actual coaches' opinions
“Hi, my name is Jim Harbaugh. Thanks, Mr. Wahl [Ed. A-Orange Bowl communications director]. Uh, sorry I wasn’t able to get on the call earlier. I was on a plane. Thanks for coming back at this time. If you have any questions, I’d be glad to answer.”
Being at the ‘86 game against FSU in Ann Arbor—I believe that was your senior year—you won by two. I just remember it being probably one of the worst officiated games I ever saw. What do you remember about that ballgame?
“What was the final score? I don’t remember the final score.”
20-18, you won.
“Oh, it was two points? Okay. I just remember how great Deion Sanders was. That was what stood out in my mind. And Coach Bowden, he was really cool. I remember running and scrambling, I scrambled left and went back to the right toward their bench and ended up having—probably ran almost eighty or ninety yards one way to the one side then all the way back to the other side, and I got thrown out of bounds. I just remember him being cool and giving me a smile, a pat on the back, and he said something. But my coach that year, Bo, and Coach Bowden were coaches in the Hula Bowl, so I got to know him a little bit better at that point, too. Those are the two things that stick out most in my mind from that game.”
You would have been in the NFL, but did you watch that ‘91 game?
“Yeah, I remember not seeing the entire game. I do remember watching it. FSU won that one. Back-and-forth, intense game.”
It was 51-31, I think.
We just talked to a few of the players and they were bringing up the Christmas Camp you guys did last year and doing that again this year. Given the fact that you guys were aiming for the playoff spot and came up a little bit short, is there any concern making sure those guys are still motivated and still willing to put in the work here for a few more weeks?
“Um…well, I know I am. I know I’m motivated and ready to put in the work, and looking forward to it.”
[After THE JUMP: Florida State, one last statement on officiating, and great memories of coconuts]
What’s your view of the last spot there before the touchdown?
“That it wasn’t a first down by that much.” [holds hands apart about eight inches]
So you agreed with the call, then?
“That it was not a first down. The officiating, I’m bitterly disappointed with the officiating today. That spot—the graphic display is the interference penalties. The one not called on us when Grant Perry clearly was being hooked before the ball got there, and the previous penalty called on Delano Hill, the ball’s uncatchable and by the receiver. So yeah, I’m bitterly disappointed in the officiating. Can’t make that any more clear.”
[Ed. A- The second Harbaugh used “bitterly” I knew that I’d heard that word spoken with the exact same inflection before. I realized about the time we were leaving the stadium that Harbaugh said it the way Bo did in the archival footage used in Tiebreaker. Watch through 33:38 if you can stomach it.]
[After THE JUMP: the most bizarre explanation for a personal foul I have ever heard]
“How’s everything goin’?”
Good. How about yourself?
You look kinda tired.
“Eh, a lot of early mornings.”
Talk about some of the issues that you guys had the last week with the plays in the passing game.
“We gave up two big pass plays. I mean, those are issues. Obviously we’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to clean it up. Worked really hard in the run game, obviously, coming off the UCF performance. Maybe too hard. I also attribute, you know, we’re still learning how to play this style of defense.
“The good thing is I think our guys have understood enough concept that we’re able to adjust as the game goes on and play much better in the second, third, and fourth quarter. Really disappointed with a fundamental coverage mistake that we made, and I thought there was a 10-play period during the course of the game where we needed to do a better job of tackling.
“Like I told the kids yesterday, all the mistakes belong to me, so if anybody wants to point the responsibility I don’t want them to have any. It’s right here. That’s the way we handle it, and I just tell them I want you to play as hard and as tough as you can and all your mistakes belong to me.”
The stretch of bad tackling: is that because they’re still learning and just--
“I don’t think so, no. Just think we didn’t do a great job. It was a ten-play segment during the course of the game and there were three missed tackles. You know, we were fortunate because the one that resulted in a 48-yard gain we were able to find a way to get off the field and they missed a field goal on one of those opportunities. Thought we settled down and played really well throughout the second quarter.
“We come out and have the bad play in the third quarter. The disappointing thing there is it’s happened to us coming out of the locker room two games in a row, so we’ve got to pay more attention. And one of our goals is a third-quarter shutout, so that’s a disappointing deal.
“I thought we really settled in. What did we give up, 200 yards in the first quarter and basically 100 yards in the second, third, and fourth. What were they, 0-for-12 on third down against our ones and 1-for-whatever counting fourth down. So there’s some things I’m feeling really good about. The best part of it is we were able to make adjustments moving forward as the game kind of progressed. And we’ve been tested with no-huddle, up tempo.
“I think they were faster than UCF. With all credit to Scott Frost; he’s probably one of the fastest guys in the country. And if you watch our tape, and, you know, you can come up and look at it all you want, we’re lined up ready to go every snap. I think we’ve made significant improvements in terms of our sense of urgency to get line up and get ready to play, we just need to play better during stretches. It’s 41 snaps or 46 in the run game against UCF [and] they have 63 yards.
