The Wisconsin football team is taking the undefeated Michigan Wolverines this Saturday at home. The Badgers are entering their first week as an unranked team, while Michigan has been rising up the poll this year and are all the way up to no. 14.
This is a big game for the Badgers. A win over the Wolverines would help make the Wisconsin football fanbase feel more at ease, especially if the offense can get going.
To learn a little more about the 2021 Michigan Wolverines, we turned to GBM Wolverine contributor Josh LaFond. He gave some great insight on the Badgers’ Week 5 opponent.
What’s your honest assessment of the Michigan football team this year? Are they for real?
Good but not great. There are some serious questions regarding the passing game, the potency of this offense, and whether or not after last week’s nail-biting win over Rutgers the first three dominating wins were a mirage or legit.
Whether or not they’re “for real”? I don’t know. I think this game against Wisconsin will say a lot for Michigan’s potential the rest of the way. The offense as a whole is very talented. Rushing leader Blake Corum (who mind you splits carries with Hassan Haskins) has himself in Heisman Trophy conversations and is the nation’s leading all-purpose yard player. The issues come down to quarterback play. Cade McNamara has really struggled in his first season as a starter. Many fans look to freshman 5-star phenom J.J. McCarthy as the answer. But is he really going to start this week? Unlikely. The offense is clearly one-dimensional right now with McNamara at the helm and until he gets replaced by McCarthy or a fire is lit under his rear end it’s probably going to stay a run-heavy offense for the foreseeable future.
The result of this game will say a lot about whether Michigan will contend for the division again, or be staring down the barrel of another mediocre season.
Who is a Michigan player that Wisconsin football fans may not know, but should before the game?
J.J. McCarthy. The 5-star true freshman phenom I alluded to previously likely won’t start this week but should expect to get some run in this game. Listen, Cade McNamara — Michigan’s starting QB — hasn’t been great at all. He has hit receivers in stride on wide-open deep balls but other than that, he has been mediocre at best.
As Michigan’s offense currently sits, they are running 75% of the time and passing the other 25%. That’s not just out of choice, it’s out of necessity. Cade has had major issues in the read-option game, almost always handing it off when there is absolutely no one home on the edge. Inserting an athletic freak like McCarthy in would at least make the Badger defense respect the QB run enough that the Wolverines can get back to running the ball for 3-4 yds per attempt.
What makes this Michigan team different from others that were supposed to be the real deal?
As each week progresses they are making the 2020 season look more like an anomaly and less like the new normal. That “covid” season saw Michigan drop their in-state rivalry game to arguably the worst Michigan State Spartan team in over 20 years, get decimated by the Hoosiers in Bloomington, obliterated by the Wisconsin football team in Ann Arbor, and drop their last game of the season to a Penn State team that had more questions than the Regis Philbin on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”
However, this team does seem different. They have more of the traditional look that Jim Harbaugh’s better teams have had a la 2015, 2016, and 2018. They are playing more together and the defense is led by first-year coordinator Mike — don’t call me Doobie Brother — McDonald has abandoned the aggressive principles that Michigan used on defense under Don Brown, and returned to a more typical Bo Schembechler, Llyod Carr bend but don’t break defense. They look tough in that regard.
The cohesion of the staff, the selflessness of the players, and the return to traditional Michigan football the way God intended it has many Michigan fans feeling like this team has special potential.
What would you say is the strongest positional unit of this Michigan team?
The running backs.
Michigan features darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate Blake Corum, two-year starter Hassan Haskins, and 5-star true freshman Donovan Edwards. On any other team, any of those three would be a true bell-cow back, but here in Ann Arbor, they share the load.
Michigan’s all-time rushing leader Mike Hart has returned after several years coaching the RBs at Indiana to coach the same position here. He’s done a great job helping Corum and Haskins to improve while still getting Edwards valuable touches. Corum is your home run hitter, pass-catching back. Haskins, the thunder to Corum’s lightning, a true pound the rock type of runner. And Edwards batting clean-up duty. It’s a strong stable and arguably the most talented position group on the roster.
The Wisconsin football team has one of the best run defenses in the country. What chances do you give Michigan if they can neutralize Blake Corum and the Wolverine running attack?
Slim to none if Michigan plays Cade McNamara all day. Like I mentioned regarding Michigan’s strongest position group, the running backs even outside of Blake Corum are stout.
The issue will be whether or not Cade McNamara wakes up and decides to be a competent Big Ten quarterback, or Jim Harbaugh finally decides to give the future of the program, J.J. McCarthy a shot. If he does stick with McNamara, and it’s the same guy under center we’ve seen through 4-weeks, it’s going to be a horrible game and with the advantage the Wisconsin defense has, it is probably a loss for the Wolverines.
What’s your prediction for the game?
It’s going to be ugly. I don’t trust Cade McNamara to put Michigan on his back and no offense, I sure as heck don’t trust Graham Mertz to do the same for Wisconsin. To me, this game is going to come down to Michigan’s stellar offensive line and elite stable of running backs versus the best defense in the Big Ten and arguably the country.
I believe the reason Michigan only beat Rutgers by a score of 20-13 last week wasn’t that they are that bad, but rather because they were planning for the Wisconsin football game. I expect to see some wrinkles we haven’t seen to date yet, and J.J. McCarthy worked into the offense either for a series or an extended period of time. The dynamic player he is will put the Badger defense is enough conflict it should in theory open up the rest of the run game for Michigan.
It’ll be a close one and I could truly see this going either way. But being the homer that I am I have Michigan winning 24-17.