Playing for Bragging Rights; 10 Win Season on the Line for Michigan

8-3 Michigan’s prior narrow, division title hopes were officially crushed on Saturday as undefeated Wisconsin put away the Wolverines by two touchdowns in Madison. The game was 14-10 at the point of the Michigan offense losing their freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, for the remainder of the game. After Peters was carted off the field, so was Michigan’s shot at offensive ball movement; the game took on a final score if 24-10 in favor of the home team.

Not many expected Michigan to win last Saturday, the game very well could have had a different outcome had Michigan been able to keep their quarterback, but to put it shortly: the better football team most definitely won.

Michigan’s expectations for this season were up in the air depending on your confidence in the coaching staff as some were predicting a playoff run, few were saying a 7-8 win season, and others were saying anything in between. When any college program loses over 40 seniors and returns 5 or less starters, it’s really a hit or miss season.

One thing Michigan has at least done so far in 2017, with the exception of the MSU game, they’ve beaten every team they were expected to beat. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious shortcomings: something this program has struggled with in recent seasons primarily is winning the big games; Michigan is 0-16 in road games against ranked teams since 2006.

Michigan might not even crack top three in their own division to end the season, which isn’t a good look. In their slight defense, the Big Ten East is about as tough as a college football division can get. Nevertheless, the highest paid coach in the conference, Jim Harbaugh, should be able to finish better than third or fourth in a division in three seasons right? He’ll get just one more pass for a disappointing conference finish, but excuses are running thin come next season.

What’s next for Michigan? What is left for this nightmare of a season?

  • A chance to beat your rival, something this program and fan-base needs like none other.
  • Win a bowl game.
  • Opportunity to win 10 games for the third consecutive seasons.
  • Showcase what fans can expect come 2018-19.

Much like last Saturday, Michigan will be an Vegas underdog; Ohio State opened as a 13 point favorite in Ann Arbor.

Uncertain of who will be under center on Saturday, Harbaugh just announced today that Peters is in concussion protocol and could potentially be out of protocol by Wednesday or Thursday, or not at all, it’s up to the doctors. We will find out more information on Peters as the week progresses, chance to play is “hopeful”. Wilton Speight’s status is doubtful for Saturday, was cleared for non-contact last week. Harbaugh also said that Lavert Hill was cleared for practice this week.

The Buckeyes are coming off two blowout wins over a respected MSU team (48-3) and over Illinois (52-14). Michigan hasn’t scored more than 36 points in any game this season, they’ll look to their defense as an asset to keep them in the game on Saturday. A healthy Brandon Peters can potentially lower the line for the game, the freshman QB gives this Michigan offense a better chance to open up the passing game.

Despite having their primary goals out of reach yet again for the season, there’s still plenty motivation for this Michigan team to come out fired up this Saturday and for the bowl season. The confidence is scarce, but Jim Harbaugh has pulled off major, statistical upsets at prior coaching jobs.

A lot of this team still has fond memory and a bad taste in their mouths from what some players and many fans feel was an officiating wrong-doing in Columbus a season ago, rivalries can give teams a newfound motivation to up their play and execute.

 

 

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How Offenses Attack Michigan’s Pass Defense…You’re Seeing This Every Week!

by Mark Edwards

In the build up for the opening game versus Florida, many (and dare I say most) national pundits were quick to point out the youth factor of the Michigan defense.  While I thought it was overstated, it really was true.  While many Michigan fans took that as a slight on the talent of the players, the experience metric told all of us that there would be “growing pains.”

I can actually make the argument that Michigan’s defense has far exceeded national expectation.  However, this column isn’t intended to rail on the Trevor Matich’s of the world.  As of November 20, Michigan has the #1 ranked pass defense in the country.  They yield 144.4 yards per game.  That’s almost never going to get you run out of the stadium in college football.  Couple this with the #15 ranked rush defense (115.6 yards per game) and I think it’s obvious that the defense has performed at a ridiculously high level.

As the offense has been “hit or miss” this year, the defense has taken the field and known that they would have to be “lights out” to have a chance to win.  The youth metric should have told us that being dominant for the whole season was a pipe dream.

