Michigan football needs passing game to beat Wisconsin -- can Cade McNamara pull through?

Wisconsin leads country in rushing defense

Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara (12) throws a pass in the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. (Tony Ding, The Associated Press 2021)

ANN ARBOR, Mich.Michigan football survived its first four games without much of a passing attack, but that plan will have to change if the Wolverines hope to move the ball against Wisconsin.

READ: 6 reasons to worry (and 4 reasons not to) after Michigan’s close call vs. Rutgers

On Saturday, Rutgers gave the rest of the Big Ten a blueprint to shut down the Michigan offense. Greg Schiano came out of halftime and stacked the box, forcing the Wolverines into obvious passing situations.

Michigan ran into two problems. First and foremost, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis tried to run between the tackles in a crowded box. That certainly didn’t work. Then, when Cade McNamara did throw the ball, he wasn’t effective.

The Wolverines averaged 2.9 yards per carry, including just 3.2 for star Blake Corum and 3.4 for Hassan Haskins. As a result, the offense failed to score in the second half, going three-and-out four times before a short drive to set up a missed field goal.

Teams capable of shutting down the ground game have a major advantage over Michigan. That’s very bad news heading into this week’s matchup.

Wisconsin, regardless of its record, is a talented team, and Michigan never plays well at Camp Randall in the first place. What’s more concerning is the Badgers’ proficiency against the rush, ranking No. 1 in the nation by allowing just 23 rushing yards per game.

Michigan's Cade McNamara throws a pass during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Piscataway, N.J. Michigan won 48-42. (The Associated Press 2021)

Two of Wisconsin’s first three games have come against top-ranked teams in Penn State and Notre Dame, yet still, the Badgers lead the nation in rushing defense by a full 22 yards per game. Every team in college football (besides San Diego State) is allowing more than twice as many rushing yards per game as Wisconsin.

Translation: McNamara will have to win the game through the air.

Michigan fans watched McNamara carry the offense with his arm last year at Rutgers, but this year, the passing attack has been fleeting. Through four games, McNamara has yet to throw for 200 yards or complete 10 passes in a game.

Now, squaring off against a team that allows 1.01 yards per rush, Jim Harbaugh and his staff are counting on that to change.

Early betting lines are fluctuating between Michigan and Wisconsin, but on paper, it looks like a difficult matchup for the Wolverines. If Gattis doesn’t have something up his sleeve, it could be another long afternoon in Madison.

About the Author:

Derick is the Lead Digital Editor for ClickOnDetroit and has been with Local 4 News since April 2013. Derick specializes in breaking news, crime and local sports.