Two years ago, the worst Michigan team in recent memory beat the worst Wisconsin team in recent memory. They recovered from a 19-0 first half deficit to win 27-25. Both teams promptly tanked, with Michigan losing to a MAC opponent and smushing a Minnesota team beginning to lose their steam from a 7-1 start, and Wisconsin losing 5 of its next 6 Big Ten games.
Last year, Wisconsin handed Michigan their worst ever loss in Madison (45-24). Despite a defensive touchdown from Ryan Van Bergen (off a Scott Tolzien strip) and a pair of touchdown passes from Tate Forcier, Michigan was blown out on the road and suffered its sixth Big Ten loss of the season. The disparities in the 2009 game were evident; Wisconsin recorded 28 first downs, Michigan recorded just 15. Wisconsin ran for over 200 yards on 4.4 YPC, Michigan ran for 71 on 2.2. YPC.
Perhaps the most explosive runner in the conference, Denard Robinson, will face the Badgers this Saturday. Robinson has run for over 1,400 yards this season on 6.9 YPC, with almost 2,000 passing yards to his credit (1,990, to be exact). However, he has been anything but durable; Rich Rodriguez seems determined to run the kid into the ground and opposing defenses have been glad to get shots at him at any opportunity, knocking him out of several games (which was why Forcier came in against Iowa). In my opinion, Denard Robinson is the very definition of a boom or bust quarterback; he either gets a big play or almost none whatsoever, and there is not a heck of a lot in between. He is averaging 9.6 yards per pass attempt, with a 63.3 completion percentage. Those are really good stats when you include his 14 passing touchdowns, and 12 rushing touchdowns. However, Robinson has thrown 9 interceptions this year and lost several fumbles.
Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien faces Michigan for the last time in his career (5th year senior). He's not flashy by any means, but he gets the job done. This season, Tolzien has 1,869 yards passing with 12 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. His completion percentage? 72.5%. He might not have a ton of yards per game, or per attempt, but he keeps the ball out of the defense's hands and manages to lead effective drives downfield. Tolzien was at his best on late drives against Ohio State and Iowa.
ADVANTAGE: Robinson is 1000x the rusher Tolzien is, but Tolzien's numbers are better in critical areas (not turning the ball over and completing more of his passes). Michigan gets the advantage because of Robinson's rushing prowess.
Michigan's running backs are an unusual sort. They get so little focus from the opposing defense because opponents are keyed on Denard Robinson, so they occasionally can break big gains. However, Wisconsin has a trio of 500+ yard running backs (John Clay with 929, James White with 714, and Montee Ball with 513). All of them are averaging better than 5.3 YPC this year. Of those backs, White is the fastest, Ball is moderately quick but also a big-play threat, and Clay is the dedicated pounder. Clay leads the team in TDs (with 13) , but White is close behind (with 11) and Ball is right behind him (with 9).
Neither receiving corps. is particularly polished; I have serious doubts that anyone could name Wisconsin's top 4 receivers who isn't a dedicated Badger fan. Michigan moves their group all over the place (Stonum, Roundtree and Hemingway) and doesn't need a single receiver to have a great game. Wisconsin's WRs almost have to be good blockers, but you might not notice Michigan's receivers blocking because Denard is often in front of them before they can blink.
Michigan gives up 433.9 yards per game. They've allowed 2,702 passing yards. The Wolverines have also given up 1,637 rushing yards, which doesn't bode well against a rushing attack like Wisconsin's. However, Jonas Mouton and Mike Martin are expected to play, so that should help. But from what I've seen out of both teams, the battle up front SHOULD go Wisconsin's way. (should does NOT equal will, though)
Wisconsin's passing defense is underrated; they're the 3rd best passing defense in the Big Ten with 1905 yards allowed. That unit is complemented by the 4th best rushing defense in the Big Ten (1251 yards). On an odd note, both Wisconsin and Michigan have given up the same amount of passing touchdowns on defense (14) as they're recorded interceptions (9), but Wisconsin has a pair of INT TDs (one from CB Antonio Fenelus against Purdue, the other from S Aaron Henry last week).
ADVANTAGE: Wisconsin, definitely
Wisconsin has been flagged 30 times for 308 yards this season. Considering how terrible the penalty-ridden 2008 Wisconsin team played, I'm pretty happy about that stat. On the other side, Michigan has been flagged 50 times for 512 yards. As far as turnover margin goes, Wisconsin is averaging about +0.7 per game. Michigan, on the other hand, is averaging about -0.7 per game. That's not a pretty stat at all.
Expect a ton of 4th down attempts (but not necessarily conversions); RR is in the negatives as far as confidence in Seth Broekhiezen goes and Bielema will not settle for kicking on 4th and 1 from beyond the Michigan 30.
ADVANTAGE: Wisconsin is better as far as not turning the ball over and not committing penalties go. Those are big factors in any game.
Whoever avoids making mistakes is going to go into next week with a W. Whoever makes those mistakes gets an L and gets to face a tough opponent (Wisconsin faces a still-dangerous Northwestern team, Michigan faces rival Ohio State).
LIKELY ERRONEOUS PREDICTION: Wisconsin 31, Michigan 23. Wisconsin's offense pounds at Michigan from the opening snap. As in about 50 rushing attempts. But that doesn't mean Paul Chryst won't call a ton of passes, especially the way Michigan's secondary has played this year.
(Hat-tip: Graham Filler)