NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Jim Harbaugh reflected a bit on his own playing days when assessing the quarterback matchup for this weekend’s Michigan-Wisconsin showdown.
“I think back when I was the same age as they were, the same kind of experience playing your first couple ballgames,” Harbaugh said. “Both of those guys are doing better in my mind than I did and some other guys did when we were young.”
Michigan’s Wilton Speight is a junior but in his first season as a starter. Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook is a redshirt freshman and started his first game just last weekend. Each has shown poise so far for his undefeated team, helping turn Saturday’s clash between the fourth-ranked Wolverines and eighth-ranked Badgers into one of the most anticipated games of the week.
Michigan (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has lived up to expectations so far in Harbaugh’s second season at the helm. The Wolverines have outscored opponents by 38 points a game, with Speight throwing for nine touchdowns and only one interception.
It looked initially like Michigan might not even be challenged until its late-October game at Michigan State, but Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) has now emerged as a definite threat in the Big Ten. The Badgers won 30-6 at Michigan State last weekend, and they beat LSU earlier in the season.
Wisconsin intercepted Tyler O’Connor three times in the win over Michigan State, and Hornibrook was solid, throwing for 195 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers were 7 of 16 on third down and converted both of their fourth-down attempts, repeatedly keeping drives alive against the Spartans.
“That’s definitely not what you want to rest on. Coach made us sure of that,” Hornibrook said. “We’ve got to do better on the other downs so that we have a better situation on third (down). Obviously you’ll be in those situations and you’ve got to take advantage of them.”
Michigan opponents are only 6 of 50 on third down this season.
This is the first time Michigan and Wisconsin will face each other with both teams in the top 10. Here are a few things to watch:
STRONG UP FRONT: Wisconsin is allowing only 11.8 points per game, and Michigan State had a lot of trouble blocking the Badgers. Forcing Speight out of his comfort zone could be crucial if Wisconsin is going to upset the Wolverines.
ALL-PURPOSE: LB Jabrill Peppers is a fan favorite at Michigan for obvious reasons. He’s a threat to do something spectacular whenever the ball is in his hands. In a game that pits two impressive defenses, Peppers could be the difference if he can produce a big play on special teams.
ENDICOTT’S CHANCE: Wisconsin K Rafael Gaglianone missed last weekend’s game because of a back problem. Andrew Endicott missed an extra point but made his first career field goal, from 41 yards.
“I didn’t realize those were the first points that he’d scored. They can never take them away from him. That’s pretty cool,” coach Paul Chryst said earlier this week. “What I really liked was he worked and was really good all week. He did all the things to give himself a chance. He didn’t want to miss the extra point but came back, and that you love.”
Gaglianone ended up needing surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
TESTED: There’s little doubt which team has faced the tougher schedule so far. That’s Wisconsin, and it doesn’t get easier for a while. After this game, the Badgers will have a week off before hosting Ohio State.
HANDLING WITH CARE: Speight threw an interception on his first pass of the season, but Michigan has turned the ball over only once since.
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