Evan: I do. Can you guess what I’m upset about this week?
Alex: Uh… the defense letting up in the 4th quarter?
Evan: No. The exact opposite.
Alex: I should’ve figured.
Evan: HOW DOES THIS TEAM COME OUT SLOW EVERY WEEK?!? (Shout out to Nick Hornburg for the all caps inspiration). But seriously, Michigan trailed 7-3 at the end of the first quarter. They honestly were excellent the rest of the way, but the slow start (at home this week nonetheless) still worries me.
Alex: I get the sentiment, but this week was a different sort of “slow start”. The first several drives typically gained at least 40 yards and Maryland was doing nothing offensively. There was just a couple mistakes that prevented the execution early. But despite the score at the end of the first quarter, the game was never close.
Evan: It’s that lack of early execution that scares me though. Maybe not even as much this week against Wisconsin, but moving forward. If Michigan goes down early to MSU, we know Dantonio is willing to run out the clock. If Penn State builds an early lead, I don’t know if Michigan has the firepower to keep up in a shootout. And one thing we can be sure of is that an early deficit at Columbus is akin to a death sentence. Maybe I’m overreacting. We’ll find out soon enough.
Alex: As for my observations, I thought this was probably Patterson’s best game at Michigan. He was accurate on nearly all of his throws, made universally good decisions, extended plays, and didn’t try to do too much. He was crisp and right on the money play after play. It was also another strong game from the offensive line which will now finally get a big test this week, but to see them consistently give Patterson time, even against a pretty mediocre/bad team, is very encouraging given how low we were on this unit post-Notre Dame.
Evan: Whoa whoa whoa. A mediocre/bad team? This team beat Texas. And Texas just beat Oklahoma. Meaning Texas is back. At the end of the year, we can say we beat the team that was the last team to beat Texas before they came back.
Alex: That will probably be the best that Maryland will have to brag about at year’s end. Before we get into Wisconsin, it’s worth noting that this is the official midpoint of the season. Michigan is 5-1, #12 in the country according to the polls. However, in the advanced metrics Michigan is ranked as high as #5 (S&P+). So I’ll pose a question to you…. which one of those rankings is Michigan closer to in your eyes?
Evan: That is a tough question. I’m copping out. Here are the teams that I know are better than Michigan today: Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Clemson. The teams I would group with Michigan are: Notre Dame, Penn State, Washington, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, LSU. Right behind that group I would have: West Virginia, UCF, Wisconsin, Miami, Oregon, Colorado, NC State. I think Michigan probably falls halfway in between their advanced metric ranking and poll ranking. I think we are going to have a much better feel for where they stand in three weeks, and I refuse to answer your question because it’s hard and reminds me of all the exams I’ve taken this week.
Alex: What a pathetic answer. Where are the hot takes? I think the way Michigan has been playing the last number of weeks puts them in the top 10 but they have to earn that status, and that requires finally winning some big games. Beating a top 15 Wisconsin team at home at night on GameDay and then beating your rival in their stadium the next week would do that in my eyes. So for now, I have no real issues where the Wolverines are ranked.
Evan: Here I’ll give you a hot take. Michigan will be undefeated in games where Patterson throws for 250+ yards and has two more total touchdowns than turnovers. ...that actually really wasn’t a hot take, so here’s a real one: Michigan (10-1) vs OSU (11-0) will be #2 vs #4. I think by that time, Alabama will still be sitting pretty at number 1, OSU will be at 2, Clemson at 3, and Michigan at 4. Neither team should lose before then. It’s a hot take for a reason, but the advanced metrics are on my side with that one.
Alex: It’s 2016 all over again! I appreciate the #hottake. A lot of time to go before then, however. And Michigan has
Evan: I have one more hot take for you: despite only one Wolverine currently on most first round draft boards, three or more Wolverines will be taken on the first night of the NFL draft, and at least eight total Wolverines will be drafted (Gary, Winovich, Bush, Hudson, Long, Hill, Patterson, Hart).