“Now you come back and you’re looking at your deal here, we give up, what, three pass catches. We give up 100-whatever yards of offense. You must be doing a pretty good job during the course of the rest of the game. We just need to make sure we’re totally clean and as I told ya, understand the concepts. But our mistakes belong to me, not the players.”
[After THE JUMP: Don Brown’s defensive disquisition]
Kyle [Kalis] last night was saying people shouldn’t panic about the run game after Saturday.
“No! You know, I was truly flattered, to tell you the truth. When you load the box like that and you send that many pressures it means you’ve done something. You’re doing something that’s making people take notice. Most defensive coordinators, hell or high water, they will not let you beat them running the ball. It’s a demoralizing feeling to be beat up front in the run game, so most people say, ‘If you’re going to beat us, beat us in the pass game.’
“Like I told my backs, I said, ‘Look, don’t look at the numbers on the board. Look at what they did to take this away, and take that in pride and [to] heart. The offensive line is blocking like madmen up front for us and we’re taking holes and making them into big gains. Take that to heart. Feel good about that.’ Hey, when a team comes in saying ‘we want to stop the run,’ that means you’re doing something. So the run game, not worried about it.”
You spread the carries around; no one had more than 10. Was that just to see if anyone had a different take on it and could do something, or was that--
“No, that was just something Coach Harbaugh came up with and just wanted to keep the guys rolling, keep them fresh. No more than that.”
Were there things that you saw that they did that maybe we couldn’t notice in terms of what they did? I guess De’Veon breaking the tackles was significant, but--
“Each guy kind of—Chris [Evans] is quick. He gets in there, made a couple of moves. Been able to use his ability in terms of quickness to make some guys miss [and] create some separation. Ty [Isaac] is a guy that can lean on some people and push the pile. But anything or one thing in particular that separated them? Not really. It was just a game where we just needed to get the tough yards. There was going to be some creases in there where if it was three it was going to be a tough three. The old three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s basically what it was. Or a cloud of rubber, rather, as a matter of fact. That’s what it was.”
What do you see from the rest of the room when you put the tape on and De’Veon, he’s breaking seven tackles and getting a first down on that one run. Do you tell the guys ‘This is it, right here’?
“In terms of what?”
[Hit THE JUMP to resolve this cliffhanger, as well as more on the Four Horsemen or Four-Headed Monster or whatever you prefer calling Michigan’s stable of RBs]
How impressed were you with Rashan Gary and what kind of progression have you seen from him just from week one to week two?
“It’s been very good, very outstanding. Tough guy. He’s been—he got a finger dislocated about the first week of practice and they took him in, put him under the x-ray, and the trainer was like, ‘Man, what is that?’ or something to that effect, and Rashan was like, ‘That’s football.’ Taped it up and went back out. Another time he was cramping and I took him out of practice, and then about six plays later saw he was back in there. He’s really good like that. Real football player. Doing a great job. Played the whole game today, looked like, most of it.
“And along those lines I felt the lines really took care of business today. That was something we felt was gonna be necessary and could get accomplished. Wouldn’t call it dominating but it was—took care of business, both the offensive an defensive lines. Did a very good job.”
Just asked Wilton about [how] in week one he didn’t really get hit; barely touched. Today he did get hit a few times, sacked a couple times. Just as a quarterback, what can that do for you? He said it’s not like he wants to get hit all the time, but it kind of gets him in the mode. Curious your thoughts on that.
“I thought, first of all, quarterback throws for four touchdowns and over 300 yards, that’s a great performance. Would not be going out on a limb to say he’s probably going to be our offensive player of the week, of the game. Had some good courage plays where he had to stand in the pocket and either a blitzer or a rusher was coming. Even made an improv play, improvise and adjust, to kick it out to Poggi in the flat. Thought that was a smart play. Hit two post routes. I mean, the hardest routes to hit, in my opinion. I played the position and watched for all my life [and] it’s a hard route to hit, and both Chesson made a great catch and so did Darboh for a touchdown. For the quarterback to hit those, that’s the toughest route, I think.
“And also the backs. I thought the backs--right from the get-go our backs were getting hit. Big hits and really good formed-up tackles by UCF and they hung onto the ball. It was a hard-hitting game all the way through, and also feel like we’re building up a callus with our team. Didn’t come out of this game with any injuries. And we delivered some blows, too. It was a good, real football game.”
How do you balance getting a running back in a rhythm versus keeping him fresh and getting other guys carries?
“Um…by getting him in there every couple. Today we were rotating backs. De’Veon had some unbelievable runs, especially the one drive—I think we ended up getting a field goal out of it—breaking tackles and pickings up the first downs. Two first downs he picked up by extra effort, and running with the ball, getting hit, three, four, five hits on the same play. Always thought it was smart to put a fresh back in when you have a run like that. But I thought he was exceptional. There were definitely drives we don’t get points on the board without the extra effort he was making out there.”
What’s your concern level on the quarterback scrambles, and is that something that’s pretty easy to clean up?
