ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) – No. 12 Michigan is undefeated since opening with a seven-point loss at Notre Dame, building momentum and confidence while waiting for its next opportunity to earn an impressive win.
The Wolverines (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) won’t have to wait much longer.
No. 15 Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0) is coming to play under the lights Saturday night at the Big House in what may prove to be a pivotal game in the conference’s championship race.
“Everybody knew that this was going to be a big game from the beginning of the year,” Michigan guard Ben Bredeson said. “The Badgers are always good. We’re always good.”
The Badgers have been great in Big Ten play during regular season, winning a record 17 straight, but they’re eight-point underdogs.
“We get to find out who we are as a team against one of the best teams on our schedule,” Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon said. “It will be fun. It will be exciting. It will be a challenge.”
Michigan will know a lot more about its team soon after hosting the Badgers, playing at Michigan State and facing No. 8 Penn State in its next three games.
“This is an important stretch for our season,” Bredeson acknowledged. “I think everyone is a lot tighter this week, making sure that all the details are in order and that nothing is being left behind.”
Here are some things to watch:
PACK OF BACKS
Star sophomore Jonathan Taylor draws most of the attention in the backfield as the nation’s leading rusher, averaging 169.8 yards per game. His backups aren’t too bad. Garrett Groshek has emerged as Wisconsin’s primary third-down back and a key player in 2-minute situations. The former quarterback is third on the team in both rushing and receiving. Taiwan Deal can also provide valuable snaps to spell Taylor. He ran for a season high 74 yards on 10 carries last week against Nebraska, including a career-best 20-yard touchdown run.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who has run his share of unique plays, said he scouts what trick plays an opposing coach has run in previous years.
“Offensively and defensively, schematically, you prepare for things, even though you haven’t seen them,” he said. “You’re always on the alert for what could happen.”
Injuries are piling up in Wisconsin’s young secondary. Cornerbacks Caesar Williams and Travian Blaylock missed last week’s game with leg injuries, and Deron Harrell left the Nebraska game in the second quarter with a head injury. They’re all listed as questionable. The Badgers turned to another freshman, Rachad Wildgoose, when Harrell went down. What may hurt just as much in the absence of safety Scott Nelson, who will miss the first half of the Michigan game after being flagged for targeting in the second half against Nebraska. The Huskers were able to connect on a couple deep balls versus Nelson.
Some Michigan fans have been critical of Shea Patterson on social media, and Harbaugh chose to diffuse the situation by siding with his daughter’s analysis of the quarterback.
“Let me put it to you this way: My 7-year-old daughter Katie, who plays no sports,” Harbaugh said. “Doesn’t want to play sports. Doesn’t want to be involved in sports. She’s doing Girl Scouts. Even Katie says the quarterback is playing very well.”
What about the critics who say the offense isn’t interesting?
“I’ll go with Katie,” Harbaugh said.
JUST FOR KICKS
Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone is a field goal away from the 66th of his career, a total that would break the school record set by Todd Gregoire from 1984 to 1987. He has missed only one of six field goals this season.
“I’ve been fortunate to have been around him,” coach Paul Chryst said.
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