Couple that with the fact that offenses only need to hit a few big plays to turn the tide against Michigan has forced opposing offenses to look for their “one shining moment.”  This article will show you what Michigan’s philosophy is, how teams shift personnel to try to beat it and how Michigan can adjust to the current attack by opposing offenses.

MICHIGAN’S BASE COVERAGE BREAKDOWN

Michigan has changed the defense constantly this year from a 3-3 to a 4-2 front.  While that is not important to the pass coverage, it needs to be stated for the record.  I applaud Don Brown for trying to get as many athletes on the field at once.

Michigan’s primary coverage is “Cover 10.”  Cover 10 is a man-to-man coverage with a single-high safety in the middle of the field.  Depending on the pressure/blitz that Don Brown calls, the free safety “may” have responsibilities in the run game.  Why does this matter?  The answer is that you really are playing with no “help over the top.”  Lloyd Carr believed in safety help for corners (Charles Woodson excluded).  Don Brown almost never does this.

In the diagram below, you see where a single-high safety defense is vulnerable.

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Teams are targeting the Michigan safeties in man-to-man coverage.  Whether it is Tyree Kinnel or Josh Metellus, most teams are running a three wide receiver set and isolating the non-cornerback on a wide receiver.

Let’s be honest here…Michigan’s David Long and Lavert Hill have been outstanding against the pass this season.  Considering the fact that all five members of last year’s secondary are in the NFL right now, you have to praise the Michigan defensive staff for their development of so many young players.

However, safeties versus wide receivers are generally bad matchups for most defensive teams.  Teams have figured this out and now they all are attacking Michigan in a similar fashion.  Given the fact that they only need to hit a few passes to turn the tide, Penn State showed everyone how to do it and people are following their lead.

SHIFTING PERSONNEL HAS BEEN GOOD FOR OPPONENTS

While opponents have struggled to run the ball against Michigan, the passing games have attacked this coverage every week.  This section will detail the adjustments.

Collegiate passing games come down to design and matchups.  While the Green Bay Packers have been doing this for years (ever use the Packer personnel group on Madden?), college teams are starting to do it as well.  Specifically, they are doing it to Michigan to really attempt to get their top receiver on a safety.

EXAMPLE #1

In the first clip, Penn State puts DeSean Hamilton in the slot as the #2 receiver.  This gets their all-time leading receiver working against a safety (in this case Josh Metellus).  The popular route combination is an outside release hitch by the #1 receiver and a fade route from #2.  To be fair and give credit, Michigan State became elite doing this with Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook.  Notice in the clip below that Metellus is giving a three yard cushion.  Michigan is doing this to help the safety against a faster receiver.  Why not press the #2 receiver?  It’s an adjustment to give the safety a chance to run with Hamilton.  The true breakdown is that Metellus never gets his hands on him during the entire route.

Michigan’s coverage technique is all about being physical with receivers and tugging the inside arm (think MSU 2013).  This is a technique breakdown added to a personnel mismatch.   Penn State, on that one evening, was good enough to do it.

EXAMPLE #2

In this example from the final minute of the second quarter, Penn State gets TE Mike Gesicki (6’6″) lined up versus Khaleke Hudson.  Hudson, who has had a great season, is 6’0″ and has been more of a run player than a pass defender.  Gesicki is runs a “sluggo”, which is a slant and go look at Hudson.  Functionally, it is a fade.

Gesicki gets a back should throw from McSorely and as Hudson is trailing the route, the throw is indefensible.  This isn’t horrible coverage but it certainly was an effective plan for Penn State.

EXAMPLE #3

This clip comes from the Maryland game.  It would be easy to surmise that you’re only picking clips where the offensive talent is better than that of the Michigan defense.  This is the example that should tell all fans that the offensive coaches in the conference are seeing the same thing.

Maryland lines up in 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE).  So here’s your customary 3 wide receiver set with twins to the field.  Maryland, on their fourth quarterback, decided that they also could get the fade route.  While being incomplete on review, Maryland Taivon Jacobs beats Michigan’s best cornerback in Lavert Hill.  This clip is tough because you can’t see the route.  However, you can see that safety Tyree Kinnel almost got their from the middle of the field.  Undoubtedly, the QB looking at the receiver the whole way let Kinnel get that close.