Alex: I don’t think both Long and Hill will be drafted and I’m a bit skeptical on Hart. Otherwise sure. Shall we get onto the Badgers?
Evan: The only reason one of them wouldn’t get drafted is if they came back, but sure, let’s talk about one of the most overrated teams in the country. Let me lay out two scenarios for you:
Team A: 4-1, only loss is @ Penn State in overtime; 12th overall per S&P+, 13th offense, 41st defense, 41st special teams
Team B: 4-1, only loss is to Utah State at home; 13th over per S&P+, 8th offense, 55th defense, 23rd special teams
I’ll let you guess in a second, but let me talk a bit more about Team B. Team B has a great running back and a strong offensive line. Against 5 opponents with an average S&P+ ranking of 77.2, that running game has allowed them to control the tempo of the game, and get first downs at will. Their passing game is relatively week, and their defense has struggled at times (most notably by allowing over 500 yards to Nebraska). They are a tough team to play, but very beatable.
Alex: Team A is App. State who are surprisingly good this year and could push for a NY6 bowl game, while Team B is Wisconsin. And yes, the Badgers are very beatable. Their offense might be the best they’ve had in Madison since Russell Wilson quarterbacked for them. Jonathan Taylor is a star and their offensive line gives Junior QB Alex Hornibrook plenty of time to throw on every play. His consistency is still a bit of an issue, bouncing between NFL caliber throws and the occasional wounded duck. That said, this is not a typical Wisconsin defense. They lack the pass rushers that they’ve had in the past and their secondary is a major weakness right now, at least in part due to injuries.
Evan: That secondary should be very exploitable this week. In fact, Michigan’s next 3 opponents, while all formidable matchups, have all had problems in the secondary this season. Shea Patterson is hitting his groove, and at the right time. I think that’s important given some of the injuries Michigan has on its own defense. The key matchup in this game is going to be the Wisconsin rushing attack against Michigan’s front 7. With Aubrey Solomon still out, not having Rashan Gary and Michael Dwumfour would put a lot of pressure on the Wolverine linebackers.
Alex: Injuries are going to be a factor in this game. Michigan has question marks on the defensive line with Gary, Dwumfour, and Kemp, while Wisconsin’s secondary is dealing with injuries to starting CB Caesar Williams and star SS D’Cota Dixon, as well as not having starting FS Scott Nelson for the first half due to a targeting penalty. To me, the game rests on Shea Patterson’s ability to attack the Wisconsin secondary and create offense through the air. It’s been a long time since Michigan beat an opponent primarily through the aerial attack and yet that might be the easiest path to victory for the Wolverines.
Evan: I’d argue it has only been 5 days since Michigan beat an opponent primarily through the air.
Alex: Let’s clarify that to *big* opponent.
Evan: Fair, and I know Higdon had 103 yards but Michigan opened up the field with the Patterson passing attack early and often. This is the first time I’ve been confident in a Michigan quarterback since Jake Rudock, and the first time that’s been combined with a star loaded team around said quarterback since the Lloyd Carr days. This Michigan team could still very well fall apart, but all the pieces are in place. It should come together Saturday in a big way.
Alex: Let’s wrap it up with the usual: thing to watch, score, MVP.
Evan: I’m watching for Michigan’s receivers to get open quickly by creating separation at the line and running sharp routes. This should be a big game for Patterson, who is my MVP pick, but it starts with the recievers. I’ll go 31-21 Michigan, with Wisconsin scoring touchdowns early and late but Michigan controlling most of the game.
Alex: I’m watching to see how Michigan’s vaunted defensive ends, Winovich and Gary (if he’s playing) do against the best offensive line in the country. Can the Wolverines get consistent pressure on Hornibrook? If the answer is yes, it could be a long night for the Badger offense. My prediction is Michigan 24-16, with the MVP being Donovan Peoples-Jones.