Big Ten bat­tle

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

No. 12 Michi­gan has waited for an op­por­tu­nity to earn an im­pres­sive vic­tory since suf­fer­ing a seven-point loss in its sea­son opener at Notre Dame. The wait ends tonight when the Wolver­ines host No. 15 Wis­con­sin in what may prove to be a piv­otal game in the Big Ten cham­pi­onship race.

ANN AR­BOR, Mich. — No. 12 Michi­gan is un­de­feated since open­ing with a seven-point loss at Notre Dame, build­ing mo­men­tum and con­fi­dence while wait­ing for its next op­por­tu­nity to earn an im­pres­sive vic­tory.

The Wolver­ines (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) won’t have to wait much longer.

No. 15 Wis­con­sin (4-1, 2-0) is com­ing to play un­der the lights tonight at the Big House in what may prove to be a piv­otal game in the con­fer­ence’s cham­pi­onship race.

“Ev­ery­body knew that this was go­ing to be a big game from the be­gin­ning of the year,” Michi­gan guard Ben Bre­deson said. “The Bad­gers are al­ways good. We’re al­ways good.”

The Bad­gers have been great in Big Ten play dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, win­ning a record 17 con­sec­u­tive, but they’re eight-point un­der­dogs.

“We get to find out who we are as a team against one of the best teams on our sched­ule,” Wis­con­sin safety D’Cota Dixon said. “It will be fun. It will be ex­cit­ing. It will be a chal­lenge.”

Michi­gan will know a lot more about its team soon af­ter host­ing the Bad­gers, play­ing at Michi­gan State and fac­ing No. 8 Penn State in its next three games.

“This is an im­por­tant stretch for our sea­son,” Bre­deson ac­knowl­edged. “I think every­one is a lot tighter this week, mak­ing sure that all the de­tails are in or­der and that noth­ing is be­ing left be­hind.”

Star sopho­more Jonathan Tay­lor draws most of the at­ten­tion in the back­field as the na­tion’s lead­ing rusher, av­er­ag­ing 169.8 yards per game. His back­ups aren’t too bad ei­ther.

Gar­rett Groshek has emerged as Wis­con­sin’s pri­mary third-down back and a key player in 2-minute sit­u­a­tions. The for­mer quar­ter­back is third on the team in both rush­ing and re­ceiv­ing. Tai­wan Deal can also pro­vide valu­able snaps to spell Tay­lor. He ran for a sea­son-high 74 yards on 10 car­ries last week against Ne­braska, in­clud­ing a ca­reer-best 20-yard touch­down run.

Michi­gan Coach Jim Har­baugh, who has run his share of unique plays, said he scouts what trick plays an op­pos­ing coach has run in pre­vi­ous years.

“Of­fen­sively and de­fen­sively, schemat­i­cally, you pre­pare for things, even though you haven’t seen them,” he said. “You’re al­ways on the alert for what could hap­pen.”

In­juries are pil­ing up in Wis­con­sin’s young sec­ondary. Corner­backs Cae­sar Wil­liams and Tra­vian Blay­lock missed last week’s game with leg in­juries, and Deron Har­rell left the Ne­braska game in the sec­ond quar­ter with a head in­jury. They’re all listed as ques­tion­able.

The Bad­gers turned to an­other fresh­man, Rachad Wild­goose, when Har­rell went down. What may hurt just as much is the ab­sence of safety Scott Nel­son, who will miss the first half of the Michi­gan game af­ter be­ing flagged for tar­get­ing in the sec­ond half against Ne­braska. The Huskers were able to con­nect on a cou­ple deep balls ver­sus Nel­son.

Some Michi­gan fans have been crit­i­cal of Shea Pat­ter­son on so­cial me­dia, and Har­baugh chose to dif­fuse the sit­u­a­tion by sid­ing with his daugh­ter’s anal­y­sis of the quar­ter­back.

“Let me put it to you this way: My 7-year-old daugh­ter Katie, who plays no sports,” Har­baugh said. “Doesn’t want to play sports. Doesn’t want to be in­volved in sports. She’s do­ing Girl Scouts. Even Katie says the quar­ter­back is play­ing very well.”

What about the crit­ics who say the of­fense isn’t in­ter­est­ing?

“I’ll go with Katie,” Har­baugh said.

Wis­con­sin kicker Rafael Gaglianone is a field goal away from the 66th of his ca­reer, a to­tal that would break the school record set by Todd Gre­goire from 1984 to 1987. He has missed only one of six field goals this sea­son.

“I’ve been for­tu­nate to have been around him,” Coach Paul Chryst said.

AP/MORRY GASH

Wis­con­sin’s Jonathan Tay­lor (left), who av­er­ages 169.8 yards rush­ing per game, leads the No. 15 Bad­gers against No. 12 Michi­gan in Ann Ar­bor, Mich., tonight.

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