This is a breakdown in technique by Hill.  Jacobs is a middle of the pack receiver yet still gets behind Michigan on the fade from #2 route.  He couldn’t gain any separation on other Terrapin routes so you have to assume a weakness in the Michigan pass defense exists and opponents know it.

Maryland wasn’t going to beat Michigan so it’s a fairly forgettable play but if the talent of the two teams was closer, you would’ve seen Maryland try this a lot.

EXAMPLE #4

This past weekend, Michigan held a 10-7 lead near the later stages of the third quarter at Wisconsin.  The Badger running game was fairly stifled so what did they go to to not only flip the field but also turn the tide?  You got it.  A fade route from #2.  Now for the sake of transparency, they hit this pass on Michigan freshman Jaylen Kelly-Powell.  Kelly-Powell was forced into duty because Michigan’s normal nickel defender Brandon Watson started at corner due to the Lavert Hill injury.

Wisconsin WR A.J. Taylor actually got off of press contact from Kelly-Powell and ran away from him while QB Alex Hornibrook threw a really good pass to the open receiver.  Notice, this is a 51-yard connection that represented 33.3% of their passing yards for the day.

WHAT MICHIGAN WILL DO (AND WON’T DO) TO ADJUST MOVING FORWARD

The breakdown for Michigan is not corrected by scheme.  Don Brown IS GOING TO continue to bring pressure and play man coverage.  In all of these clips, the QB is not pressured.  Hence, the defensive backs have to cover longer.  Given Michigan’s propensity to bring the blitz, the pass rush has to get home and at least pressure quarterbacks.  They’ve done a really good job but it’s when they don’t that we see opponents pass efficiently against Michigan.

Don Brown isn’t going to become a two-high safety team.  I not suggesting that he should by writing this article.  It’s never one thing that is the fix-all.  Michigan’s defenders will get better at their press technique, faster due to training and more aware of what teams are doing to them.  Michigan’s a single-high safety team 95% of the time.  They will continue to be that.

In this current world of college football, offenses are scoring at rapid rates.  So here we are breaking down a pass or two per game that hurts the Michigan hopes.  Football is a team game and the stress that Michigan’s defense must feel is massive.  This week in “The Game,” look for Ohio State to attempt the same attack.  While each team is different, we are seeing this approach week in and week out.

 

 

 

 

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week’ – Wisconsin

by Mark Edwards

Michigan’s defense is ridiculously young, elite and athletic.  However, the thing I marvel at week after week is that the defense KNOWS that they have to play at a level that most defenses cannot ever reach just to keep the opponent down.  Why?  With Michigan’s struggles on offense, Michigan cannot spot a team 14 points and realistically expect to win.

On a cold, windy day in Madison, the defense lasted as long as they could.  This week’s pressure is a great example of a relentless effort to get to the quarterback.  Regardless of the situation, we’ve seen effort like the one below all season.  That is something that should be enjoyed and celebrated as we look at this season.  I know Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown would say this is the expectation but as fans, we still need to appreciate it.  It’s rare in this world of college football.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  2nd & 15, Wisconsin ball on their own 7 yard line

TIME:  10:20 left in the third quarter

WHY THIS SERIES:  While the offensive red zone struggles were continuing, the defense had Wisconsin backed up and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was shaky.  This series was where most Michigan fans thought, “If we can hold them here and get the ball in good field position, we can take the momentum.”

Screen shot 2017-11-19 at 3.56.02 PM

FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Pro Right I (The tight end is to the right along with the flanker.  The split end it to the left.)

MARYLAND PERSONNEL: 21 (2 running backs, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  3-3

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:   In a second and long situation, Michigan is in a 3-3 personnel package and alignment.  The defensive front is DE Rashan Gary (#3)  in a 4I-technique (inside shoulder of tackle) while DT Maurice Hurst (#73) is at nose and DE Chase Winovich (#15) is in a 5-techjnique to the top of the screen.  Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) is in an “over” alignment, which is outside shoulder of the tight end.  Cornerbacks David Long (#22) and Brandon Watson (#28) are in press alignment.  LB Mike McCray (#9) is stacked behind Winovich while middle linebacker Devin Bush Jr. (#10) is aligned over the right guard.  The key is LB Noah Furbush (#59) who is stacked behind Gary.  He will be moving pre

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This is from the Detroit News and Daniel Mears.

snap to join the five-man pressure.  Safety Josh Metellus (#14) is eight yards deep and responsible for the tight end in pass coverage.

