Michigan Wolverines vs. Wisconsin Badgers Pick & Analysis
Michigan Wolverines (2-0 SU, 0-2 ATS) vs. Wisconsin Badgers (2-0 SU, 2-0 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 4
Date and Time:Saturday, Sep. 21 at 12pm ET
Where:Camp Randall Stadium
Point Spread:MICH +3.5/WISC -3.5 (Bookmaker)
The best on-paper match happens in Madison this week as the Michigan Wolverines take on the Wisconsin Badgers. This match will be the Big Ten opener for both teams, and they should be ready to go as both were idle last week. Wisconsin has looked better than advertised, especially on defense, while Michigan has struggled a bit in going 2-0 straight up but losing both against the spread. These teams split the last two meetings with double-digit margins involved in both games, but this one is scheduled to be much closer with each side inside the top-13 in the AP Poll. The winner this weekend gets a nice win on their College Football Playoff resume while the loser can probably scratch that goal off the board.
No one is surprised that Wisconsin is averaging 215 rushing yards after two games, but it is borderline shocking that they are 24th in passing at 299 yards per game. The competition level has helped the Badgers rack up some easy yards, but Jack Coan has looked sharp in completing 76% of his throws for 560 yards and five scores. He held off highly touted freshman Graham Mertz to the point that Mertz will plan to redshirt this season so Coan will only see more reps in practice as the number one signal-caller. Wisconsin’s receiving corps is deep, and the return of Quintez Cephus has given them a legitimate D1 playmaker. Cephus is averaging 18.8 yards per catch after snagging two deep scores last game and his ability to stretch the defense allows guys like A.J. Taylor and TE Jake Ferguson to work underneath. The pass game love has even extended to Jonathan Taylor, who has three receiving touchdowns to go with his five rushing scores. Michigan is 10th against the pass, but that stat is skewed by the Army game where the Black Knights only attempted four passes. Middle Tennessee got 234 passing yards up against the Wolverines, and Wisconsin will be another step up in talent. Of course, the Badgers are still a run-first team, but the threat of the pass makes Wisconsin a much tougher team to line up against.
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Fans often overreact to small samples, but Michigan hasn’t exactly passed the eye-test through two weeks. The bye week could be a big factor as I doubt the Wolverines would have fared well in Camp Randall coming off their nervous W against Army. Michigan has been average at best on offense, ranking outside the top-60 in rushing, passing and points scored after two non-conference games. Things do not get easier this week with Wisconsin sporting the number one defense in the land that has yet to yield a single point. Shea Patterson isn’t exactly stinking up the joint, but he is hitting on just 62% of his passes, down from 65% last season and his yards per attempt are down a full yard as well. Expectations were higher for the senior in his second year as the Michigan starting QB. He has plenty of time to turn in a solid season, but Wisconsin is allowing a paltry 87 passing yards per game thus far so don’t expect a breakout on Saturday. Zach Charbonnet has been running hard, but 4.6 yards per carry against middle-level competition is not a good sign that the offensive line is clicking and Michigan is averaging just 3.7 yards per rush as a team. WR Donovan Peoples-Jones has missed both games with a bad groin and is again questionable for Saturday. In his absence, no Wolverine pass-catcher has been able to net more than nine receptions, and the big play is noticeably absent.
Is it Real?
After a 2018 season that saw Wisconsin’s defense struggle with injuries and inexperience, things could not have gone better for Jim Leonhard’s crew in 2019. Wisconsin enters the week ranked #1 in passing yards allowed, total yards allowed and has pitched shutouts against South Florida and Central Michigan. Those opponents aren’t exactly world-beaters, but the Badgers have held them to just 1.3 yards per rush and 14.3% on third-down conversions. The sack total is still modest at five through two games, but the pressure on the QB has been constant even when not getting all the way home. The defense has three interceptions and has been plenty rested with Wisconsin’s offense leading the nation in time of possession at nearly 38 minutes per game. Maybe they aren’t that good, and this is all the product of poor play by their opponents, but it is hard to imagine Wisconsin suddenly allowing a scuffling Michigan offense to walk up and down the field. The Badgers may be without LB’s Chris Orr, and Izayah Green-May as both are questionable, but this is one of the deepest units in college football.
All of the data is tipped against Michigan as they have gone 1-6 against the spread in their last seven road games, 0-6 ATS in the last six overall and are 0-5 ATS in the last five trips to Madison. Wisconsin is 10-3 ATS in the last thirteen following a bye week and are 4-1 ATS in their last five games overall. The line opened with the Badgers as 3.5-point favorites and has not moved despite 68% of the action coming in on Wisconsin. The over/under total sits at 44, down from an opening 46 points with 55% of bets coming in on the over. The over has hit in five of the last six Wisconsin games coming off a bye week.
I went against the Badgers in each of the first two weeks as I didn’t think their defense would be able to hold down the opposition enough to cover big spreads. Wisconsin typically moves slower than average and takes a while to score, but the offense has been efficient and big-play driven, and Wisconsin has cruised. I think they have a much tougher time this weekend, but Coan has proven he can manage the game at least which was something Alex Hornibrook could not do last season. Taylor is looking like an even better version of himself with the addition of some pass-game work and Wisconsin probably has the best skill group on the outside since Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis wore the Motion W.
I will give Michigan enough credit and assume they plugged some holes during the bye week, but Wisconsin got the same chance, and there are few teams that do better with the extra week that the Badgers. Michigan finally gets some points up against the UW defense, but Taylor gets his fill on the ground against the 60th ranked Wolverine run defense and Coan finds those few throws to push Wisconsin to a 27-20 win.
Ted’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread:Wisconsin
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