“Yeah, we made the adjustment in the second half. We were getting behind the quarterback. We’ve got to either retrace or spin back into the lane to keep the quarterback from leaving the pocket and getting all those rushing yards that they got. I thought Don and the staff did a nice job of making adjustments in the second half.”
[After THE JUMP: special teams, Speight under pressure (from the opposition), a minor injury update, and the wonder of the MRI from a non-doctor’s perspective]
Obviously Stribling had a really good spring, Clark had a good spring. What’s that battle like for the no. 2 spot right now?
“Well, all three of them had a good spring: J-Lew, Channing, and Jeremy. Really very competitive throughout the whole deal. We’ll just see how that goes as far as that second spot at corner as you were saying. But there’s going to be a lot of defenses where all three of them are going to be involved, so they all need to compete. Hopefully those younger guys we’ve got in—especially Keith Washington, Brandon Watson, now David Long, Lavert Hill—everybody’s pushing everybody to get better so just to make everybody better. I’m talking about J-Lew, I’m talking about Channing and Jeremy as well. Competition’s what we want back there.”
MGoQuestion: I know last year you kind of split half the field [with Greg Jackson]. Are you doing that again this year or are you working more with the safeties or more with the corners?
“You know, B-Smith and I, we’ve got a little plan together. We’re going to work more together, a little bit more together as far as meetings go so there’s going to be a lot of togetherness because the defenses we play, the communication is key and there’s going to be situations because of so much man we play where we’re going to need—there might be a safety involved in coverage, there might be a corner involved in coverage, nickel corner, safety involved in coverage so there has to be communication. That’s the biggest thing.”
MGoQuestion: How much more important, if at all, is run support from corners going to be this season compared to last season?
“Very important because of our trap system, the system that Don Brown brought in from Boston College. Our corners are going to be very much more involved in the run game.”
MGoQuestion: If we could talk trap for a little bit, how do you coach that for your guys? Is it brand new to them?
“I wouldn’t say it’s new to them. For them, it goes back to high school days when they were playing cover 2, when they were hard corners. Their read has got to be the end man on the line of scrimmage, so it’s really nothing new as far as they have to deal with. It’s just that it’s going to be more often than what they’re used to from I’d say a year ago.”
MGoQuestion: Who would you say is most advanced in run support right now?
“As far as a corner?”
“I’d say J-Lew and Jeremy. Yeah. We’ve got to get Strib more involved physically, but as far as eyes go I’d say they all understand what they’ve got to read, it’s just that those two guys are pretty much in it quicker.”
What do you think those top three guys improved most on from last season?
“I think, number one, their man ability. Big-time improvement. I think Jeremy really improved on his eyes. Strib, same thing with his eyes. Strib had a little situation last year with his feet; I think we’ve got that kind of, I wouldn’t say 100% squared away but little things like that they have worked on and worked on with a meaning. They knew it was something they had to improve on and I think I know that they came away from spring better off than they entered it.”
MGoQuestion: When you’re playing man free, I remember last year you were talking about how important eyes are. What do you teach guys to look at when they’re lined up across from a receiver? What’s the first thing you want them to look at?
“Well, if it’s press, it’s on the belt buckle. If they’re off, which we will be at times, it’s on the inside hip. It’s just belt buckle through the hip throughout the route. It’s pretty simple. Once the ball’s thrown, their hands go up, they know their eyes can go up with them.”
I think Jourdan Lewis has been on every list you can think of as far as preseason lists go. In particular, Pro Football Focus put him as the no. 7 overall player in the country among all positions. Do you think that putting him there is a true rating for him? Is he that good?
“He’s that good. Absolutely that good. He’s explosive, he’s tough, and he covers, so yeah. I think for his position, that’s spot on. Yep.”
[Ed-A: I eschewed labeling the rest of these MGoQuestions because they all are, as the other reporter left and I had a one-on-one talk with coach Zordich]
When you’re playing man coverage and the receiver’s coming at [the CB] and he turns with him, when do you then teach guys to get their hands up?
“As far as when the ball is coming?”
Yeah. Are they watching the receiver and then they put their hand through when--
“As far as when the ball’s coming, it’s belt buckle-hip-through the hands. That’s our little mantra as far as man coverage goes. And a lot of guys, guys like J-Lew, Strib, and Jeremy’s getting to that situation where it’s becoming instinctive. You know, J-Lew has it. He understands it. Strib has it, understands it. Jeremy’s getting it. You know, so a lot of the guys it’s just an instinctive part of their position that they get and understand. Some guys we’ve got to work harder on and teach them, but for the most part it’s an instinctive move.”
Is that something where when the receiver’s hands go up you want the corner’s hands to go up and through before he turns to look?
“Up and through, or pick it off. Right? Yeah. [/laughs] Generally that happens on a longer ball where your hand has got to go up and through. On the shorter routes, we’re trying to either bat it down or, if you can make the interception, go for the interception.”
[After THE JUMP: IT’S A TRAP]