Friday, September 26, 2008

UW-Michigan preview

Remember where you were the last time Wisconsin beat Michigan in Ann Arbor? I do.

It was the fall of 1994, my freshman year. Our highly-touted defending Rose Bowl champs had just tied Purdue and lost to lowly Minnesota at Camp Randall, and morale for the football team in Sullivan Hall was low. We didn't even watch the game -- it was on ESPN, and the dorms didn't have cable at the time.

So what do you make of a win like that? The win over Michigan in '93 was so dramatic -- kept us in the Rose Bowl after the horrible loss at Minnesota, then the student section stampede fiasco afterward -- yet this one was greeted with almost a shoulder shrug. We still didn't have much of a chance to win the conference, and given the team's inconsistency, who knew what was next? A 24-3 loss to Ohio State, that's what. All in all, a mediocre season.

Our struggles in Ann Arbor since then (and for a long time preceding then) are well-documented. But if we win there tomorrow, it will be greeted with more than a shoulder shrug.

We should win this one. We're more experienced, and probably more talented. Our coaching staff is more established. We've already gone into an intimidating road venue and won.

It ain't going to be easy. Michigan's got a good defense, although they haven't played any prolific offenses yet. Also, turnovers did them in against Notre Dame, and we can't count on that happening again. Here are my keys to the game:

-Run off tackle. Michigan has two above-average defensive tackles in Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson, and while I have confidence in Andy Kemp, John Moffitt, and Kraig Urbik, I'd rather take my chances running at Tim Jamison and Brandon Graham. That puts the onus on Gabe Carimi, Eric Vanden Heuvel, and Mickey Turner.

-Travis Beckum should have a big game. Michigan's got two good cornerbacks in Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren, but their safeties and linebackers aren't as imposing. Becks ought to be back near 100% by now, so feature him early and often ... then go to Garrett Graham when they heavy up on Travis. I don't see many catches by the wide receivers this week.

-It may seem to go against conventional wisdom, but I wouldn't do anything special to pressure freshman quarterback Steven Threet, exotic blitzes, stunts, et al. I'd rush the front four, keep as many of the receivers in front of the back seven as we can, and make him beat us down the field with 80-yard drives, six yards at a time. This would also be the best way to limit big plays by Sam McGuffie, their promising freshman running back. (BTW, how great of a name is 'Sam McGuffie?' It sounds like an old gold prospector with an oversized cowboy hat and a bushy moustache, maybe one of the palookas in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out).

We play this game straight-up, without any huge mistakes by either side, and we ought to win this one.

I'll say the final is the type of score they've seemed to hang on us many times in the Big House in the last two decades: Wisconsin 27, Michigan 13.

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