Michigan has suffered many disappointments every time it has visited Wisconsin for the past two decades.
Wisconsin has felt a similar pain every time they’ve faced a ranked team in recent times.
The frustration will end for one of those Big Ten programs on Saturday when the Badgers (1-2, 0-1) host the 14th Wolverines (4-0, 1-0).
Wisconsin have lost each of their last seven games to Top 25 teams, including losses to Penn State and Notre Dame this season. Michigan has lost its last five games at Madison and hasn’t beaten Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium since a 20-17 decision in 2001.
“It’s exciting to have this opportunity – this challenge – to see how far this football team has come, to see if we can win on the road, take on that challenge,” Michigan coach Jim said. Harbaugh. “We are preparing for it. It will be a huge task, there is no doubt about it.
Wisconsin has an equally important task after losing two of their first three games. The Badgers, who were ranked 12th at the start of the season, have the worst rolling margin in the country and allowed the final 31 points in a 41-13 loss to Notre Dame last week.
“The season is not over,” said Wisconsin wide receiver Kendric Pryor. “It’s just the beginning. We are a quarter of the way. We’re not going to sit here and dwell on “Yeah, we lost two games, but okay”. We cannot go back and change it.
As Harbaugh noted, this game should indicate whether Michigan has really turned a corner after going 2-4 last season. Michigan still hasn’t played away.
Wisconsin has embarrassed Michigan each of the past two years, winning 35-14 at Madison in 2019 and 49-11 at Ann Arbor last year. Wisconsin ran 359 yards against Michigan in 2019 and 341 last year.
“We hurt ourselves by not putting enough advantage,” Harbaugh said of last year’s game. “One point of emphasis: a stronger running defense and defined edges.”
This year Michigan has the strongest ground attack so far.
Blake Corum leads the nation in versatile yards and spearheads an offense that has 290.8 rushing yards per game to place fifth among all Subdivision Bowl Football teams. Wisconsin only ran 78 yards on 28 carries against Notre Dame.
Wisconsin has the nation’s highest-ranked race defense. The Badgers allow just 23 rushing yards per game and 1.01 yards per carry.
“We’ll do what we try to do every week – stop the race,” Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen said. “They do a lot of different things. They run against, they run zone, they run power, they run stretch. They run almost every racing game you can think of. It’s hard to prepare for a team that can handle the ball like that.
MERTZ IN FIGHT
Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz threw six interceptions and a single touchdown pass. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble against Notre Dame. Two of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Mertz threw two touchdowns and no interceptions against Michigan last season in his second career start. In his eight starts since, Mertz has threw 11 interceptions and three touchdown passes.
Michigan faced a stacked box in last week’s 20-13 win over Rutgers and didn’t score a second-half goal. Rutgers limited the Wolverines to 122 rushing yards.
Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara had 16 passing attempts, a season-high, and completed just nine. He missed a few open receivers, including one in the end zone.
“I just rushed in,” he said.
Wisconsin is a 1 1/2 point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. The Wolverines are 0-11 as an underdog with Harbaugh as a coach.
THE DISEASE OF WISCONSIN
Wisconsin has only gone 5-7 in its last 12 games. The stretch began with Wisconsin losing the Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship game to end the 2019 season.
“I know we’re going to turn things around,” said Wisconsin offensive tackle Logan Bruss. “We just have to keep working one day at a time.”
Wisconsin will pay tribute to former coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez on Saturday. Alvarez retired earlier this year as athletic director for Wisconsin. He coached the Badgers from 1990 to 2005.
Alvarez posted a career record of 119-74-4 which includes a 1-1 record as an interim coach in the bowl games that capped the 2012 and 2014 seasons.
AP Sports writer Larry Lage and AP freelance writer Tamira Madsen contributed to this report.