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FRAME #2

What is Wisconsin doing here?  It is still before the snap but they are going to run a screen pass into the boundary (top side of the screen).

What has changed:  Furbush (#59) is coming down in between Hudson and Gary.

Michigan’s pressure:  This is a five-man pressure from the strength of the formation.  In a pro formation, the strength is determined by which side the TE lines up on.  Metellus (#14) has also moved a yard closer to the line of scrimmage.

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FRAME #3

What is Wisconsin doing here?  Both wide receivers and the tight end are vertically releasing, as is customary with a screen pass.  The fullback is fitting into the middle of the line so that he can release to the top of the screen after the defensive line passes him.  The offensive line is take a vertical pass set.  The left guard & left tackle will end  up climbing to level two to the top of the screen.

What has changed:  You now see Metellus and safety Tyree Kinnel (#23) in the screen.  Linebackers Mike McCray and Devin Bush Jr. are dropping into cover zone coverage.  Michigan is playing man-to-man outside with the WRs while they have a they have the linebackers covering each running back.  Metellus has the tight end in man coverage.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hudson is on the attack.  Functionally, he is a “ghost 9” and is rushing to the depth of the QB.  Furbush is blitzing through the right tackle.  Gary has ripped to the A gap on the tight end side while Hurst has ripped into the other A gap.  Winovich is an outside rusher to the top of the screen.

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FRAME #4

What is Wisconsin doing here?  Badger RB Jonathan Taylor has taken a poor path to block Hudson.  You can see the left guard and left tackle leaking out to the left.  The fullback is in the middle of the offensive line.

What has changed:  Hornibrook  knows (and feels) that he’s going to have to evade the rusher to throw the ball.  Michigan has changed their pass coverage responsibilities as Metellus is covering Taylor while Bush Jr. is running with the tight end.

Michigan’s pressure: Michigan is very disciplined in this pressure.  Besides Hudson’s pressure, Winovich has done a nice job setting the edge of the pocket.

Screen shot 2017-11-19 at 3.57.35 PM

FRAME #5

What is Wisconsin doing here?  The fullback screen is set up but Hornibrook is throwing it too early due to pressure.

What has changed:  The play is actually set up.  If not for the pressure, you are looking at a nice play for Wisconsin.

Michigan’s pressure: Hudson, Hudson, Hudson.

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FRAME #6

Incomplete pass.  The ball was thrown into the ground.

 

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FINAL THOUGHT: I thought Michigan’s defense played a really good game and showed that a power-run approach by an opponent is not a great idea.  Wisconsin scored 7 on special teams and hit two passes.  With the exception of Penn State, it’s not been the run game that hurts this team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tale of Two Halves: Michigan @ Wisconsin Recap

Saturday’s only matchup of ranked teams lived up to its billing for the first half. Both defenses, ranked in the top five in yards allowed per game, were duking it out and not giving up an inch.

Wisconsin struck first with an impressive punt return TD by Nick Nelson. They took that 7-0 lead into the second quarter when Michigan answered back with a 1-yard plunge by fullback Ben Mason. The Wolverines would’ve seized momentum even more with a chance to go up 14-7, but a nice play by the Badger defense caused QB Brandon Peters to fumble near the end zone.

This led to the teams heading into the second half all squared up at 7-7. Michigan led the total yards battle 169-99 and had to feel pretty good heading into the third quarter. The defense was also doing more than holding their own against the stellar young running back, Jonathan Taylor, holding him to 45 yards on the ground through two quarters.

The second half started off pretty favorably for the Wolverines as well as they took a 10-7 lead on a 39 yard field goal by Quinn Nordin halfway through the quarter. But the Badgers responded, led by quarterback Alex Hornibrook, on a 24 yard TD strike to A.J. Taylor to take a 14-10 lead.

Then on the next drive, Peters went down with an injury and Michigan looked lost and out of sync, both offensively and defensively. The Badgers next drive after the injury to U of M’s QB resulted in another TD and a 21-10 lead. Backup quarterback John O’Korn completed only two passes out of eight attempts and the ground game was no help. Chris Evans was the leading rusher with 25 yards on 11 totes.

