There was a time when Wisconsin wanted to be like Michigan. Now the two are equals getting ready for an epic contest on Saturday that will help shape the Big Ten and national landscape
#GotDefense? is all the rage when you talk about Wisconsin and Michigan these days, and it just so happens that they two are playing next Saturday, both with unblemished records and fantastical dreams still in-tow.
Take a moment to consider what these two teams on a collision course bring to the table, and what this contest will likely mean for the Big Ten race — and perhaps beyond. Both were impressive last weekend, and both will be looking to make a statement in Ann Arbor at 3:30 PM Eastern this coming Saturday.
To see how impressive both of these teams are, all you need to do is dive into the numbers, and it doesn’t even have to be a deep dive, just a shallow swim in a pool of defensive data.
Michigan – 272 yards per game
Wisconsin – 277 yards per game
Michigan – 13.8 points per game
Wisconsin – 11.75 points per game
3rd Down Def. Conversion %:
Michigan – .276
Wisconsin – .312
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game:
Michigan – 122.5 yards per game
Wisconsin – 80.5 yards per game
The comparisons don’t end there.
We may have seen Michigan get away from its roots with Rich Rodriguez and his crazy mad-scientist offense that never quite felt right dressed in Maize and Blue, but in the DNA of Wolverine football is a strong running game, stout defense, and big play-action passes down the field.
Jim Harbaugh may have brought khakis back to the sideline, but he’s also wrestled and wrangled that same mantra back to the Big House as well. Heck, he even spits on himself on the sidelines:
Yep, khakis and spit. That’s about as manly as chest hair, muscle cars, and the consumption of copious amounts of meat products.
But wait. Wisconsin knows about testosterone and grease too.
Truth be known, when Barry Alvarez took over the Badger program back in 1990, he likely looked at the Michigan program as one to pattern after, and one to shoot for.
Slowly but surely, he built the culture of the Wisconsin program around some of the same principles. It may have been a little more slanted towards boots on the ground, but the nasty, tough game full of mud, brats, and beer is what brought the Badger brand into the spotlight of today.
And those same blueprints still exist on both sidelines as we head into this matchup.
It’ll be a war of attrition, with two heavyweights slogging each other across the chin. Each will be battered, beaten and will fall on the mat more than once. Both will need to get up off that same mat and just keep grinding and trading blows until that final bell rings and one is left standing. Heck, it might take extra time for all we know.
So who wins this contest? Your guess is as good as mine because despite what we’ve seen, we still don’t know how each will matchup against each other once the masterpiece begins to be painted on this pristine Big Ten canvas.
The game is in Ann Arbor, so you’d like to think that gives Michigan the edge, but then again, we’ve seen the Wolverines get run off their own field under Harbaugh before in a big game (see Ezekiel Elliot as a footnote to the Michigan game last year).
He is still occasionally trolling Michigan well after the 42-13 beat down last year:
But this is about Wisconsin and Michigan, not The Game. Not yet. We would do the latest big one in the Big Ten a disservice without giving it due time and attention. Right now.
Michigan also has the most dynamic player that will suit up Saturday. His name? Jabrill Peppers. Yep. He’ll line up at safety, linebacker, wide-receiver, running back, cornerback, and perhaps team doctor too if given the chance. And that’s without sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express on Friday night.
That should give the edge to the Wolverines in the big play department, as well as special teams, but you just never know.
On Wisconsin’s side, you can find reason for extreme optimism as well. The Badgers are road-tested, and college football approved. They went up to Green Bay and beat an athletic LSU team by punching it right in the whiskers.
And against Michigan State?
A big play defense created four turnovers — baffling and frustrating a Spartan defense that usually does the same to its defensive opposition. The result, was something that hasn’t happened against Michigan State at home in a substantial amount of time:
Aside from a fluttering of butterflies in the first half against Colorado, Michigan has not had much adversity, or really gone toe-to-toe against a team capable of matching wits. How will it respond when a sweaty-palm affair breaks out next week?
And for all the points the Wolverines have put up, aside from a Penn State defense riddled by youth and injury, they have yet to show consistency in the running game. That plays right into a Wisconsin defense that thrives on stopping one-dimensional offenses.
I’d like to say enough talk, but still got a few days to get ready for what should be a Donnybrook of game. But you can get ready now. Board up the house, order the pizza and wings now, and clear the decks with yard work and honey-do-lists so come Saturday, you can retreat to wherever it is that can allow for throaty yells, chest thumping and fist pumps.
Phil Harrison is the lead Big Ten writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Catch his analysis and opinion all-season long.