ANN ARBOR — James Rogers admits it. Even while preparing for Saturday's game against Wisconsin, the Michigan senior cornerback has kept one eye focused on another upcoming game.
“The Buckeyes are kind of always in the back of your mind,” Rogers said. “You never stop thinking about the Buckeyes.”
First things first though. In Saturday's home game against Wisconsin, Rogers and his teammates will try to beat the only team that has beaten Ohio State. Still in search of a signature win, the Wolverines (7-3, 3-3) close out the regular season with uphill battles against two teams currently with one loss each.
A fluid bowl picture seems to be coming into focus, and most prognosticators believe the Wolverines, regardless of the outcome of their next two games, will be invited to the Dec. 28 Insight Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., to possibly play Missouri or Oklahoma of the Big 12.
UM didn't fare well the last time it faced Big Ten standouts in consecutive weeks, losing to Michigan State 34-17 on Oct. 9 and falling to Iowa seven days later, 38-28. But Wisconsin coach Brett Bielema, whose No. 5 Badgers are coming off of an 83-point performance against Indiana, senses the Wolverines have improved in recent weeks, especially on defense.
“Unfortunately, that's not good news for us,” Bielema said.
Bielema's Sunday work schedule includes film study of the upcoming opponent, beginning from four games back and then moving forward. By any measure, including Bielema's personal view, the Wolverine defense played their best game of the year Saturday when they held Purdue without an offensive touchdown in a 27-16 win in West Lafayette, Ind.
“Their defense played very well, their tackling seemed to fit, and [the players were] understanding everything that was going on as good as any time this season,” Bielema said.
UM has beaten the Badgers three straight times at Michigan Stadium, including in 2008 when the Steven Threet-quarterbacked Wolverines scored 27 unanswered points in the second half before prevailing 27-25 over the ninth-ranked team in the country.
Bielema said he spoke with former UW coach and the school's current athletic director, Barry Alvarez, earlier this week, discussing the difficulties of winning in Ann Arbor. UM is 27-6 all-time at home against the Badgers.
“If you [win] it usually means you're having a pretty special year,” Bielema said.
Many would say that has been the case for Bielema's squad. A 34-24 loss at Michigan State on Oct. 2 is the only blemish for a team that ranks among the best nationally in points scored (eighth; 40.2) and points allowed (23rd; 19.5). Much has been said this week about UW's strong rushing attack, but Rodriguez spoke most highly of defensive end J.J. Watt, who has racked up 18 tackles for loss and six sacks.
“In my opinion, the way he's played, his consistency every ball game, I think he's a first team All-American,” Rodriguez said.
INJURY REPORT: Running back Michael Shaw and left tackle Taylor Lewan who each suffered concussion-like symptoms in the Purdue game are listed as questionable on the team's injury report released Thursday night. Considered probable are Mike Martin (ankle) and Jonas Mouton (chest), neither of who played against Purdue. Reserve offensive lineman John Ferrara (knee) is out.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.