Shea Patterson, Josh Metellus and Donovan Jeter all leaned comfortably on the countertop that stretches along the far wall of the Towsley Museum inside Schembechler Hall. The countertop, which doubles as a Michigan football timeline, maps out the program’s rich history — a reminder of those who established such a standard of success.
With each passing question, the sentiment of the conversation drifted away from the notion of excellence they physically leaned on as reporters asked about the team’s early-season woes. Lost fumbles, costly penalties and missed opportunities downfield have kept offensive coordinator Josh Gattis’ Pro-Spread offense from fully clicking and, as a result, the 11th-ranked Wolverines (2-0) have seen their national ranking fall four spots despite an unblemished record.
National critics pounced on Michigan after it needed double-overtime to finish off a comeback win at home over Army, which entered the game with the country’s second-longest active win streak. Now, the Wolverines have the chance to turn heads on that same national level in Madison, where they haven’t won since 2001. No. 13 Wisconsin (2-0), also coming off a bye, enters Saturday’s conference opener with the nation’s top-ranked defense — which is still yet to allow a point — and a scorching offense averaging over 500 yards per game.
“We’re just looking to go out there and make a statement,” Patterson said. “It’s as simple as that. … At the end of the day, the only people we feel like can stop us is us.”
While the offense has looked like anything but a well-oiled machine, Jeter knows the defense can use this game to make a statement of its own. The Wolverines lost defensive linemen Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, linebacker Devin Bush and defensive back David Long — four starters on the defense that held Wisconsin to 13 points in last season’s 25-point blowout victory — to the NFL Draft during the offseason.
Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s unit has enjoyed a historically dominant stretch over the last few years, but finds itself ranked No. 21 in total defense so far this season after allowing a combined 544 yards against the Black Knights and Middle Tennessee State. With a number of new faces in expanded roles, a stout road performance against star running back Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers could be exactly what Michigan’s defense needs to reinforce its recent reputation.
“I think our whole defense has something to prove,” Jeter said. “ … We’ve got to get back to the standard of being the best defense in the country.”
If there’s a better time to make a statement this early in the year, you’d have a difficult time finding it.
Since taking the Michigan job, Jim Harbaugh hasn’t won any of his six contests when Vegas oddsmakers have tabbed his team as an underdog. As of Wednesday morning, Wisconsin is a 3.5-point favorite in Saturday’s game. Metellus didn’t mince words when describing what such a spread means to him.
“(Oddsmakers) don’t play football,” Metellus said. “We play football.”