Once the Badgers took the lead, it allowed them to feed Taylor to eat up clock and he ended the game with 132 yard rushing on 19 carries. The Badgers ended up kicking another field goal to end the game 24-10.

As for the implications this game had for both teams, the Wisconsin Badgers ran their record to 11-0 and a battle with Minnesota for Paul Bunyan’s Axe next week in Minneapolis. The Wolverines dropped to 8-3 and return to Ann Arbor for The Game against Ohio State.

The Badgers added a quality win to their resume and are still in line for the College Football Playoff if they beat the Golden Gophers next week and the Buckeyes in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship game.

The Wolverines head into next week trying to beat their biggest rival at home and will be trying to reach ten wins if they can beat OSU and win their bowl game.

A tale of two halves and a tale of two different seasons for these Big Ten foes.

 

Where Have You Gone Open Receivers?

by Mark Edwards

We’ve all heard it before when the 20/20 hindsight groups breakdown Michigan’s 2017 passing game.  The blame started with Wilton Speight, then moved to the offensive line and then the lack of a dominant run game which eliminated quality play action passing.  The honest, blunt truth is that the Michigan passing game has held back this team all season.

Sure, there have been flashes of efficiency like Florida’s Tarik Black deep ball and Chris Evans running wheel routes out of the backfield.  Those are good things to see but the Michigan attack has been far too inconsistent this season.  But if we just stop at the 20/20 view that Michigan is struggling to throw the ball, we are selling ourselves short of true analysis.

Whether it be Big Ten Network, the local newspaper writers or the ESPN staff, none of them have dug deeper to see how the passing game has changed from year one of Harbaugh to year three of Har-ball.  When Jim Harbaugh replaced Brady Hoke, he brought Jedd Fisch on board as the passing game coordinator.  We were impressed by Fisch’s credentials of having worked for Steve Spurrier to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  If 2017 has proven anything, I think those credentials continue to impress so many followers of college football.

When Fisch left for UCLA, Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and hired Pep Hamilton as his passing game coordinator.  Due to the playcalling style of the offensive staff, we have to believe that Hamilton is in the same exact position that Fisch held in 2015 & 2016.

So what’s the difference?

2015 & 2016 – It was always something new and unique

In the first two years of the Harbaugh Era, film study shows us a great propensity to throw the ball downfield and a premium was placed on creative play design.  I acknowledge that Michigan had two NFL rostered wide receivers and the best tight end in college football who will at some point make his NFL debut.  With that being said, Michigan didn’t just say, “Go win the 1-on-1 matchup.”  That was not the approach of the Fisch-led passing game.

I have pulled two clips to show you that by mid-season of 2015, Michigan was running pass schemes that broke keys for defensive teams.  Defenses “key” up what Michigan has shown them by assigning different defenders to react based on movements from the Michigan offensive personnel.

In our first example, Fisch against BYU knows that the Cougar linebackers are keying the running back movements.  While there are many ways to combat this offensively, Fisch designed a double-screen look while letting Tight End (and now Fullback) Khalid Hill to basically be “left alone.”

It’s not just the execution of the play, it’s how the design turned the defensive coaching staff at BYU into liars for their players…albeit just for one play.  Fisch was showing new wrinkles weekly and it made Michigan really difficult to prepare for.

In the second example, you see Michigan run play action to the left and Rudock boots back to his right.  It is very similar to Brian Griese in 1997.  The intricacy of the design is that the TE starts his customary drag across the field.  As the Northwestern secondary recognizes the movement, Jake Butt plants his foot and redirects to the left which is not some the Wildcats had seen.

Why was the play so successful?  Was it scheme or athletes?  I would argue that it’s 100% scheme and that has to go to Fisch.  When you design pass routes to break “keys”, you will find open space for receivers (even tight ends) to work in.

2017 – A NFL Approach

With the addition of Pep Hamilton, Michigan’s 2017 passing game is well-grounded in solid football theory.  Anyone who argues that it’s not is just plain goofy and deserves to be on the C’mon Man segment before Monday Night Football.  However, as you look at this year’s passing game, there is a CLEAR philosophical difference between that of the former passing coordinator.

