Michigan riding into UW game with renewed confidence
MADISON – Minutes after his team closed out the month of October with an embarrassing 42-13 loss at Penn State, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was asked what the future would hold.
The Wolverines were 2-2 in the Big Ten, seemingly already out of the East Division race, and 5-2 overall.
“We endure and be better,” he said. “We are going to regroup and come back.”
After three consecutive victories, the Wolverines (8-2, 5-2) appear poised to spoil the playoff hopes of Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0), which is 10-0 for the first time in program history.
But is the Wolverines’ winning streak the result of improvement across the board or largely the result of playing Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland?
Those teams are 7-14 in Big Ten play and 13-17 overall.
“All the focus is on Wisconsin,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst told the Detroit Free Press after the Wolverines extended their winning streak to three games with a 35-10 decision over host Maryland last week. “That’s a huge game on the road.
“We want to keep things rolling, make sure we’re practicing hard and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Michigan’s formula in the last three weeks hasn’t been complicated:
Run the football. Give the quarterback safe, high-percentage throws. And let one of the better defenses in the nation terrorize the opponent.
Michigan rushed 51 times for 334 yards (6.5-yard average) and four touchdowns in a 35-14 victory over Rutgers.
Michigan rushed 37 times for 371 yards (10.0-yard average) and four touchdowns in a 33-10 victory at Minnesota.
Michigan rushed 38 times for 160 yards (4.2-yard average) and three touchdowns in the 35-10 victory over Maryland.
“I really think this might have been our best ballgame,” Harbaugh said after the victory over Maryland. “All three phases, there was so much good.
“Three-and-outs by our defense. Special teams blocked a punt . ... Offensively pretty sound. No turnovers. We were able to make the big play. Very efficient.
“Effort was great and we were finishing down after down. It was really solid football.”
Redshirt freshman Brandon Peters has given the Wolverines solid quarterback play during the streak.
Michigan lost starter Wilton Speight to injury in Week 4 at Purdue and backup John O’Korn was inconsistent. He was 3 of 6 for 13 yards, with an interception, early against Rutgers when Harbaugh made the move to Peters.
Peters completed 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown against Rutgers and has started the last two games.
His primary job at Minnesota was to hand off and watch his backs run through cavernous holes but he completed 8 of 13 attempts for 56 yards and a touchdown. He was 9 of 18 for 145 yards and two touchdowns at Maryland.
Penn State rolled up 506 total yards in the victory over the Wolverines but the Nittany Lions’ scheme is dramatically different from UW’s.
Michigan has allowed a combined 699 yards during its three-game winning streak, an average of 233 yards per game.
UW’S NEXT OPPONENT: MICHIGAN (8-2, 5-2)
Wisconsin plays Michigan at 11 a.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. Here’s the scouting report on the Wolverines:
The Wolverines have rushed for a combined 865 yards and 11 touchdowns in their three-game winning streak and enter the game No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing at 207.8 yards per game.
But will the Wolverines have all their backs available Saturday?
Karan Higdon, who leads the team in rushing yards (854) and rushing touchdowns (10), suffered an ankle injury against Maryland. Ty Isaac (548 yards, two touchdowns) has missed the last two games. That left Chris Evans (569 yards, six touchdowns) to carry the load last week. He carried 15 times for 80 yards and two scores. The Wolverines are at their best when they can rotate their tailbacks.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters is set to make his third consecutive start. Peters (28 of 46 for 349 yards) has been given safe throws. Tight end Sean McKeon leads the team in catches (25) and is second on the team in receiving yards (256).
Ten starters departed after last season and the Wolverines still field one of the more stingy units in the Big Ten under coordinator Don Brown.
The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten in total defense (254.8 ypg) and third in scoring defense (16.4 ppg) and lead the Big Ten in opponents’ thirddown conversion rate (23.7%)
The front four is led by end Chase Winovich (seven sacks, 13 1⁄2 tackles for loss), tackle Maurice Hurst (4 1⁄2 sacks, 12 1⁄2 tackles for loss) and end Rashan Gary (three sacks, eight tackles for loss).
The linebackers are fast and physical. Devin Bush leads the team in tackles (82) and passes broken up (eight). He is one of three players with at least five sacks and one of five with at least nine tackles for loss.
Fellow linebacker Mike McCray also has nine tackles for loss and is second on the team in tackles with 61. Khaleke Hudson leads the team in tackles for loss with 14 1⁄2 and has two interceptions. He had a Big Ten-record eight tackles for loss at Minnesota. Can UW’s blockers get clean shots on the mobile linebackers? If not, UW’s ground game will struggle.
Quinn Nordin has made 14 of 19 fieldgoal attempts but those numbers include three consecutive misses. He missed his only attempt at Maryland, from 31 yards.
Michigan’s most explosive return man is Donovan Peoples-Jones. The freshman wide receiver is averaging only 8.5 yards per return but he had a 79-yard touchdown return against Air Force and returns of 17 yards against Rutgers and 14 against Minnesota. With field position expected to be critical, every yard will count.