Michigan 38 Wisconsin 17 – Game 5 Recap

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GAME 5 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 38-17, Michigan by 21 over Wisconsin
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 1 (+20)
CD Projection: Wisconsin by 3 (+24)

FIVE FACTORS

GAME 5 RECAP @ Wisconsin

Michigan now stands a perfect 5-0 after beating Wisconsin convincingly 38-17 in Madison. While nobody would call this a perfect performance for the Wolverines, this team showed mental toughness on the road that previous teams of the Jim Harbaugh era lacked. Michigan got off to a great start in the 1st quarter and never gave the Badgers any reprieve. When key plays needed to be made, various players managed to step up to the challenge. By the 4th quarter Wisconsin had suffered too many key injuries on offense and became totally one dimensional. The vaunted Badger defense also wore down early in the 4th quarter and finally conceded a handful of explosive plays to the Wolverines.

Offensively, Josh Gattis and his staff surprised me. I expected another conservative game plan. I thought Michigan would want to manage the offense to avoid risk in an effort to challenge the Badger offense’s execution problems this season. Instead, the Wolverines displayed their most balanced attack of the season running 54% of the time and passing 46% of the time (garbage time removed at the end). Cade McNamara finished 17-28 for 197 yards and 2 TDs. More importantly, I think, Gattis showed he was willing to stretch the defense vertically down the field once again. Keeping the pressure on the Wisconsin safeties deep helped create just enough room underneath, and unclogged the box just a bit for the run game.

The FOX broadcast team showered Michigan’s defense with a lot of love, and rightfully so. Wisconsin was only able to run 9 plays in the 1st quarter, and started the game with 4 straight 3-and-out drives. Wisconsin QB Graham Mertz showed a lot of guts and accuracy just before halftime to cut Michigan’s lead to 13-10 with two perfect throws over Daxton Hill. However, Dax got the last laugh. Hill flashed into the backfield for a sack on a 3rd & 9 blitz on the first drive of the 3rd quarter. The backup QB was forced to take over from there, and Wisconsin was never within one score again.

Michigan leveraged a huge special teams advantage in this game also. The Wolverines turned a muffed punt into 3 points in the 1st half. Jake Moody was 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 47-yarder. And Wisconsin shanked one kickoff out of bounds trying to avoid giving the ball to Blake Corum. One big special teams swing occurred in the 2nd quarter when the Badgers nearly gave Michigan the ball back on a squib kick with less than a minute on the clock before halftime. Wisconsin managed to recover, and started their last drive at their own 37 yard line. That field position allowed them to unleash Mertz for their first touchdown of the game. Onward to Nebraska!

By the Numbers: Game 5 @ Wisconsin

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LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan survived a scare from Rutgers for the second season in a row.  This time the Scarlet Knights were the team coming back from a 17-point deficit, but the Wolverines made the stops they needed to hold on 20-13.

NEXT UP: @ Wisconsin: 11th, 16.9

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 1.0, Michigan Win Probability 52%

Only 3 spots separate Michigan and Wisconsin in the SP+ rankings, despite the Wolverines’ (4-0) and Badgers’ (1-2) vastly different records.   Wisconsin’s two losses have come to SP+ #5 Penn State and #22 Notre Dame. 

Michigan Offense (17th) vs. Wisconsin Defense (4th) 

One primary reason I ground my expectations in analytics involves avoiding recency bias.  Even though Michigan’s offense had been a juggernaut for 6 out of 8 quarters this season, the last 2 quarters against Rutgers are fresh in the minds of all Michigan fans.  Although the rushing attack sputtered, and the passing game could not find their rhythm last Saturday, the Wolverines still sit at #17 in SP+ offense rankings.  That’s 1 spot in front of Penn State, and 22 spots ahead of Notre Dame.

On the flip side Wisconsin has an elite defensive unit, especially against the run.  I don’t expect to see the Badgers surrender a large number of scoring chances.  That means we’ll keep an eye on IsoPPP to measure how explosive Michigan can be when they do find successful plays. 

Points per Scoring Opportunity also shines as a critical metric for this game .  When the offense penetrates the Wisconsin 40-yard line, they will need to score touchdowns rather than settling for field goal attempts.

Michigan Defense (8th) vs. Wisconsin Offense (50th)

We can reasonably say that Mike MacDonald’s defensive unit saved Michigan’s victory over Rutgers.  When SP+ ranked the Wolverines’ defense #10 in the preseason, I mentioned that I thought that was inflated.  Through 4 weeks, Michigan has not only validated that initial ranking, but continued to climb as preseason expectations are removed from the SP+ model. 

In this week’s matchup with the Badgers, the Michigan defense represents the largest unit-versus-unit advantage for the Wolverines.  If the defense can create havoc and negative plays early in this game, they may be able to help subdue the crowd’s energy.  The Badgers’ fan base is starving for some positivity during their rocky start to the 2021 season.  Aidan Hutchinson, Dax Hill, and Josh Ross need to implant doubt & negative vibes into the Camp Randall crowd as early as possible.

