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Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire)
October 1st, 2021
The undefeated Michigan Wolverines are out to prove they are a legitimate threat in the Big Ten and will turn their attention to a reeling Wisconsin team Saturday at noon ET.
After three straight wins against weak, non-conference competition, Michigan opened Big Ten play with a 20-13 home victory against 3-1 Rutgers last Saturday.
The Wolverines entered the contest averaging 350.3 yards on the ground but ran for just 112 against the Scarlet Knights.
Running back Blake Corum was held to fewer than 100 yards rushing for the first time this season and put up a mere 68 yards on 21 carries.
Backfield mate Hassan Haskins ran the ball in for Michigan's first two scores of the game, but the rushing attack hit a wall from there.
The Wolverines failed to put any points on the board in the second half, and Rutgers nearly climbed out of a 17-point hole, until a late fumble stifled the comeback.
Michigan's inconsistencies in the run game are cause for concern against Wisconsin's top-ranked rushing defense.
Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara has also struggled, at times, when called upon in the passing game. He completed just seven of his 15 passes for 44 yards against Washington in Week 2 and nine of his 16 attempts for 163 yards against Rutgers.
He'll need to step up against Wisconsin to help the Wolverines pull off their first win on the road this season and first victory at Camp Randall since 2001.
The good news for McNamara is he averages 10.1 yards per attempt and will confront a Wisconsin secondary that was exposed by the deep ball in losses to Penn State and Notre Dame.
Wisconsin's defense held Notre Dame's rushing attack to nine yards in Saturday's 41-13 defeat.
Where the unit got hurt was in the secondary, as it let Notre Dame quarterback and Wisconsin transfer Jack Coan connect on a couple deep passes, one of which turned into a 36-yard receiving touchdown in the second quarter.
Nonetheless, Wisconsin owned a 13-10 lead with 14:14 left but endured an excruciating meltdown 13 seconds later.
Notre Dame returned a kickoff 96 yards to the end zone, before Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns.
In Wisconsin’s last seven games vs. Power Five teams, Graham Mertz has:— 11 interceptions — Three TD passes— An average of 184 passing yards per gameWisconsin is 2-5 in those games and has been held to 13 points or fewer in each of the five losses. https://t.co/FWulemUZm6— Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) September 26, 2021
In Wisconsin’s last seven games vs. Power Five teams, Graham Mertz has:— 11 interceptions — Three TD passes— An average of 184 passing yards per gameWisconsin is 2-5 in those games and has been held to 13 points or fewer in each of the five losses. https://t.co/FWulemUZm6
Mertz was picked off four times and lost one fumble against Notre Dame, as the Badgers moved to 0-5 in games where he throws an interception.
Both Wisconsin and Michigan have tallied just one interception apiece this season, but the Wolverines have yet to turn the ball over, while Wisconsin averages three giveaways per contest.
In spite of their issues, the Badgers are a 2.5-point home favorite, but the team has now lost seven straight to ranked opponents.
It's difficult to feel confident in either team, considering Michigan's recent history at Camp Randall and Wisconsin's glaring offensive issues.
The Badgers converted just one third down in 14 tries against Notre Dame and failed to win the time-of-possession battle for the first time this season.
The run game also managed just 78 rushing yards, after it put up 532 through the first two games.
Saturday's matchup will be a chance for Wisconsin to reestablish its identity in the ground game. Michigan allowed Rutgers to run for 196 yards and 4.7 yards per carry, while the Wolverines endured their worst rushing performance of the season.
Mertz should be able to relax some against a defense that has recorded just one interception and will turn in a much cleaner performance.
The Badgers will bounce back and celebrate a narrow victory.
Score prediction: Wisconsin 20, Michigan 17
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