No. 13 Michigan, Wisconsin going opposite directions
And yes, the Badgers (7-3, 3-3) say they still have something to play for Saturday despite squandering their conference title dreams and likely falling short of a Jan. 1 bowl game.
No. 13 Michigan (8-2, 6-0) and Wisconsin are sure saying the right things.
“We know that there are going to be some challenges this week that you want to think about but you don’t want to jump too far ahead,” Wolverines linebacker Chris Graham said.
Across Lake Michigan, Badgers tight end Travis Beckum has a different take on what goals are left this season.
“Undefeated nonconference. Get the Axe back against Minnesota. Make Michigan a big game, and win it,” said Beckum, who leads the nation’s tight ends with 62 catches and 765 yards receiving.
Because of injuries, the passing combinations of Michigan’s Chad Henne-to-Mario Manningham and Wisconsin’s Tyler Donovan-to-Beckum may play a larger role than the bruising backs that have been the trademark of both schools.
As many as three stellar running backs could be on display.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, former Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne graduated eight years ago and coach Bret Bielema is still being cryptic about whether sophomore P.J. Hill might be able to play with a lingering leg bruise.
“I wasn’t playing games,” said Bielema, who was optimistic Hill would return last week against Ohio State before it became apparent Hill didn’t have a chance. “Basically from the time Tuesday was on, there wasn’t any structural damage to the leg, but extremely sore, and then also some tightness in his lower leg that he just wasn’t able to go. And really, it’s on P.J. whenever P.J. feels he can come back.”
Bielema said Hill actually regressed before Wisconsin lost 38-17 to the Buckeyes on Saturday. Bielema remains excited about freshman Zach Brown, who had 20 carries for 63 yards replacing Hill.
One back who seems sure to play regardless of health is Michigan’s Mike Hart. Hart, averaging 148.5 yards per game but suffering from a nagging ankle injury, said there’s no way he’ll skip the week to rest for the Buckeyes.
“These are the last two games of my career at Michigan, and a bowl game,” Hart said. “I’m not missing anything.”
That means he’ll hear the cheers when Dayne’s jersey is formally retired at halftime.
The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, Dayne, now with the Houston Texans, ran for 7,125 yards rushing and 71 touchdowns for Wisconsin, though the NCAA recognizes lesser numbers because bowl game statistics did not count during Dayne’s time.
Wisconsin has never found the next great Dayne, but have had several other successful running backs like Anthony Davis, Brian Calhoun and now Hill.
Hill is most often compared to Dayne, but was only 12 years old when Dayne was smashing through defenses.
“Everybody wanted to make a big deal about Ron Dayne’s size,” Bielema said. “Ron Dayne made a lot of people miss. He had a lot of one-on-one tackles with people off the edge on support, and he was so patient in what he was doing.”
It’s a lesson the Badgers could use after squandering a lead at Ohio State.
Meanwhile, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s patience has paid off with an eight-game winning streak that’s almost taken the sting out of two head-scratching losses to start the season.
Carr would pass Ohio State’s Woody Hayes for the fifth-best winning percentage among all Big Ten coaches if Michigan can snap Wisconsin’s 13-game home winning streak.
His players think they’ve righted the program.
“I was shocked the way the season started,” nose tackle Terrance Taylor said. “But the turnaround has been great. After the first two games we had a reality check that we are Michigan and we have to live up to that.”
That’s why Taylor doesn’t think there’s any chance the Wolverines will overlook Wisconsin. “You see it all over the country. Teams don’t focus on the team that they are playing and they lose,” Taylor said. “The best lesson was shown in the first two games of the season.”
A look at Saturday’s Michigan-Wisconsin game
No. 13 MICHIGAN at WISCONSIN
Site – Madison, Wis. Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
Kickoff – 11 a.m. CST
TV – ESPN (Dave Pasch, Andre Ware, Erin Andrews)
Records – Michigan (8-2, 6-0 Big Ten); Wisconsin (7-3, 3-3 Big Ten)
Coaches – Michigan, Lloyd Carr (121-38 in 13th year); Wisconsin, Bret Bielema (19-4 in second year)
Last Meeting – Michigan won 27-13, Sept. 23, 2006
Series – Michigan leads 48-11-1
Key Players – Michigan, RB Mike Hart (215 carries for 1,188 yards, 12 TDs); QB Chad Henne (123-of-200 for 1,469 yards, 14 TDs); WR Mario Manningham (59 receptions for 949 yards, nine TDs). Wisconsin, QB Tyler Donovan (159-of-269 for 2,093 yards, 14 TDs); TE Travis Beckum (62 receptions for 765 yards, four TDs); LB Jonathan Casillas (72 tackles).
Extra Points – Hart is averaging 148.5 yards rushing a game, third in the nation. ... Manningham is averaging 105.4 yards receiving a game, eighth in the nation. ... Michigan has the second-best pass defense in the Big Ten, allowing 186.1 yards per game. ... Wisconsin has a 13-game home winning streak. ... The Badgers are 4-19-1 against Michigan in Camp Randall. ... Wisconsin’s seniors have won 38 games, tied for most ever by a class (2000, 2006).