UM mailbag: Running on Badgers; UM’s year in 2018

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan is making final preparations for its final road game of the season at No. 5 Wisconsin, unbeaten and potentially a playoff team. The mailbag wasn’t full of quarterback questions for a change. Instead, there was a good mix of subjects, so here goes:

■ Question: Prediction on rushing yards for Michigan? Oh and I discovered airplanes! Flying in for the OSU game on the 25th Go blue! — @jritcheske

Chris Evans and the rest of the Michigan running attack will face a stiff test in Wisconsin’s top-ranked run defense.

■ Answer: First of all, John, congratulations on discovering the wonders of air travel instead of driving ALL those miles. Well done! This is a tough one. Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 nationally against the run, yielding an average 81.5 yards a game. The Badgers have only allowed four opponents to climb above 100 yards rushing, including Maryland on Oct. 21 rushing for 143 and Illinois a week later gaining 134. But since then, it’s been a different story. Two weeks ago, they allowed only 40 yards rushing at Indiana, and of Iowa’s 66 yards last week, 25 came on the ground. All that said, the Wolverines have been running the ball better in recent weeks and that has gone hand in hand with the offensive line’s improved run blocking. No one is suggesting that Michigan has averaged 288 yards the last three games against top Big Ten competition (Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland), but that’s also nothing to ignore, either. Jim Harbaugh earlier this week offered as an injury update on leading rusher Karan Higdon and Ty Isaac, who missed the last two games, that he had heard “positive news” on both of them. Chris Evans has been getting better and better as the season has gone on, but they need Higdon and Isaac. So here’s my prediction: Michigan rushes for 172 yards. And lastly, make sure you ask the pilot for your wings since this will be your first flight!

■ Q. “It’s too soon,” “the team is too young” lately many reasons for why it’s not “our year” — when is the next time that it will be “Michigan’s year” where the contributing factors line up to give our best chance of success? — @akim1026

■ A. Love this question, Andrew. First off, I guess you look back at last season and think about the what-ifs — it wasn’t “too soon” in Harbaugh’s second season with that veteran defense and an offense that was good enough with two veteran receivers and a top tight end and a tough running back and a new starting quarterback who was finding his way. It was a missed opportunity. A big miss. But you weren’t asking that. You’re looking forward, using this season of growing pains as a springboard. The team is too young this year on offense and it is on its third starting quarterback and missing its top receiver (who happens to be young, freshman Tarik Black), and the big question was the offensive line with three new starters. The defense will be awfully good next year. The offensive line has to find solid tackles, no easy task, but the interior should be quite good. And there’s plenty of experience returning at every spot. So I think it’s fair to have lofty expectations for “Michigan’s year” next season, despite having big rivalry games at Notre Dame, at Michigan State and at Ohio State. The kid gloves will have to be off, because the “kids” this year are getting experience, valuable playing experience, and it will be time to translate that to wins.

Jim Harbaugh

■ Q. If Michigan football wins out beating Wisconsin and Ohio State, is Coach Harbaugh Big Ten “Coach of the Year?” — @mccoym03

■ A. That would be quite a feat, Mike, and considering Michigan is on its third quarterback and had to bounce back from a big loss at Penn State. IF he and the Wolverines can pull that off, he will win the Big Ten award and would be for sure a finalist for the national award.

■ Q. Weather for Saturday calls for rain/snow. How do you think the new QB, and improved run game will fare against the Badgers? — @kpniemiec

■ A. So the very latest forecast I saw — of course it probably will be outdated by Saturday — is that the rain should stop by noon central time, an hour into the game, and the bigger issue in my mind is the wind. It’s supposed to be about 15-20 mph and gusts up to 30. Both teams will rely on the run and it doesn’t seem like this forecast will affect either too much, but the wind could be a problem for Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters and Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook, not to mention the kickers.

■ Q. Of the many players out for Wisconsin this Saturday, which player will they miss the most? —@rwschumacher

■ A. The popular answer, Richard, is the receivers, but I’m going with center Tyler Biadasz, who isn’t expected to play because of a knee injury suffered last week. He’s a redshirt freshman and will be replaced by a walk-on, Jason Erdmann, who is a redshirt sophomore. He has had a lot of playing time at guard this season, but is he ready to face a strong defensive line like Michigan’s? That could be telling.


■ Q. What is the latest status on the injured players? Higdon, Gary, Hill, Onwenu, Isaac? — @WolverineinTn

■ A. Philip, on Mike Onwenu, Tim Drevno said Wednesday that he’s “ready to rock and roll,” Rashan Gary is fine and participated in media availability on Monday, Lavert Hill as of Wednesday was still in concussion protocol, meaning he had been held out of practiced and checked daily by doctors, but corners coach Mike Zordich said if he’s cleared, he will play despite missing practices. As for Higdon and Isaac, just going off what Harbaugh said Monday and his “positive update” comment, they should be good to go.

Michigan junior Grant Perry is a veteran among a young group of receivers.

■ Q. Three years ago Michigan recruited about 9 TEs. If they would have used say three of those on WR, they would have veteran WR today. Am I wrong here? — @rscott4923

■ Q. Are there any upperclassmen WR that can catch a football? — @_Detroit187

■ A. Well, Dale, Grant Perry is an upperclassman and has shown he can catch, but he also has had a few drops. He has got to play a major role on Saturday in the pass game along with the tight ends. Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry have surfaced as the two targets, and, frankly, I will keep saying this, Gentry is the mismatch that can be a difference maker. For the record, he had briefly been moved to receiver and then back to tight end.

■ Q. Will more passes be thrown behind line of scrimmage or over 12 yards? — @MikeCandela33

■ Q. Will Michigan throw for more yards than Wojo will eat in Nutter Butters? Will they complete more passes than he puts on in pounds? — @michmike69

■ A. We all know Wojo can handle plenty of Nutter Butters. To both of you, IF the wind is as significant as the forecast is suggesting, it’s going to be hard to throw downfield. I don’t think the rain forecast the first hour of the game will be an issue. Besides, a lot of quarterbacks say the ball gets more “grippy” in the rain, but the wind is a different story.