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Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh explains what makes unbeaten Wisconsin such a challenge. Recorded Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.
Nick Baumgardner, Detroit Free Press

Any stat can be misleading. 

Take this one: Michigan hasn’t won a road game against a top 25 team since 2006. While factual, it’s tough to completely rip Jim Harbaugh for this since he’s only had two opportunities to do this since he took the gig before the 2015 season.  

It doesn’t mean it’s false, but there’s context involved. 

Then there’s this one. 

“People have doubted us,” U-M senior center Patrick Kugler said Monday. “We haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this year, that’s kind of the big one that’s going around right now.” 

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There’s not much additional context needed there. Michigan’s 0-for-2 in that department this year. That’s not spin. That’s just how it is. 

Plenty of talking heads seem to relish the fact Harbaugh’s third team finds itself nowhere near the College Football Playoff picture through 10 weeks. They don’t want to hear about youth or injuries. Harbaugh rubs them the wrong way, so they begin to play with statistics – like the one that arbitrarily compared Harbaugh’s 24-7 record after 31 games to the mark Brady Hoke logged. 

It’s not wrong. But there’s context missing. 

Michigan running back Chris Evans (12) leaps over Maryland defensive back Josh Woods (10) during the second half of U-M’s 35-10 win on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in College Park, Md. (Photo: Brad Mills USA TODAY Sports)

Football’s a funny game, though. As quickly as one narrative gains steam, it can be severely altered over the course of four quarters. For U-M, Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium presents one of those opportunities. 

Beat a fourth-ranked Wisconsin team on the road and that “since 2006” stat goes away. Beat an undefeated Wisconsin team on the road and that “with a winning record” stat goes away. Michigan is 8-2 and it still has an opportunity to write a positive final two-week chapter to its season. 

For the sake of a narrative, sure. But, more important, for the sake of itself. 

“We can still be a 10-win team,” Kugler said. “The next two games are two big ones. Wisconsin and Ohio State.” 

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Michigan is not, despite the cackling of those who seem to find joy from Wolverine losses, in the midst of a tire fire season. The Wolverines are and have been one of the youngest teams in the country. U-M is down to its third starting quarterback. Its best receiver – a true freshman – is out for the year. Changes have been made on the fly.  

And the team is still at eight wins with three shots left. 

At the same time, the Wolverines’ issues this season shouldn’t be filed in the “nothing to see here” jar. Michigan blew a game against a Michigan State team that just lost by 45 at Ohio State over the weekend. The offensive scheme and game plans were choppy at best for the first half of the year – even when U-M was healthy – and the Wolverines paid a price for that. The defense completely fell apart at Penn State and there’s no excuse there either. 

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A win at Wisconsin isn’t going to erase a disappointing loss to MSU. Nor will a loss at Wisconsin make this season a failure.

Reality shows the Wolverines as a young squad at a possible turning point in November. A growth point. 

Things aren’t perfect for Michigan right now. The team is banged up. U-M is hopeful, but not sure, if leading rusher Karan Higdon will be able to play Saturday with a foot injury. Lavert Hill, the team’s top corner, is recovering from a concussion. Rashan Gary’s dinged up. So is Michael Onwenu. Brandon Peters is still a redshirt freshman quarterback and he’s never played in an environment like Camp Randall Stadium. 

But things don’t always need to be perfect for a win. Just good enough. Find a way to compete and fight and scrap in Madison on Saturday and give yourself a chance to score a win that might change a few minds and give yourself real confidence moving forward. 

On Monday, Harbaugh brought up the “iron jock” again. A simple concept, meaning it’s time to suck it up and get the job done. 

Michigan will fly to Wisconsin later this week with a chance to change its season. 

Don’t forget the iron jocks. 

Contact Nick Baumgardner: nbaumgardn@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickBaumgardner. Download our Wolverines Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices!