Before a single snap, it seems everyone expects Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Michigan to be a shootout.
With the Badgers unloading 83 points on Indiana just days ago and quarterback Denard Robinson leading a quick-strike Wolverine offense, it’s easy to see why.
Just don’t tell the Wisconsin defense that they’re about to take part in a high-scoring affair.
“I’m a defensive guy so I hope it doesn’t that work out that way,” senior linebacker Culmer St. Jean said of a potential shootout. “That would be a tough Sunday coming back watching film.”
Still, the Badger defense knows they have an extremely tough challenge ahead of them this weekend in Ann Arbor.
Robinson took the college football world by storm early this season, rushing for a 181 yards per game through the first five weeks. After a 5-0 start Michigan went on to lose their next three, with Robinson struggling to make an impact in the passing game, but the production continued on the ground, highlighted by a 191 yard outing against Penn State.
At times, he’s single-handedly carried Michigan, whose defense ranks last in the Big Ten in yardage allowed per game.
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge has prepared his unit for talented quarterbacks before, and Robinson will be one of the toughest ones yet.
“Great challenge, obviously the young man has tremendous playmaking ability and speed,” Partridge said. “We’ve tried to put one of our faster guys in that position this week to help us get ready. Guys just need to tackle well in the open field.”
Freshman running back Jeff Lewis has assumed the role of Robinson for Wisconsin’s week of preparation and the speedy tailback’s temporary new role gives an indication of how respected a runner Robinson is.
Several comparisons have been drawn to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as UW readies itself for Robinson, and while a key against both signal callers is to keep them contained in the pocket, Partridge insists that aside from the disparity in size, the scheme in place for Robinson is much different.
“It’s not even comparable from a schematics standpoint,” Partridge said. “There wasn’t many designed quarterback runs for Terrelle Pryor. It was a matter of keeping him in the pocket when he was a passer.
“With Denard you have both threats. You have designed runs as if he was a running back, and you’ve got the threat of him scrambling from the pass.”
And keep in mind, Robinson does in fact throw the football. At times, he’s done it very well.
The sophomore has thrown for 1,990 yards (21 more yards than UW quarterback Scott Tolzien) and 14 touchdowns to go along with his 1,417 yards and 12 scores on the ground.
Interceptions have been the knock on Robinson (nine on the year), but the Badgers know they need to respect his arm as well as his legs.
“His arm is legit. His speed is legit. A lot of teams have had trouble with him,” St. Jean said.
Two better than one
With Robinson suffering from occasional injuries and having recurring ball security issues, sophomore quarterback Tate Forcier, last season’s starer, has surfaced once again for Michigan.
After missing action due to a concussion, Robinson watched Forcier lead the Wolverines to a thrilling triple-overtime victory over Illinois.
Foricer, a playmaker who has some mobility in his own right, also saw action against Purdue last week, meaning UW must be prepared for two different threats running the Michigan offense.
“They are both dangerous in their own ways. Denard is more dangerous with his feet, Tate maybe a little bit more with his arm,” said senior safety Jay Valai. “They are both great quarterbacks.”
Limiting the big play
Wisconsin knows Michigan is going to move the football and rack up some yards.
But the essential ingredient to a win for UW Saturday comes down to the Badgers’ ability or inability to keep the Michigan offense from getting quick scores.
Robinson is one of the fastest players UW has seen all season, and he can reach the endzone whenever the ball is in his hands.
“He can break at any moment,” St. Jean said. “One big play that’s 60 or 70 yards and that’s momentum on their side. The fans get into it, and we have to make them drive down the field and force a mistake.
“We can’t allow big plays against Michigan.”
The Badgers know they are going into a hostile environment. They know Robinson is going to get his touches in UM’s spread offense.
But one way for a defense to keep an offense out of sync and out of rhythm is to set a physical tone from the start.
That’s exactly what the Badgers plan to do.
“The best way I know how to stop a potent offense is to hit them right in the mouth right out of the gates,” said junior defensive end J.J. Watt. “That’s what we need to do all game and we need to keep hitting them. We need to let them know that they are playing the Wisconsin Badgers, and they better be ready to play.”