Football

Michigan's defense allowed 487 total yards in its loss to Wisconsin.

MADISON — Ten days ago, Don Brown stood in front of reporters, flashing his trademark energy and easily consumable sound bites to appease an apprehensive fanbase.

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As the half mercifully came to a close, Wisconsin players paraded into the tunnel, while the two teams barked at each other. One side evoked swagger; the other reeked of frustration. One side owned the football field; the other belonged anywhere but.

Both knew the second half served as nothing more than a formality.

Senior offensive guard Ben Bredeson grew up a Wisconsin fan, but ended up playing at Michigan, where his brother, Jack, played on the baseball team.

So before Ben Bredeson became a two-time all-Big Ten left guard at Michigan and before Jack’s four years as pitcher for the Wolverines’ baseball team, Camp Randall was the dream, if only by default.

The conscious part was that they would play football together — Ben on the offensive line and Jack at defensive end, where he played in high school. Wisconsin was just the world they came from.

“All Ben and I knew growing up was Wisconsin, Wisconsin, Wisconsin,” Jack said.

Five years later, Ben is careful to note that coming to Michigan was not a joint decision. Going to college together was a childhood dream, but once the recruiting process became real, it dissipated, with each of their personal paths leading them to Michigan separately.

Fifth-year senior offensive tackle Jon Runyan is expected to return from injury this week against Wisconsin.

But for the Michigan football team’s first two games this season, Bredeson took his normal spot on the line while Runyan sat and watched, out with an undisclosed injury. Instead, Bredeson played next to redshirt freshman tackle Ryan Hayes, who is talented but inexperienced and hadn’t developed the same level of trust with Bredeson. But Runyan is expected to be back this week, just in time for a marquee matchup with No. 13 Wisconsin.

“Jon and I played with each other now going on year two and he and I just know everything that the other’s gonna do, a telepathic sense of it just from being next to the guy for so long,” Bredeson said. “He’s got that experience level for a Big Ten road game that we're about to go into, so it’ll be nice getting Jon back. I’m excited for that.”

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Ryan Hayes played in Michigan's first two games against Middle Tennessee and Army after taking time to develop his game last year.

The biggest secret Zordich may have lies in plain sight, on Michigan’s 247Sports page. Since 2013 — two years before Zordich or Jim Harbaugh got hired — the Wolverines have recruited the position to near perfection. Besides the transition class between Brady Hoke and Harbaugh, when they didn’t take a corner, Michigan’s record of getting corners to the next level since then is almost 100 percent.

Since his tenure began, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to beat a ranked opponent on the road, highlighting the importance of this weekend's game against Wisconsin.

It is the archetype of game Jim Harbaugh has yet to win and needs to start winning, plain and simple. Which begs the question that, on the surface, might seem hyperbolic: Would a win against Wisconsin on Saturday be the most impressive victory of the Harbaugh era?

Junior defensive lineman Donovan Jeter is fully healthy ahead of Michigan’s matchup with Wisconsin.

Don Brown let out a sigh and a trailing “you know” before pausing. Standing in the Schembechler Hall lobby last week, he had just been asked for his assessment of his defense through two weeks. The indecision in his initial reaction continued throughout his answer as he shuffled between positives and negatives, resistant to any grand declarations. The evidence for each came naturally. In its first two games, every regulation touchdown that Michigan’s first-team defense allowed came off a turnover. And yet, the Wolverines were 50th in Division I with 21 points per game allowed despite not facing a Power Five team. All of that, though, was before the bye week. “We haven’t been playing the best football we can play,” said senior safety Josh Metellus. “And we know that we’ve got guys in this building whose potential is way up here. We’re not reaching that.” A bye week, of course, isn’t some magic cure. Wisconsin had one of its own and was off a start in which it outscored opposition, 110-0. Still, it’s an opportunity for Michigan to look itself in the mirror and diagnose what went wrong in its underwhelming start. The Wolverines will hold most of that diagnosis close to their chest until Saturday, but junior defensive tackle Donovan Jeter’s return to full health is one piece of the puzzle that can’t be hidden.

Senior quarterback Shea Patterson is confident in Michigan’s chances Saturday.

Statements aren’t made in the quiet comfort of your own practice facility.
“I’m done talking about it,” Patterson said at the end of his session Tuesday, walking away from the group of reporters.
It’s time to show it.

Senior guard Ben Bredeson expects a lively environment at Camp Randell.

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.

Junior center Caesar Ruiz is among the offensive linemen who committed avoidable penalties against Army.

As Cesar Ruiz assessed the state of Michigan’s offensive line earlier this week, he was careful not to label any struggles as “growing pains.” The implication accompanying that term is that the Wolverines’ inconsistency on the offensive line is a result of Josh Gattis’ new offense. The junior center knows that isn’t the case.