Michigan vs. Wisconsin: View from other side
Jeff Potrykus, who covers Wisconsin football and basketball for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, breaks down the Badgers for The Detroit News, answering five questions heading into Saturday’s Michigan-Wisconsin game. You can follow him on Twitter @jaypo1961.
VIEW FROM OTHER SIDE
Question: Alex Hornibrook has thrown nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions in Big Ten play. You seemed to get a lot of questions in your online chat this week about his interceptions — how much of an issue could this be against Michigan's aggressive defense?
Answer: It was an issue against Iowa, though the first interception was by far the most troubling of the three. On the second pick, he gave his receiver a chance to make a play on the ball against single coverage and it turned out to be a long punt. They can live with that one. The third was a deflection and the back got both hands on the ball. Both Paul Chyrst and Hornibrook have been open about the need to cut down on the mistakes. Most have been the result of bad choices. When he makes the right read and doesn’t try to force the ball into coverage, the results are usually good. He threw three picks last season vs. Michigan and he’ll have to be better Saturday, though I think the play of UW’s offensive line will determine the outcome.
Q. You detailed some injuries issues early in the week. Which do you think will impact the game?
A. My guess is that redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz (left knee) won’t be able to go. He has started all 10 games and was magnificent against Iowa. He is strong for a young kid and is also very mobile. His likely replacement is a walk-on, redshirt sophomore Jason Erdmann. He had filled in at left guard all season until last week when he had to take over at center. He acquitted himself well but Michigan’s front is better than Iowa’s and the overall scheme is more complex. Can he make the proper IDs and prepare the line for blitzes?
UW also might be without safety D’Cota Dixon (right leg). Joe Ferguson, the grandson of Barry Alvarez, has a nose for the ball and has four interceptions and two fumble recovers.
Nevertheless, Dixon is the better overall player.
Q. What should Michigan redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters fear most with regard to the Wisconsin defense?
A. It appears that Peters so far has had the luxury of passing when he wants to and not in many third-and-long situations. Wisconsin generally has been able to slow the opponents’ ground game and get pressure on the passer. If Michigan can’t run the ball effectively Saturday it will be interesting to see if UW can get to Peters and how he handles the rush. UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard most times rushes only four guys but he has been good at diversifying the gaps through which the pressure comes. Most teams have struggled to pick up stunts and twists, which has resulted in free rushers.
Q. You have seen plenty of great backs at Wisconsin. Jonathan Taylor has had quite an impact this season as a freshman. How good do you think he'll be?
A. He doesn’t protect the ball as well as he needs to, which might be attributed to youth. I expect to see Michigan defenders attack the ball on just about every carry. Overall, however, the kid is a stud. He has legit sprinter’s speed and he is a solid 214 pounds. He is strong, has great balance and almost always seems to be falling forward. Should be a great battle.
Q. It's been a while, since 2009, since Michigan has played at Camp Randall. The Michigan players are excited about experiencing that unique atmosphere. Is having Michigan back in Madison a big deal for fans there?
A. Diehard fans loving seeing marquee programs like Michigan and Ohio State visit Madison — sorry to link those two rivals in the same sentence — and those instances are fewer since the league expanded. There is a buzz but to be honest, this week is all about UW being unbeaten and No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Fans know what UW must do to finish in the top four. They’re both excited and anxious. The players? They are following the lead of Chryst, whose heart rate only races when he is breaking down video. They are embracing the challenge of remaining unbeaten and know they have to play very well to win.
BADGERS TO WATCH
■ Jonathan Taylor, RB: The freshman leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks No. 4 nationally averaging 152.5 yards per game. He also has scored a league-high 12 rushing touchdowns. Taylor leads all FBS freshmen in both categories. Taylor has topped the 150-yard mark in five of his 10 career games and owns three 200-yard rushing performances. He is the 10th player in school history to rush for 1,500 yards in a season. He is gunning for Adrian Peterson's FBS freshman record of 1,925 rushing yards.
■ Nick Nelson, CB: Nelson, a junior cornerback, leads the Badgers with 18 pass breakups, second-best single-season total in Wisconsin history. He has had eight pass breakups over the last three weeks. He is a big reason why the Badgers’ average of 7.1 passes defended per game has been a major improvement over last season’s mark of 5.7. The Badgers have 26 passes defended (21 breakups, five interceptions) over their last 3 games, allowing opponents to complete just 41.6 percent of their passes during that stretch.
■ Alex Hornibrook, QB: The sophomore quarterback ranks 10th among Power Five quarterbacks in pass efficiency rating (155.6) by completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,863 yards, 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. In Big Ten play, though, he has thrown nine touchdowns and had 11 interceptions, including three last week against Iowa. Hornibrook has been comfortable in the red zone and has gone 21-for-30 (.704) for 217 yards, 14 touchdowns and one interception in the red zone. Hornibrook's 17 TD passes on the season equal the sixth-highest single-season mark in Wisconsin history. His 26 career touchdown passes rank ninth all-time at Wisconsin.
FACTS AND FIGURES
■ Keeping company with Yost: Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is just the third head coach in Big Ten history to win at least 10 games in each of his first three seasons, joining Ohio State’s Urban Meyer (2012-14) and Michigan’s Fielding Yost (1901-03).
■ Among the last standing: The Badgers are 10-0 and one of four remaining unbeaten FBS teams, joining No. 1 Alabama (10-0), No. 2 Miami (9-0) and No. 14 UCF (9-0). Wisconsin is off to a 10-0 start for the first time in school history. UW's previous best starts were 9-0 marks in 1998 and 2004.
■ Still rolling: Wisconsin has won 11 straight games dating back to its victory in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 2, matching the second-longest win streak in school history. Some other streaks to consider —Wisconsin and UCF are the only teams to not trail in the fourth quarter of any game this season, and the Badgers are in search of their second-consecutive 11-win season, and third in four years.