PREDICTION: The range of possible outcomes for this game extends to both ends of the spectrum.  It could be a nail-biter for the duration.  However, the conditions feel right for either team to play poorly and get boat-raced off the field. 

The early season narrative for the Badgers starts with QB Graham Mertz struggling and turning the ball over.  Michigan continues to protect the ball very well to this point of the season.  If the turnover margin continues on that trend, then we could be celebrating a huge road victory from Madison. 

I expect both teams to play conservatively to limit the big momentum swings.  I can’t yet bring myself to predict a fast start and a complete 60-minute performance from Michigan on the road.  I still need to see a sharp game plan from each coordinator, and the leaders on the field consistently execute at a high level.
Michigan 17 Wisconsin 20 (PRESEASON Michigan 24 Wisconsin 30)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/26/21), 4-0

  • SP+ Overall: 8th (↓2), 20.4
  • SP+ Offense: 17th (↓4), 35.8
  • SP+ Defense: 8th (same), 15.8
  • SP+ Special Teams: 9th (↓7), 0.3

AP Poll: 14th (↑5), 677

Coaches’ Poll: 14th (↑5), 674

CFP Rank: N/A

U-M Resume after Game #4

Michigan 11 Wisconsin 49 – Week 4 Recap

WEEK 4 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 11-49, Wisconsin by 38 over Michigan
SP+ Projection: Wisconsin by 9.8 (-28.2)
CD Projection: Wisconsin by 17 (-21)

FIVE FACTORS

WEEK 4 RECAP vs. Wisconsin

Michigan fans were dispirited heading into this game, and somehow feel worse limping out of it.  It’s time to figure out what the plan for 2021 is, I think.  I will keep the analysis brief, because I am not one to blow smoke.

Offensively, I will summarize like this: both of Michigan’s scoring drives happened while the scoreboard determined that it was technically garbage time.  28-0 in the 3rd quarter, Jim Harbaugh was forced to send Quinn Nordin in to kick a mercy field goal on 4th & 10.  By the time Cade McNamara hit three chunk plays through the air in the 4th quarter, it was 35-3 and those stats will also be removed from the data.

Defensively, at least the problems tonight were different than the last two weeks…?  The corners finally looked serviceable, but with both Kwity Paye and Aidan Hutchinson out, the Wolverines failed to set an edge from start to finish.  RBs and WRs rushed the ball outside with ease.  When the Badgers did need to throw, Graham Mertz found easy connections in the flat where LBs could not cover.

It’s extremely frustrating to look less prepared than the team that had their last two games canceled during a 10-day shutdown due to a COVID breakout.  I don’t know what the right answer is, but it’s time to start asking the hard questions.

By the Numbers: Week 4 vs. Wisconsin

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines fell flat against Indiana, losing 38-21 in Bloomington.   The loss increased considerable hot seat conversations for multiple Michigan coaches.

NEXT UP: vs. Wisconsin: 4th, 25.7

PREGAME SP+: Wisconsin by 9.8, Michigan Win Probability 29%
As a predictive system, the SP+ numbers are really handcuffed by Wisconsin.  They have only played one game, and could be missing numerous players to COVID protocol.  However, given Michigan’s struggles, the projected margin has increased by about two points since the Big Ten preseason.

Michigan Offense (30th) vs. Wisconsin Defense (2nd) 
The first question of many for the Wolverines: who are the healthiest offensive lineman?  Michigan has struggled desperately to find success in the run game in their two losses.  Even if they had the week one offensive line, the yards would be tough to come by against the Badgers’ defensive front.  Strategically, I’m still looking for Josh Gattis to utilize his skill guys to put edge defenders into conflict.  If those types of plays bring the defensive backs up into press, we need to see the fastest WRs like Roman Wilson stretch the field vertically.

Michigan Defense (19th) vs. Wisconsin Offense (12th)
This matchup is a total wild card.  Michigan is limping through key injuries up front to Aidan Hutchinson and possibly to Kwity Paye.  Missing key pass rushers does not bode well for a team trying to support struggling cover corner guys.  At the same time, Wisconsin will either have their fourth-string quarterback under center, or a QB returning from foot surgery (Jack Coan), or a redshirt freshman returning from COVID isolation (Graham Mertz).  With so much unknown in this matchup, I expect Don Brown to double down on his aggressive philosophy.  That means blitzers from all directions, and could be another challenge to some young CBs trying to make a name for themselves like freshman Andre Seldon.

