Wisconsin football takes on Michigan this weekend in the biggest game of the Badgers’ season.
This season hasn’t gone quite as expected for the Wisconsin football team. Yes, the Badgers are 4-1, still in the thick of things for the Big Ten West title, and currently ranked 15th in the AP Poll. But the Badgers should be undefeated at this point and still hanging around the top five.
The Badgers have a bad habit of starting games slowly. Whether it takes a while to get the offensive line warmed up or Paul Chryst just likes to feel out the opposing defense before he gets the ball rolling, it isn’t the most fun product to watch. It has only bit the Badgers once since they’re able to eventually get going to a level that dominates the opposition. That’s not going to be good enough for the Badgers this weekend though.
Wisconsin can certainly win this game but only in one of two ways. The Badgers will have to grind it out as they did against Iowa, or they’ll have to boat race the Wolverines and simply score more points than the defense gives up. That sounds extremely redundant, but the defense might be in a spot the give up 30+ this weekend.
The most likely path to victory for the Badgers is to play a slow, methodical game and limit the amount of time Michigan’s offense (and Wisconsin’s defense) is on the field. The more Wisconsin wins the time of possession Saturday night, the greater chance it has to win.
Wisconsin hasn’t been making big plays too frequently this year. A few big runs from Jonathan Taylor are obviously something I won’t wish against, but too many big or hurried plays will only create more time for Shea Patterson to pick apart a Wisconsin secondary that’s in shambles.
Wisconsin is the underdog in this game. The Wolverines have been playing better, they’re the favorite, they’re at home, and they’re ranked higher. The path to victory for underdogs is shortening the game. That’s what Wisconsin is built to do, and that’s what they must do. The other path to victory isn’t something that favors Wisconsin’s playing style or skillset.
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The second scenario involves Wisconsin playing as if the defense doesn’t matter. Who cares if Michigan has the ball a lot if Wisconsin is going to put up 35+ points of its own? This method of victory has a few prerequisites though. First, the Badgers must be able to pass the ball. It doesn’t have to be a lot if Taylor is able to break free for a few long runs, but Alex Hornibrook must be a threat to some extent. He’s flashed his arm a few times this year, so this shouldn’t be asking too much.
The other box Wisconsin must check off if it wants to play this style of game with Michigan is something it hasn’t done much this year. It needs some chunk plays. The late 88-yard run Taylor pulled off against Nebraska is a perfect example of this. Just when you think Wisconsin is about to settle in for another long drive that’ll test the defense, there’s suddenly a jailbreak and momentum flips to the Badger sideline.
Last, the turnover battle has to be won too. It’ll be tough to go toe-to-toe with the Michigan offense (mostly because they’ll be up against the Wisconsin defense) if Wisconsin can’t steal away a few bonus drives to help even things out.
This second scenario would be the far more stressful and least desirable method of victory.
Wisconsin is going to need to play its best game of the season to beat the Wolverines. The odds are stacked against the Badgers in many ways and the gameplan has to be very clear. There isn’t room for mistakes in the Big House.