Harbaugh, UM brace for ‘high-energy, tough’ Badgers

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News
Leo Musso, front, had a 66-yard fumble return for a TD against Michigan State. T.J. Watt leads Wisconsin with 4.5 sacks.

Michigan is 0-11 against top-10 opponents – mostly Ohio State – since 2008.

Rich Rodriguez was the UM coach when the Wolverines came back from a 19-point deficit to beat Wisconsin, then ranked No. 9, that season.

The fourth-ranked Wolverines (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) have an opportunity to snap that winless streak on Saturday against No. 8 Wisconsin at Michigan Stadium. The Badgers already have two top-10 victories this season. They beat then-No. 5 LSU in the opener and upset then-No. 8 Michigan State last Saturday in East Lansing. It’s the first time since 1962 the Badgers have defeated two top-10 teams in a season.

“We’ve got to be at our best,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Tuesday on the Big Ten conference call. “Wisconsin is going to be darn tough to beat. If we play at our best, we’ll be darn tough to beat.

“It’s going to require a great week of preparation, attention to detail and getting into the game and playing our best. It’s a big task. Respect the heck out of the way Wisconsin is playing football on both sides of the ball and special teams. Very well coached. Great effort.”

During his news conference Monday, Harbaugh mentioned a common description from over the years of the Badgers – their overall enormity on the lines.

“Big team,” Harbaugh said. “I’m wondering if the field’s gonna be wide enough. They play extremely hard. I had the pleasure of coaching Chris Borland a few years back, and it’s a team of Chris Borlands. High, high energy, tough, guys that can run and a big, physical team.”

Trieu: Baron Browning tops star-filled cast at Michigan

Wisconsin’s rush defense is ranked No. 1 in the Big Ten (10th nationally), yielding an average 80.5 yards a game. The Badgers also are ranked first in the Big Ten in scoring defense (and seventh nationally), allowing an average 11.8 points a game.

The Badgers’ top three tacklers – linebackers Jack Cichy (23 tackles), T.J. Watt (18) and T.J. Edwards (17) have combined for 10.5 tackles for loss. Watt has a team-high 4.5 sacks.

“Like some of the great defense you see anywhere, they know what they’re doing, they execute it, and they know the adjustments and they know the subtleties – they’ve seen it before,” Harbaugh said on the conference call. “They do it with a lot of effort and hustle. … Effort at the highest level. Real football. Great skill players.”

Harbaughs and Chrysts

Harbaugh and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst and their families go way back. Their fathers, George Chryst and Jack Harbaugh, were football coaches, and their kids got to know each other.

“It’s been a family friendship, the Chrysts and the Harbaughs going all the way back to 1987,” Harbaugh said. “Our dads were friends, the sons were friends. It’s been a 30-year friendship.”

Harbaugh spoke highly of Paul Chryst.

“If someone can’t get along with Paul Chryst there’s probably something wrong with them,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the way I’ve always looked at it. He’s a great guy to get along with. A great family guy. In all regards, it’s time well spent being around Paul Chryst.”

Harbaugh was a quarterback for the Chargers in 1999 and 2000 while Chryst was coaching tight ends under Mike Riley, now the Nebraska head coach. Geep Chryst was the offensive coordinator for the Chargers at that time, as well. When Harbaugh became head coach of the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, he hired Geep Chryst as offensive coordinator.