 advantage (including 19 wins at Camp Randall) in their meetings.
And Bret Bielema’s team should be at the very least annoyed by indications that the Wolverines are looking past Wisconsin to the Nov. 21 game against Ohio State.
Wolverines safety Troy Woolfolk said, “As bad as the season is going, I think it would be redeemed if we beat Ohio State.” As almost an afterthought, he added, “Wisconsin, we want to beat them, too.”
Do comments like that suggest that Michigan disrespects Wisconsin, doesn’t think they can compete with Wisconsin, or simply doesn’t care about Wisconsin?
After the Badgers beat them, it won’t really matter.
2. Big Blue’s Big Play Potential. Despite last week’s victory against Indiana, the Badgers should be worried about the number of big plays they allowed in what was without a doubt a too-close 31-28 win.
With 323 of the Hoosiers’ 386 offensive yards gained through the air, the majority of those big plays were in the passing game, most notably an 80-yard touchdown drive that consisted of just three Ben Chappell completions, and a 30-yard Chappell-to-Demarlo Belcher reception on a fourth-and-five that led to one of Indiana’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The Wolverines may be struggling, but their problems can’t be blamed on their offense. Michigan leads the Big Ten in scoring with 32 points per game, but fortunately for Wisconsin, it’s running the ball where they truly excel—the Wolverines lead the conference with 2,083 total yards.
Since Wisconsin is much better at defending the run than the pass, look for Rodriguez to call on his freshman quarterback Tate Forcier to make some plays. While Forcier isn’t the talent that Chappell is (at least not yet), the Badgers will have to do a better job defending the pass than they did last week.
With the home crowd behind them, that seems extremely doable.
3. Havin’ A Ball. The flip side of Michigan’s efficiency on offense is their awfulness on defense, particularly late in games: The Wolverines have been outscored 75-12 in the second half over the last three weeks.
So it’s fair to assume that Wisconsin will be able to move the ball, and it’s fair to assume that they will choose to run the ball to control the clock and keep Michigan’s offense off the field.
Although John Clay has been cleared to play after suffering a head injury close to halftime in the Indiana game (Bielema said it wasn’t “officially” a concussion, but that’s like saying The Jay Leno Show isn’t “officially” a failure; some things don’t have to be “official” to be believed), his health has to be a concern.
Therefore, don’t be surprised to see freshman running back Montee Ball, who had a bit of a coming-out party last week with 115 yards on 27 carries with two touchdowns, steal some carries away from John Clay on Saturday. Oh, and if you have Zach Brown on your college football fantasy team, cut him.
Ball and the rest of the Badgers should have a ball celebrating a big win on Saturday.
Predicted final: Wisconsin 38, Michigan 20.