PREDICTION: Sometimes the different metric systems like SP+ cannot “see” the important mitigating factors from week to week.  This game between struggling Michigan, and virus-depleted Wisconsin seems like it is wholly made up of unknown mitigating factors.  Amidst all that chaos, I am expecting that the more experienced and higher-ranked defense for the Badgers will be the greatest difference.  The Wolverines will need to find some big plays, maybe on special teams, to upset the Badgers.
Michigan 20 Wisconsin 37 (PRESEASON Michigan 17 Wisconsin 23)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/10/2020), 1-2

SP+ Overall: 18th (↓2), 14.0
SP+ Offense: 30th (↓1), 34.0
SP+ Defense: 19th (↓6), 19.9
SP+ Special Teams: 104th (↓27), -0.2

AP Poll: NR (23rd), 0

Coaches’ Poll: NR (25th), 0

CFP Rank: N/A

Wisconsin 35 Michigan 14 – Week 4 Recap

WEEK 4 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 14-35, Wisconsin by 21 over Michigan
SP+ Projection: Wisconsin by 9.0 (+12)
CD Projection: Wisconsin by 4 (+17)

FIVE FACTORS

WEEK 4 RECAP @ Wisconsin

Wisconsin did not spring any traps.  We did not see any artfully scripted series coming out of the Badgers’ bye week.  They simply lined up and said, “Here we come, try and stop us.” Michigan could not find any answers.  Wisconsin’s first drive went 12 plays, and took 6:25 off the clock. The drive included the riverboat gambler awakening of Paul Chryst, who finally realized he should use the best running attack in the country on all four downs.  On 4th & 1, from his own 34 yard line, Chryst rolled the dice on the first drive of the game! Jonathon Taylor answered the bell with a 3-yard run. Wisconsin converted two subsequent 3rd down plays, including the 1-yard touchdown plunge by Taylor.  The Badgers made an emphatic statement, right from the opening bell.

After the ensuing touchback, the Wolverines looked to Josh Gattis and Shea Patterson for their opening statement.  On 1st & 10, Patterson connected with Ronnie Bell, who raced 68 yards down inside the Wisconsin 10 yard line. After Patterson missed Nico Collins on 1st & Goal, Michigan looked confused trying to get their heavy personnel onto the field, including recently converted defensive tackle, Ben Mason.  Jim Harbaugh called timeout to ensure everyone was on the same page. After the time out, Mason fumbled his first carry since 2018. Through three games, the Wolverines have fumbled their first drive away 100% of the time.

Wisconsin began to march again, before Chryst inexplicably forgot about Jonathon Taylor again.  After moving the sticks a couple times, the Badgers punted back to Michigan from midfield. With under four minutes left in the first quarter, Michigan was given another chance to answer Wisconsin’s opening statement.  A quick completion to Tarik Black set up 2nd & 5. Patterson attacked the deep middle of the field by throwing a laser to Ronnie Bell. Bell made a beautiful diving catch, and again Michigan looked poised to stand toe-to-toe with Wisconsin. 

Alas, the play was reviewed, and the catch was ruled incomplete. The FOX network’s rules analyst, former referee Mike Pereira, disagreed with the decision. He stated that it was so clearly a catch that if the call had been incomplete, he would have overturned that to rule it a catch.  Regardless, Michigan was challenged to convert on 3rd & 5. When Patterson couldn’t connect with Sean McKeon, the Wolverines punted to the Badgers’ 28 yard line. On the very next play play, Taylor took an inside hand off 72 yards untouched to the end zone to make it 14-0. 

Now with 2:32 left in the first quarter, Michigan would have one more chance to answer the challenge from the Badgers.  On 3rd & 5, Patterson looked to Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was making his first appearance of 2019. Peoples-Jones drew a pass interference penalty to give Michigan an automatic first down, but lost his composure after the call.  After marking off the unsportsmanlike penalty yardage, the Wolverines had gained six yards on the spot foul, and lost fifteen yards on the dead ball foul. Four plays later Michigan punted again. After the Badgers bulldozed their way to a third touchdown (15 plays, 80 yards, 8:29, two 4th down conversions), the Wolverines would not get another real opportunity to right the ship.

Michigan Football repeatedly finds themselves in this early hole on the road against competitive teams.  We’ve discussed both verbally and in print how the metrics highlight clear issues on the road. Today, Michigan again failed to rise above some early adversity at Camp Randall, and Wisconsin made them pay.  Michigan’s program is not on life support, despite how dead we may feel inside when these shoddy performances are repeated annually.

There will undoubtedly be a renewed sense of urgency inside Schembechler Hall this week.  The talented players and proven coaches in Ann Arbor can absolutely solve these issues. They must find a way to rise to the largest challenges when the pressure is highest. To enable his players and his coaches, Jim Harbaugh must first reform his culture of both physical and mental toughness before the other necessary corrections truly matter at all.  All hope is not lost, but Michigan must start by answering the coming challenges with a fighter’s mentality. The challenges will start in a matter of hours with some pretty brutal film sessions.