Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz (5) tosss the ball to running back Chez Mellusi (6) during their football game Saturday, September 25, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill. Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

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Wisconsin’s defense aims to slow No. 14 Michigan

Undefeated Michigan hopes to reignite its ground game against the nation’s top-ranked run defense when the 14th-ranked Wolverines look for their first victory at Wisconsin in 20 years on Saturday.

Michigan (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten), heading on the road for the first time this season, has lost the last five encounters to the Badgers in Madison since a 20-17 victory in 2001 on a field goal in the final minute.

Wisconsin (1-2, 0-1) dropped out of the Top 25 with a 41-13 loss Saturday to ninth-ranked Notre Dame, despite holding the Irish to 9 yards rushing. The Badgers have been plagued by costly turnovers, but they allow just 23 yards per game rushing.

“A solid, physical, athletic defense that really knows the scheme,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said of the Badgers. “They’re very dialed in.”

The Wolverines averaged 350 yards rushing and 47 points in their three nonconference victories but had just 112 yards on the ground in a 20-13 victory over Rutgers on Saturday. Michigan led 20-3 at the half but managed just two first downs in the second half.

“Defensively, we’re going to be challenged differently this week,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “Obviously playing a really good Michigan team, a team that’s talented and really well-coached and I think playing really good football right now.”

Wisconsin unraveled in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Badgers took a 13-10 lead on a field goal early in the final quarter, then allowed a 96-yard return for a touchdown on the ensuing kickoff.

Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz then had two fourth-quarter interceptions returned for touchdowns. The sophomore finished with four interceptions and lost a fumble.

In Wisconsin’s 16-10 opening loss to No. 4 Penn State, Mertz threw two fourth-quarter picks in the red zone.

The Badgers, who were ranked 12th in the preseason poll, have turned the ball over nine times, while Michigan is the only FBS team without a giveaway.

“There are no offensive turnovers,” Harbaugh said. “Now, some other things. Playing on the road, keeping your poise in the noise, all things that the team is learning and growing. So far, they’re picking them up and they’re retaining them, and this will be a big task this week, playing against a really tough team on the road.”

The Wolverines rushed 15 times for 64 yards on their 74-yard opening touchdown drive against the Scarlet Knights but struggled after that with their rushing offense.

Blake Corum leads the Wolverines’ ground game with 475 yards and seven touchdowns, and Hassan Haskins has 322 yards and six touchdowns.

Quarterback Cade McNamara has completed 33 of 53 passes for 534 yards and three touchdowns. Cornelius Johnson has a team-high eight receptions, averaging 24.8 yards per catch.

While the Badgers’ offense has struggled, the defense has been stingy, especially against the run. Even before holding Notre Dame 0.3 yards per carry, Wisconsin held Penn State to 50 yards on 18 carries and Eastern Michigan to 16 yards on 18 attempts.

Mertz has completed 54 of 95 passes for 566 yards with one touchdown and six interceptions. Defenses have keyed on all-conference tight end Jake Ferguson, who has 13 receptions for 80 yards but no touchdowns. Wideout Danny Davis III has a team-best 16 catches for 193 yards.

Although the Wolverines lead the series 51-17-1, Wisconsin has won the last two, 35-14 at Madison in 2019 and 49-11 last season at Ann Arbor.

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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