It’s that time of year where people start to break out the stats. You know, like these ones:
Michigan hasn’t won as the underdog since 2013. And, Michigan hasn’t won in Madison since 2001.
So of course, those stats were a hot topic of conversation at Monday’s media availability going into Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin. Michigan did its best to tune them out.
“Do you feel like an underdog going into this game?” a reporter asked Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
His response: “It’s irrelevant.”
It doesn’t help the Wolverines that the Badgers are ranked No. 1 in the country in both total defense and scoring defense. They beat their first two opponents, Central Michigan and South Florida, by a combined score of 110-0. They have a sour taste in their mouth from a loss in last year’s matchup. And, like Michigan, they’re well-rested and coming off a bye. Beating them will be no easy task, especially for a team that’s had its fair share of offensive struggles so far.
But perhaps the Wolverines have a built-in advantage in preparing for that. If you look at SP+, a comprehensive team evaluation stat, it’s actually Michigan’s defense holding the top spot. As senior guard Ben Bredeson put it, “it’s tough, and it’s tough going against our defense, too.” And the Wolverines have the advantage of knowing they’ll be the biggest challenge yet for the Badgers’ inexperienced quarterback Jack Coan.
The Wolverines know they have a history of starting slow on the road — it doomed them last year in a loss to Notre Dame and almost did the same at Northwestern. So the coaching staff targeted it specifically in practice.
It’s impossible to fully simulate the environment at Camp Randall Stadium, but the Wolverines have gotten as close as they can, piping in crowd noise so that it’s harder to communicate, harder to hear playcalls. Michigan has an experienced offensive line, many of whom have played at Camp Randall before. Senior quarterback Shea Patterson faced some of the toughest road environments in the country in Alabama and Auburn during his days at Ole Miss.
“They got a very energetic fan base there,” said Bredeson. “ … There’s definitely a lot of red out there in the stands and it’s gonna be, everyone’s very passionate about their team in Madison.
“I always found those games fun, where you get to go to the venues that are so passionate for their own teams, and even if it’s loud against you, it’s just the energy, everybody can kind of feed off it, but it does provide some challenges.”
Wisconsin has some new personnel on the defensive side, but the scheme is very similar to last year’s — when Michigan blasted the Badgers to the tune of a 38-13 win. The Wolverines have already watched the Wisconsin’s film from both this year and last and put together a game plan.
Michigan’s the underdog, and has struggled to win in that situation. That much is undeniable. But the Wolverines aren’t viewing the game through that lens.
“They put on their pads just like us,” said senior tight end Nick Eubanks. “We know they’re a tough team and we know they’re gonna put up a fight especially with us, especially what happened last year, they’re gonna put up a fight. So we’re going down swinging too, so we’ll see how it turns out.”