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Can Michigan football slow down red-hot Wisconsin offense?

Badgers have as many touchdowns as incompletions this season

Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines celebrates after quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. of the Army Black Knights fumbled the ball which was recovered by Michigan during the second overtime to end the game at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Most of the concern surrounding Michigan football's trip to Wisconsin this weekend centers on the offensive struggles, but the defense will also have its hands full against the red-shot Badgers.

Wisconsin has been an offensive juggernaut so far this season, scoring 110 points against South Florida and Central Michigan. It's too early to know if those are strong defensive teams, but regardless, the Badgers are executing at an elite level offensively.

The team is led by Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor, the best running back in college football.

Taylor has already rushed for 237 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries this season, good for 6.8 yards per carry.

Jonathan Taylor #23 of the Wisconsin Badgers scores a touchdown in the third quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Camp Randall Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

This season, Taylor's also a threat in the passing game, catching five passes for 65 yards and three touchdowns.

But unlike in recent seasons, Wisconsin also has a dangerous passing attack to compliment Taylor, and it's largely thanks to the accuracy of Quarterback Jack Coan.

Coan was clearly a better option than Alex Hornibrook last season, completing 60.2% of his passes for an average of 5.5 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and three interceptions.

He's blowing those numbers out of the water so far this year, completing 76.3% of his passes for an average of 9.6 yards per attempt, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Wisconsin has scored as many offensive touchdowns (14) as Coan has incomplete passes.

Jack Coan #17 of the Wisconsin Badgers throws a pass in the second quarter against the Central Michigan Chippewas at Camp Randall Stadium on September 07, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Coan has a handful of talented receivers and tight ends to target, led by Quintez Cephus' nine catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

A.J. Taylor, Kendric Pryor, Jake Ferguson and Danny Davis have all caught at least six passes and average more than 10 yards per reception.

Michigan has faced a nonexistent passing attack in Army and a weak offense in Middle Tennessee State this season. Wisconsin will be by far the greatest test to date.

The only weakness for Wisconsin's offense might be field goal kicking, as the Badgers have made only one of three attempts. That's not much of a concern for a team that has converted eight of 10 red zone opportunities into touchdowns.

Wisconsin is loaded along the offensive line, has a third-year star in Taylor and finally found a quarterback to lead a competent passing attack.

Michigan will have to play its best game defensively to keep pace.

Defensive ends Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye have been disruptive in the pass rush, and Carlo Kemp has done a nice job leading a thin interior defensive line. There are still questions about the strength of Michigan's defensive tackles and linebackers, though, and Taylor will exploit any weaknesses they might have.

Kell Walker #5 of the Army Black Knights is tackled by Kwity Paye #19 of the Michigan Wolverines and Khaleke Hudson #7 of the Michigan Wolverines during the second half at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2019 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The secondary has been a major strength for Michigan thus far, led by cornerbacks Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas.

Hill has already proven to be one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten, but the emergence of Thomas in the MTSU game was an unexpected boost to an already deep unit.

Viper Khaleke Hudson and safeties Josh Metellus and Brad Hawkins will have to be strong against the run, because Taylor will get to the second level and can turn a first-down run into a touchdown run with one move.

Michigan has the talent to keep up with Wisconsin, and the players are saying all the right things coming off a bye week. But the Wolverines have struggled in big games, especially on the road, so they have to prove they can win one of these games before the narrative surrounding the program can change.

The Wisconsin game is an opportunity to get back on track and the offense isn't the only unit with something to prove.


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