We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Thursday, Sept. 29, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Cowherd expects Michigan blowout
If Wisconsin needed any more motivation in getting ready to face Michigan on Saturday, FS1’s Colin Cowherd delivered it on Wednesday, calling a Wolverines blowout win his “lock of the year.”
There is no doubt that Wisconsin hasn’t faced a team as well-rounded as Michigan so far this year. Coach Jim Harbaugh’s bunch has played well in all three phases — offense, defense and special teams. But there has been nothing this season to indicate the Badgers won’t be competitive in the game.
Cowherd’s analysis of the Badgers’ win over Michigan State smacks of someone who didn’t watch the game and simply looked at a box score, saw the four turnovers forced by Wisconsin and the 317 yards of total offense, and figured it was just pure luck that coach Paul Chryst and his team routed the Spartans 30-6. That’s not what happened, of course, because the Badgers were simply the tougher and better team in nearly every way.
Now comes Michigan, which is favored by double digits based on perception and nothing else. While the defense has been stout under first-year defensive coordinator Don Brown, the Badgers will test it with a developing power running game and a quarterback who can accurately stretch the field.
And the Michigan offense — which has put up at least 40 points in all four games — has yet to see a defense like the Badgers, a group that hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in their last 16 games, and will force quarterback Wilton Speights to make quick decisions with the ball.
Wisconsin has been the more impressive team this season with its wins over top-10 teams LSU and Michigan State, but that apparently means little to Cowherd and other critics. The Badgers say they’re just fine with that.
“We come out every week and know no one is on our side. It’s only fuel to our fire,” Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said. “Say we win (the Michigan) game. We still won’t be (expected) to win the next game against Ohio State.
“We love it. We live for it. Competition is competition. Numbers can’t play for (you).”
J.J. Watt is selfish?
News broke Tuesday that former Wisconsin great J.J. Watt had injured his back again and would be put on injured reserve, potentially ending his season with the Houston Texans.
While some delivered their condolences to the three-time NFL defensive player of the year, others decided to take shots at Watt, including Stugotz of ESPN’s The Dan Le Batard Show, who went on SportsCenter Wednesday morning and called Watt the most selfish man in football.
“I feel like it’s a perfect time to criticize J.J. Watt. He’s hurt because he needed to get back Week 1 of the NFL season. There was no reason. He should have come back Week 5 or 6. That’s what the doctors told him, but no, J.J. Watt has to get back Week 1, four weeks before anyone else would come back from back surgery. That’s what J.J. Watt is all about. It’s about J.J. Watt. Not about the Texans. He’s about J.J.”
Think of Watt what you will. He can be over-the-top in some of the things he says and does, especially on social media, but to call him selfish for wanting to be back on the field and playing football is nonsense.
If he were to miss the first three or four weeks of the season, how many would call him out for not being willing to sacrifice for the team? The guy has played through injuries from the time he came into the league, and it’s been to the benefit of the Texans and him. That’s not being selfish. That’s doing what you think is best to win as many football games as possible.
In this situation, it didn’t work out the way Watt or Houston hoped. But it doesn’t change the intent.
Third down a key for Wisconsin
One of the biggest reasons Wisconsin was able to get the win against Michigan State was its success on third down, especially in long distance situations. But no one — absolutely no one — is doing a better job this season of getting off the field on third down than Michigan.
As Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details, the Wolverines have allowed a total of six third-down conversions this season on 50 opportunities. That comes out to a 12 percent conversion rate. For perspective, Wisconsin managed to convert on seven third downs last week alone. And by the sounds of it, wide receiver Jazz Peavy doesn’t think this week will be any different.
Peavy was asked what he thought about the sparkling third-down numbers posted so far by Michigan.
“I think about what we can do and I think about what I know we can do,” he said. “I know we can convert third downs and can make plays anywhere on the field.
“That 12 percent was 12 percent against other teams.”
That’s confidence from Wisconsin’s leading receiver, but the Badgers better not be counting on a similar conversion rate on third-and-long this time around. The fact that quarterback Alex Hornibrook was 6-for-6 passing for 100 yards when it was third-and-10 or longer is an outlier and not something that can be sustained, especially against a Michigan defense that likes to get after the passer with a variety of blitzes and pressures, owning 17 sacks in the first four games.
Alex Hornibrook on 3rd down: 9 of 12 for 136 yards and six 1st downs. Here's all of the throws. pic.twitter.com/F98ugQ174d
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) September 25, 2016
The key, obviously, is to run the ball better on early downs, something Wisconsin has struggled to do for most of the season. A healthier Corey Clement at running back should help, as would the return of either preferred starting left guard, Jon Dietzen or Micah Kapoi.
In the end, the key for Wisconsin on offense remains the same as it has for the past 25 years when facing opponents with better talent. Control the clock, limit turnovers and play lights out defense. This Wisconsin team is more than capable of doing that and getting a win.
How many semifinalists?
Vince Biegel is one of Wisconsin’s captains and has been among their best defensive players, with Pro Football Focus rating him as the top edge rusher in the Big Ten.
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 26, 2016
Biegel was a terror last week against Michigan State, consistently finding himself in the backfield harassing quarterback Tyler O’Connor. And his efforts there, as well as the first three games, allowed him to be named a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, which goes to the best scholar-athlete in the country.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 28, 2016
While that’s all well and good, Biegel is one of 156 semifinalists. Yes, you read that correctly. There are 156 semifinalists for the award. This isn’t a preseason watch list, which we’ve come to expect to have a gratuitous number of names on it. This is a list of semifinalists that they are going to whittle down to 12 to 14 finalists next month.
It’s impossible that there are actually 156 players out there who could be considered the best player in the country. And while it’s understandable that the more names they have on the list, the more national traction the award — and its sponsor — will get, it feels a bit worthless.