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Posted on Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 9:43 a.m.

Breaking down the Michigan-Wisconsin football game with Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal

By Michael Rothstein

Bowl eligible and riding a two-game win streak, the Michigan football team enters its toughest two-game stretch of the season, finishing with Big Ten title contenders Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The Badgers are up first, and they haven't forgotten losing 27-25 at Michigan in 2008.

To help break down Saturday's game, invited Tom Mulhern of the Wisconsin State Journal to participate in our Beat Writer Breakdown.

Q; Every year, Wisconsin seems to have a bruising, dominating running back. This year the Badgers have three. If you could, break down the differences between John Clay, James White and Montee Ball. Who gets the majority of carries Saturday?

Tom Mulhern: "The best way to describe the difference in the backs is what Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said earlier in the season. Clay is first gear, Ball is second gear and White is third gear. Clay is the bruiser, who is at his best between the tackles, running over defenders. Ball is more like Clay than White, but has shown a little more burst the last couple weeks and has had a few more long runs. White is the quickest Badgers back since Brian Calhoun in 2005. It's impressive, White's ability to get around the corner. Several of his touchdowns have been around end. I keep thinking defenses will catch on to it, but he still manages to get the corner. Clay didn't practice on Tuesday and his status is questionable.

"As of this writing (Wednesday afternoon), I would guess Ball and White will split the carries fairly evenly, as they did last week against Indiana."

Q: Wisconsin has struggled over the last decade in the state of Michigan. Any idea why? Have the players or coaches referenced it at all?

TM: "Most of the talk has been about Wisconsin's second-half collapse in 2008 (at Michigan), when the Badgers blew a 19-0 halftime lead and lost 27-25. Bielema mentioned it in the locker room after the Indiana game and again in a team meeting on Sunday. The basic feeling is this is a much different team than that one. That collapse was the first time a Bielema team lost after leading at halftime. It was also the first of three fourth-quarter collapses that season, also including losses to Ohio State and Michigan State. Wisconsin has now won 10 of its last 11 games decided by eight points or less, so it has apparently learned some lessons.

"Let's face it, a lot of teams have struggled to win at Michigan over the years. The Badgers blew their chance in 2008 when Michigan was down. The other four losses came to teams ranked in the top 15. There have been some strange occurrences in that stretch. I remember Drew Henson's game-winning touchdown pass to David Terrell in the 20-17 loss in 2000, which was thrown back across the field as he was being flushed from the pocket and probably should have been picked. Then, there was a pass dropped in the end zone by UW freshman Jonathan Orr in 2002, which could have forced overtime in a 21-14 loss."

Q: How dominant has J.J. Watt been this year? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

TM: "Watt has been the second-best defensive end I've seen all year, after Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan. And Watt outplayed Kerrigan in their head-to-head matchup two weeks ago. Wisconsin has been fortunate to have defensive ends in back-to-back years who have played so relentlessly and with such high motors. In fact, Watt spent a lot of time watching film of O'Brien Schofield over the summer and realizing he needed to play that hard every snap, even if the play went away from him. Watt's production has been impressive: 18 TFLs, six sacks, six pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. For a while, he was basically the only playmaker on defense. He has also made plays on special teams with two blocked kicks. He was not much of a pass rusher last year but worked hard to develop a counter to his bull rush and has been effective, especially during Big Ten play.

"He's got decent quickness for a 292-pound guy. He doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He had a missed tackle on a 67-yard run to his side last week and it was kind of shocking to see because he hasn't had many of those moments this season. He's a high-energy player who has been fun to watch."

Q: This Wisconsin team seems on a path toward the Rose Bowl. Has there been any talk about that at all the past few weeks?

TM: "Bielema has been pretty good about deflecting the Rose Bowl talk and his players have followed his lead. It used to be the '1-0' philosophy we heard, ad nauseum. Now, it's, 'No day is more important than today.' Most of the focus has been on the BCS standings and whether Ohio State will overtake UW if there is a three-way tie (with Michigan State). The last Big Ten title here was 1999 and I think fans are anxious for another one. If Wisconsin loses out on the Rose Bowl -- especially because of BCS ranking to a team it beat -- there will be plenty of grumbling.

"But UW has nobody to blame but itself for its lousy non-conference schedule, which is killing it in the computer rankings. Also, if UW goes to another BCS game, like the Orange or Sugar bowls, I think fans would get on board pretty quickly because of the novelty of going somewhere new."

Q: How does Wisconsin plan on simulating Denard Robinson, who has been a problem for most teams this season?

TM: "Wisconsin has a walk-on (Drew McAdams) it brought in, basically to be the scout-team quarterback for spread opponents. Otherwise, the guy is a wide receiver. The problem is he's not very fast. So, they use a freshman running back who is being redshirted, Jeff Lewis, to simulate running quarterbacks. The only problem, he can't throw. I don't think they've got anybody on the roster as quick as Robinson. Then again, opposing teams have difficulty simulating Clay and the Wisconsin offensive line, I'm sure."

