Michigan relishes 'villain' role against Wisconsin, Ohio State
Ann Arbor — The Michigan players are more than aware that the team has not been getting much respect these days. They have heard some of the factoids that have been bandied about recently, that they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this season, and they also have not beaten a ranked team on the road since 2006.
And now the Wolverines (8-2, 5-2) are about to embark on a brutal final two-game stretch against top-10 teams. They will play at No. 5 and unbeaten Wisconsin on Saturday before returning home to face No. 8 Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Michigan and Wisconsin did not play from 2011-2015 before resuming the series at Michigan last season. The Badgers have beaten Michigan at Camp Randall the last three meetings (2005, 2007 and 2009), and the Wolverines' last win there was 2001.
“We can still be a 10-win team and kind of ruin people’s seasons,” senior center Patrick Kugler said Monday. “So that’s kinda what my goal is right now.”
He likes the idea the underdog Wolverines can be spoilers the next two weeks.
“I think we’ve kind of taken the role as the villain a little bit,” Kugler said. “People have been doubting us. We haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this year, that’s kind of the big one going around right now. And the next two games are two big ones, Wisconsin, Ohio State, so if we can come out on top both of those, villain wins, and that’s kind of a fun role to play.
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“It’s kind of fun to ruin people’s seasons. We could be 10-2 and still make the Big Ten championship. It’s kind of fun to go in there especially going into a hostile environment like Wisconsin and if we can come away with a victory, nothing better than that.”
Kugler said it’s obvious to the players that “people are doubting us.” After reaching a No. 7 ranking, the Wolverines lost to then-unranked Michigan State, 14-10, and two weeks later at Penn State, then-No. 19 Michigan was pounded, 42-13, by the Nittany Lions, who were ranked No. 2 at the time.
The Wolverines have since won three straight with redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters leading the offense, but those wins were against Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland, not exactly the crème de la crème of the Big Ten. Peters made his first career road start last Saturday at Maryland, but playing at Wisconsin is an entirely different challenge for the young quarterback.
This will be the Wolverines’ first big-stage game since the loss at Penn State. Wisconsin is 10-0, 7-0 Big Ten and has clinched at least a share of the West Division title.
Senior linebacker Mike McCray was asked if the Wolverines are looking to this game as a way to redeem themselves after the Penn State loss.
"I wouldn’t say it’s redemption. I would say we just want to win,” McCray said. “I told some of these guys after the Penn State game, ‘It’s over now. Let’s move on. Just win out.” That’s our goal. Wisconsin is next on our schedule, so I don’t think it’s anything to do with redemption from the last big game we played. We just want to win.”
The Wolverines have not played at Camp Randall since 2009, so these players have only heard about the rowdy environment highlighted by the fans taking over the stadium during “Jump Around” between the third and fourth quarters.
Receiver Grant Perry learned about the Camp Randall atmosphere from several of left guard Ben Bredeson’s friends who play for the Badgers. Perry had been visiting Bredeson a couple years ago at his home in Wisconsin.
“They were all telling me about the Jump Around thing that they do and how hyped it gets,” Perry said. “I’m excited for it personally.”
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Kugler said he has seen videos from Wisconsin games on Instagram and often forwards them to teammate Mason Cole. Kugler is disappointed he hasn't been able to play in every Big Ten stadium during his career and his thrilled he will get this chance. He also knows about the Jump Around tradition.
“I’ve seen a couple of the videos,” Kugler said. “I heard the place is rocking, shaking. Hopefully, we can turn that music into our music a little bit.”