actual coaches' opinions
“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]
Is having a little bit more of a window to playing for the Big Ten championship something you even address with your team?
“I’m sure they’re aware of that, and…if not we’ll make them aware of it, but I’m sure they are.”
Just looking at some defensive stats: nine offensive touchdowns given up this year, twelve total. Can you talk about the evolution of this defense and the way it’s bounced back after those last two games?
“Yeah, doing some things that are great. But in terms of like answering the question of the evolution or how we got here or where we’re at and being in that position, we feel like we’re still asking questions. How can we get better? What can we improve? What else can we do to help our team improve? So, not so much the answering questions, more asking them about how to get better.”
Is there any one area specifically you feel like you guys want to improve more?
“No, not that list for you either. In all phases, in all areas. We’re constantly asking ourselves those questions.”
You weren’t happy about the intent to deceive call. Did you get anything that clarifies it more for you and how it’s going to be called in this league going forward?
“Yes. They said it wasn’t intent to deceive, it was intent to confuse. That was the own language that the official used. It’s…I take the rules very seriously, and understanding the rules, understanding the consistency, the clarity of rules, and not just the rules but the spirit of the rules and doing everything that we can to follow the rules, so yeah, I said I was offended after the game to have an unsportsmanlike conduct called on us and the language that they used…that’s offensive because we take it very seriously to know what to teach our players and tell our team.
“No, there’s still no rule in the rulebook that you can go back to and say that we broke. In fact, we asked for interpretation weeks ago and followed it to the best of our ability and…it needs specifics. What was it about it that made it an illegal play versus what would make it a legal play? I mean, everything else in the rulebook is specific, but this one seems to fall in a category that was left to judgment whether the other team’s trying to confuse the opponent, and that’s an awesome responsibility for anybody.
“And why have it? Why not specifically write it? How far can you be from the boundary, your widest eligible receiver during a substitution, after a substitution occurs? Is it in the bench area; has to be closer in the field to the numbers; outside of the bench area it can be closer to the sideline? But really there needs to be some specifics because that’s…that interpretation- we’ve put a lot of work into making sure we follow the rules and not just the letter but the spirit of them.
“Then you start thinking, playing the scenarios. I mean, what else could be deemed trying to confuse the defense? What would be next? Skipping the ball off the turf, if it were a backward pass where you skip it off the turf? Defense thinks that’s an incomplete pass, everybody stops, they pick it up, throw it, etc. I mean, those…need to have specifics on it. So that’s my feeling, yeah. Still remain offended by it.
“And I need some clarity and consistency on another thing I’m offended by: We’ve got a defenseless player covering a punt and he gets hit in the back, in our opinion, in the back of the head, which gets called a targeting foul. They go up to the booth and they say it’s not targeting, but no foul is incurred. It’s a…player, lines up a player- looks like he made a decision to hit him, hit him high, hit him in the back. At least should be a block in the back. Should be unsportsmanlike for making that play, so I’m offended for our defenseless player, so you can put that on the list of things. Top five.”
[After THE JUMP: “I love football, I love the University of Michigan, and I love coaching, and you can do all three of those. As my dad would say, ‘Who’s got it better than us?’ Nooobody.]
News bullets and other items:
- Drake Johnson is working through something minor.
- Jake Rudock had his best week of practice leading up to Northwestern.
- Higdon played because they had some “specialty runs” they wanted to use him for.
- On the rescinded targeting call, Harbaugh says they must have forgot to add the personal foul penalty. The refs also told Harbaugh they didn’t see the second player that landed on Rudock.
- Things Harbaugh is pleased with: His fullbacks and how much his team likes to work.
- The team’s physical play is helping them develop a “callus.”
What did you think of the two targeting calls, and will you appeal the suspension for James Ross?
“Yeah, we’ll take a look at them.
“I’m just really pleased with our team. All three phases had great success today: Special teams, starting with the kickoff return for a touchdown; defense, tremendous shutout; offense played really, really good football. Jabrill’s fielding of the punts…I’m getting less and less nervous about it. Did a nice job.
“So many factors. So many keys to the game, but the fellas really came out ballin’ right from the start and played a heck of a ballgame, so really pleased.”
Just talk about what a kick return touchdown like that does to spark your team.
“Does a lot. Does a lot.”
Talk about the play?
“106-yard return. The blocks were sharp and crisp. Timing was nearly perfect. 10 guys, 11 guys hustling and 10 of them blocking, blocking for Jehu and he got- he is the fastest player on the team. I know Jabrill said one of the fastest but he is the fastest, and he showed it today.”
Can you talk about this defense? Three straight shutouts for the first time since 1980. I mean, what’s the ceiling on this? Is this even shocking you, how potent this defense is?
“With a couple exceptions, we really shut down their running game. They got a few runs that got out, but not many so for all intents and purposes we were able to shut down their running game. Then coverage was- our guys were in the hip pocket almost every route, getting hands on the ball. They threw the back shoulder on Jourdan Lewis a couple times and one time he made an incredible interception. Looked like he got his arm in between the receivers arms and somehow intercepted it and took it back to the house. And then the pass rush was intense.
“All three of those phases were at the highest level today, and all working together. DJ Durkin and the defensive staff- tremendous week of preparation and called a near flawless game. That’s A++.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]