Jim Harbaugh updates Josh Ross’ status for Wisconsin game

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While it was a tale of two halves on Saturday as Michigan football’s offense sputtered against Rutgers, perhaps somewhat overlooked were the struggles and subsequent overcoming of adversity by the defense.

The defense bent but ultimately didn’t break in the second half against Rutgers, though it did surrender 10 points. When things were looking the most dire, that’s when it made some pivotal stops on the final two drives, sealing the game by forcing the Scarlet Knights into their first turnover of the season.

But why were there issues from one half to the next, especially considering that Michigan had held Rutgers to 131 yards in the first half before it managed to accumulate 352 overall?

Well, part of it was that Josh Ross had left the game with an injury after dominating in the first half.

After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh said Ross would be OK, he just wasn’t cleared to return. So what’s his status against the run-heavy Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday?

“Josh — I think he’s probable at this point for the game,” Harbaugh said. “But good learning experienced for those linebackers (who replaced him). They were stressed in that read-option game, quarterback read-option game. They’ll learn from it and grow.”

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If Ross is somewhat limited, then at least those young Michigan linebackers got some experience against a Big Ten opponent. Nikhai Hill-Green was already a starter, but he had to grow up fast. Junior Colson, the true freshman, has come in in spot duty while Kalel Mullings had been relegated mostly to special teams.

In the end, Harbaugh really liked what he saw from the trio against Rutgers.

“Yeah, I thought that was a real challenge and acquitted themselves pretty darn good,” Harbaugh said. “Really all three — Junior, Nikhai, Kalel. And the other factor is not having Ross out there helping them, making calls and helping them align. Giving reminders and tips. There was quite a bit that was lost without Josh being out there, from a physical standpoint, also coaching the inside linebackers up on the field.”

But it wasn’t without growing pains.

What Ross brings to the table is more than playmaking ability and leadership. He helps his fellow linebackers to get aligned, showing them what they’re supposed to see. When he went out, that’s when Rutgers particularly punished the middle of the defense.

With Ross being potentially limited, Michigan may see more of a familiar face this week when it heads to Madison.

“When Josh Ross went out, particularly, we were affected there,” Harbaugh said. “The eye discipline of the linebackers, responsibilities in the option and the read-option game was really stressed. Good learning experience for us. As I said, for the most part, I thought those three young linebackers played extremely well. Get Michael Barrett going again. This week he’ll be more in the mix.”

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