Pep Hamilton came to Michigan from the Cleveland Browns.  He is a really good coach and I believe he is a good teacher of the game.  The NFL game is so different because there is parity in the talent around the league.  Any team can win on any given Sunday…even the Browns (I think).  The NFL passing game comes down to one thing.  Match ups.  Where the 2015-16 offense had great players AND an evolving week-to-week scheme, the 2017 offense is built on winning the match up.

The problem is that Michigan isn’t ready to win the 1-on-1 match up.  Their best option to win that match up is TE Zach Gentry versus a linebacker.  However, that has not shown up in a down-the-field manner.  So we can deduce that the short-range design of the NFL passing schemes is what we see from 2017 Michigan.

In our first example, you see a TD pass from Speight to Grant Perry vs. Cincinnati on a “Layers” concept.  The route is a shallow cross out of a four-wide set.  How is this NFL like?  Substitute Julian Edelman for Perry and it looks like the Patriots.  Does Perry win the route?  Yes.  Have we seen it since?  No.  It’s not a design-based play, it’s a player A vs. player B play.  Michigan wins a few of those but the victories have been very infrequent.

You can see that Hamilton puts Perry and Donovan Peoples-Jones mirror each other across the field horizontally.  This allows the tight ends to play outside/deeper down th efield and is a staple of the ’12 personnel.’

In this second example from last week’s game, you see a classic “Mesh” concept.  Two receivers run shallow crosses with a 10-yard dig behind it.  This is where you see Michigan with Gentry and McKeon play a lot of snaps in the passing game.  However, if you substitute NFL caliber tight ends and slots for the Michigan personnel, now it’s about who can beat the defender.

Michigan is very successful with the “Mesh” concept and actually used three tight ends.  Michigan actually forced Maryland to bust a zone coverage.  But once again, match ups dictate the day.

In conclusion, the major differences are the coaching philosophy of how to scheme a collegiate passing game.  Fisch believed in the scheme exacerbating the defensive personnel while Hamilton has said, “Get great athletes in space and they will be defenders who aren’t quite as fast.”

For Michigan to win the final two regular season games of 2017, I think the nuances of 2015-16 will need to appear because I am not convinced that you will see multiple match ups that Michigan will win consistently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game Prediction: Michigan @ Wisconsin

College Gameday: An ESPN tradition since 1993. This week Rece Davis, Lee Corso and the rest of the crew will be headed back to Madison, Wisconsin, where the Wolverines of Michigan will take on the Wisconsin Badgers. What helmet or mascot head will Corso put on this week?

Wisconsin is coming into this game with an unblemished 10-0 record and the number five ranking in the latest CFB Playoff poll, released this past Tuesday. Michigan, on the other hand, is ranked 24th in the newest poll with an 8-2 record.

This game has big implications for both teams, albeit a little larger for the Badgers. A win for them adds a quality W to their resume, which many people around the country feel they are sorely lacking. It also will strengthen their case to get into the playoff.

Michigan is heading into this one having reeled of three straight wins in the Big Ten (vs. Rutgers, vs. Minnesota, at Maryland) and has got to be feeling good about how they’ve played for the most part. The run game has really stepped up and the defense is still playing at an extremely high level.

I believe there are two key players that will decide the outcome of this game, one from each side.

Jonathan Taylor, the explosive freshman running back for Wisconsin, comes into this game with over 1,500 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns. He’s also averaging close to seven yards a carry and has gotten stronger and better each game. He is a sneaky, dark horse, Heisman candidate, especially if the Badgers can run the table. Will Michigan’s defense be up to the tall task of slowing Taylor down?

As for the Michigan side, I think it will come down to the play of redshirt freshman QB Brandon Peters. While he has only attempted 46 passes so far, he has thrown four TDs to zero interceptions. But he hasn’t gone up against the stiffest of competition, Wisconsin will be his toughest test to date. I believe Michigan will try to get the ground game going, but you cannot be one-dimensional and Peters will have to complete big throws, especially on third down. Will he be up to the job of hitting his receivers when the time calls for it?

Now onto the prediction. I think this will be a good, close game for the most part and will be a toss-up. While most people are probably choosing the home team to pull it out, I think the visiting Victors may surprise some folks. But I am going to take a line from the legendary Lee Corso and say “Give me that Badger!”

Wisconsin 24, Michigan 20.

Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.