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan basketball for He can be reached at (734) 623-2558, by e-mail at or follow along on Twitter @mikerothstein.


scooter dog

Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 1:32 p.m.

The only way michigan is going to win is if the other team misses the bus from the hotel. wisc 48 Mi 0


Sat, Nov 20, 2010 : 9:52 a.m.

There are only a few ways Michigan can win this game. One is to force turnovers and make big plays on defense. Another was is to win in a shootout where Michigan controls the pace of the game, puts up a lot of points, and makes no turnovers. In both cases, we're asking Michigan to play a perfect game. Will they. Based on past performance (e.g., five turnovers last week), it's unlikely they will pull the upset. My guess is that Wisconsin will prevail in a high scoring game, 45-38.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:56 p.m.

@heartbreak: I don't think the Wisc reporter is being hypocritical. MSU lost most recently, and so they are furthest behind. That's how rankings have always worked: The more recent games carry more weight than those in the past. Anyway...... Wisc: 42 Mich: 38

Larry Weisenthal

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 6:58 p.m.

We get two turnovers and don't cough it up ourselves, could win. Maybe. Arizona State ran a no huddle spread against Wisconsin and Wisconsin needed a blocked PAT to beat Arizona State (a not so good team, like Michigan). Who ran ASU's spread? Steven Threet, who is not exactly in Denard's league, running that type of offense. So maybe, just maybe...


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 5:57 p.m.

3andOut, your vision is clear. I had a similar vision, Wisconsin 52 - Michigan 21. I hope neither one of us is right. It's payback time for 22 losses out of the last 27 games versus Wisconsin. The Badgers will not show any mercy.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 5:55 p.m.

I see UM spotting UW a 3 touchdown lead in the first half followed by a frantic second half with UM making a huge push to catch up, after UW feels comfortably ahead. DRob get's 'hurt' again and Tate comes in to score 2 more TD's. UW scores late and wins by 2 TD's. UM 28 UW 42 Not the outcome I'd like, but a typical UM game. Hope I'm totally off on this one.

3 And Out

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 3:11 p.m.

Had a Vision yesterday Not one that Id like It said Wisky 54 Michigan 28 To some the loss Will be exciting Because we score a lot of points.

Michael Rothstein

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 2:08 p.m.

Gbluee, I don't ask that question every week. Probably should, but usually I go based on the themes of the week. This one seemed to have a lot of them without it. But if the readers like that question, I'll be sure to ask it weekly.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 1:49 p.m.

We are getting the sense that Wisconsin is pretty overconfident in this game against Michigam: 1. Wiscy beat Austin Peay by scoring over 70 points. Then, the very next week, they were favored to win in Spartan Stadium. MSU gave up 10 points early on turnovers and then beat the Badgers by 10 -- mostly in the seconf half. 2. Mighty Wisconsin runs up over 80 points on poor Indiana. The very next week, they are favored to win in Michigan Stadium. Wisconsin may be (is) a little over-rated and over confident. Let's push the bully down.

Lorain Steelmen

Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:48 a.m.

Tulsatom; I don't think UM's defense will stop UW's offense, but I DO think they will slow them down. The Badgers must score on virtually every possession, to stay with UM's offense, AND, to run out the clock. The only way they can stop DRob & Co., will be ball control. On the UM side, our Oline must show up,and control the Badger front. If they can do this, I think the Wolverine offense will have a BIG day. Hopefully, the skilled players have the ability to take what UW gives them, and keeps the turnover battle in our favor. So, in the end, the UM oline must decide to make a statement, namely, there are TWO great Olines playing in this game! Good Luck Wolves, beat Wisconsin!


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:46 a.m.

Hey Rothsteinn, what happenned to the last question you usually ask - best and worst case scennario for the teams to win/lose?


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 11:29 a.m.

Tulsatom, I completely agree with your skepticism as regards our ability to win this one. I just don't see our D being able to handle their big OL. I'm hoping for the upset, but more realistically just praying we don't get completely blown out.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:57 a.m.

Wisconsin is the favorite so most of the pressure will be on them in this one to stay in Rose Bowl contention. U-M should be loose and ready to play their best on Senior Day, so they should give a good effort. The weather forecast (45 degrees) concerns me a little because Michigan's QBs are both warm-weather guys and I am wondering if the cooler weather (relatively speaking) will affect their play. I sure hope not. In my opinion, the outcome will be decided by whether the U-M defense will be matadors who just let the Wisconsin bulls through the line at will or whether they will 'man up' and go toe-to-toe with the physical Badger offensive line and running backs. I'm hoping for the upset, although I don't realistically think it will happen.


Fri, Nov 19, 2010 : 10:23 a.m.

Ah, their writer is a hypocrite. It's OK for Wisconsin to jump MSU who beat them soundly, but not OK for OSU to jump Wisconsin (if it plays out) because Wisconsin beat OSU soundly? I think MSU is the real team that gets the shaft here. Though I will agree with the writer who says that UW's schedule was not exactly tough. They at least scheduled a Pac 10/12 team but year in and year out, UW always plays the weak sisters of the poor before the B10.