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Injuries Key in Madison

When the Wolverines and the Badgers take the field on Saturday, two pre-season top-five teams, already having accumulated a total of five losses, will be playing for far less than the National Championship berth that was their expected goal. Wisconsin, 3-3 in the conference, has not been the defensive juggernaut that many expert predicted, whereas Michigan's explosive offense, featuring Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Chad Henne and Jake Long, was unable to put enough points on the board to beat non-conference foes Appalachian State(!) and Oregon.

Among the many things that have required adjustments for both teams are a wide range of injuries. Wisconsin's starter P.J. Hill, last season's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has missed time in the last two Badger games, including the entire loss to Ohio State. Two members of Michigan's offensive contingent, Chad Henne and Mike Hart, have battled different injuries throughout the year, and each has missed at least two games.

When the teams take the field on Saturday, the injury situation is likely to play a key role for both teams. The first hit for Wisconsin: starting cornerback Allen Langford is out for the season after injuring his knee against Ohio State. The losses don't end there for the badgers, however. Starting defensive tackle Jason Chapman is also going to miss the remainder of the year, right offensive tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel is not expected to play, and those in the know predict P.J. Hill will not hit the field against the Wolverines.

The personnel shuffling doesn't end there for Wisconsin, as there will be changes in favor of getting some young guys more playing time, in addition to players returning from injury. The strong safety competition has been reopened, and redshirt freshman Jay Valai has a strong chance to earn the spot. Junior offensive guard Andy Kemp comes back after missing the last three weeks with a hand injury. This, along with Vanden Heuvel's injury, will really shake up the offensive line. A backup running back (likely Lance Smith) might not be able to find a lot of room to run behind this reshuffling, and Tyler Donovan should fear for his life (he was sacked ten times against Ohio State).

The badgers may be able to take heart in the other side of the line, where Michigan is far from injury-free. Right guard Alex Mitchell, who started the year out at right guard, but has missed most of the season with injury, returned to the lineup against Michigan State, and is expected the get the start. Strong safety Brandent Englemon went down after making a tackle against the Spartans, and while he is expected to start, his full status is not known. Henne and Hart both played through injuries against MSU, and while Henne is expected to be close to 100%, Hart may be more hurt than he has let on. He missed most of the second half of last week's game.

Jason Chapman has one assisted sack. The badgers are 46th in pass defense efficiency, and with Chapman unable to provide a bit of pressure, and replacing a senior in the secondary with a freshman, and a redshirt sophomore back there with a redshirt freshman (potentially), Chad Henne should be able to sling the ball through the air. His offensive line is the healthiest it's been all year. Moving the ball on the ground for Michigan is still questionable. While Chapman only has 2 solo tackles for loss, and 26 total tackles on the year, even with him that Badgers are 58th in run defense. Mike Hart is a major upgrade over his backups, but Michigan's O-line is finally healthy.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan's injuries are minimal, pending the status of Brandent Englemon. Wisconsin has to replace a starting right tackle, likely with a redshirt freshman (albeit an Army All-American in Jake Bscherer). Also on the offensive line, Wisconsin makes a change at left guard, and although it is a starter returning from injury, the cohesion along the offensive line may be affected, as Andy Kemp has not played for three weeks. Losing P.J. Hill hurts the most for Wisconsin. He was the team's MVP last year, and is a bruising runner in the style of Michigan State's Jehuu Caulcrick, who had his way with the Michigan defense in the second half for Michigan State. Lance Smith is amore speedy runner, who has averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

The conclusion? Wisconsin is certainly far more banged up than Michigan. The secondary for the Badgers should be the weak link, as this is likely the strongest receiving corps they have seen this year (no disrespect intended to the Buckeyes). The Badger run game should struggle as well, with two changes on the offensive line, and the starter at running back either out or severely hampered by injury. The tale of the trainer's table definitely leans in favor of Michigan.

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“Injuries Key in Madison”