Air Force Postgame Presser: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on September 17th, 2017 at 11:50 AM



Red zone: how much of a concern is that that you aren’t getting more touchdowns in those opportunities?

“I thought both teams played really good red zone defense today. Good. We had the right calls on at the right time, pushed them back out of the opportunities to score touchdowns and they held the line as well. Hats off to both teams for really good red zone defense.”

Talk about the challenge of having to switch gears on defense for a team like this and how your guys responded defensively.

“I thought we responded really well. For the most part, with the exception of a few drives. I thought we shut them down well and I thought we won all three phases. They play a brand of football I really like, which is you just keep jabbing away and you don’t make mistakes, you don’t turn the ball over, few penalties, and you get first downs… push the opponent back in field position. They make you go beatcha. They don’t beat themselves and it’s a good brand of football. Our team was able to make plays offensively, defensively, special teams was a huge factor in today’s ball game.

“Donovan’s punt return was fabulous. Our kickoff coverage was excellent all day, and right on down the line. Punt protection was really good as they were bringing 10; we got the all-out rush and we were able to block it up. Each phase. And the standout was Quinn Nordin and the snapper, Cheeseman, Garret Moores, the holder—that whole battery. And the field goal protection was outstanding. Tied a record, Michigan record, for most field goals in a game. Really proud of the way our special teams played. Offensively, defensively, special teams: thought we won all three phases.”

Rhythmically, where do you see the offense going and specifically with Wilton and Donovan, looked like that could be a connection. How do you assess that?

“Yeah, it was good to see Donovan go and make a big play offensively. Made the big play special teams-wise, so great to see him a factor in the third game of his freshman year. Just terrific. Like Tarik has done, one of those freshmen that are playing in their third ballgame and are huge factors in where we are, 3-0, and the ballgame we had today.”

[After THE JUMP: getting RPS’d, the kicking battery, jamming it in in the red zone, and how to use DPJ]

Nordin is off to such a good start. Has he been consistent right on through camp and everything?

“Yeah, he’s been very good. And you’ve got to point to the snap, the hold, the kick. Two of those three have got to be on the mark, and today all three were on the mark, and the protection as well has been very good. He’s in a great place. It’s great to see him kicking confidently and just knocking them through with room to spare no matter what distance you put him at.”

Wilton said that they do a really good job of disguising their blitzes, especially in the red zone. Was that one of the unique challenges you guys faced going against them in the red zone?

“Yeah, they definitely called the better play on some of our red zone throws and runs. We were in an RPO and they disguised it well and really did a good job. Well done on their part. They had a better call than we had most of the time there down in the red zone.”

Are you happy right now with where the offense is three weeks in as far as the consistency and the way they’re moving the ball?

“Yeah, I am. There’s—the run blocking, the protection has been really good. That was a big question coming into the season, coming into the camp, with what our offense would look like, what the offensive line would look like replacing four starters. I think that’s been really good.

“The backs have been strong. Quarterback’s been strong. I mean, he’s quarterbacking the seventh-ranked team in the country to a 3-0 record. He’s quarterbacking the winningest program in all of football, the history of it, so it’d be good to be Wilton Speight. So we just keep forging ahead and keep making improvements. Like where our team is at this point.”

One-for-ten in the red zone at this point: that’s not a concern for you?

“Yeah, I think we addressed that earlier. Definitely we’d like to score more touchdowns in the red zone. Think that’ll come and our team is moving the ball, that’s a fact, and I think the red zone touchdowns will come.”

Along those lines in the red zone, do you ever get frustrated as a playcaller like, ‘Okay, we’re just going to jam this in. It’s fourth down, forget the field goal,’ or do you have to hold yourself back in making those decisions and saying, let’s lean on our defense since it’s playing so well.

“We’re trying to score touchdowns. Do you mean late in the game?”

Not necessarily late in the game. When you miss out on a third down and you’re set up on fourth down and you’ve got a decision: Well, I could go for it or kick the field goal and get points, but your defense is playing so well. Do you ever get frustrated or have to keep yourself from making that kind of decision?

“I’m playing the percentages, playing having a good call fourth-and-eight from the eight. Do I ever lose my mind and say, Just jam it in or call the play, the just-jam-it-in play?”


[room laughs]

“I keep a steady hand on the tiller. Play to win. Yeah, we’d like to have scored more touchdowns in the red zone. We’ll keep at it.”

Talk about fourth-and-one in the first quarter. What gave you the inclination to challenge that play when it looked like on the replay it wasn’t conclusive enough to be overturned?

“Saw the replay board and saw they had a good shot down the line. That’s a big play. A big play. It’s worth the timeout. It’s worth the challenge to get the ball back on downs, so it’s by percentages.”

With Donovan’s success returning punts, have you given any thought to him returning kickoffs?

“Uh, yeah, we could. We’ve given a lot of thought to using Donovan in a lot of ways. I mean, you see him, he made the play—and remember, Donovan, this is his third game. Third game as a collegiate football player. What an outstanding thing for the fifteen or so guys that are playing as true freshmen. Just a testament to their ability, to their talent, and to their effort. But I think you’re going to see, yeah, grow, grow, grow. He’s been plus, plus, plus. Great to see his mettle today. I feel like great things will happen for Donovan Peoples-Jones.”

You’ve had a chance to change some momentum with your punter. Is Brad Robbins still an option there and is he in the mix still? Is that an open competition?

“Yeah, he’s in the mix. We’ll play the best player, but though the one we made a mistake on was late in the game there where he kicked it off to the left. We were in a one-step punt and we called for a directional punt with the all-up that they had. I think the one-step, we’d be better off kicking it right down the middle of the field and go cover it. But we’re not dumbing it down, either. This is a true redshirt freshman punter and he’s doing directional kicking out there. He’s been doing a fine job. I think at that point in the game we could have called for a better call. Yeah, he’s doing a good ball. He’s not dropping it and he’s getting it off. He’s doing good too. It’s his third game as well.

“I feel—and that was a concern, too. What’s a new snapper going to look like? What’s the new field goal kicker gonna look like? What’s a new punter gonna look like? What’s his protections gonna look like? Lot of new guys in there. Been pretty darn solid. No question about it, we won on special teams today and that’s gonna be a good confidence builder and good momentum going forward. We’ll need them for Big Ten games.”

Sort of like the earlier question, but when your defense is playing so well, does that affect in your mind what you do offensively? Like you said, not go crazy per se because your defense is playing so well.

“We try to move the ball, try to get first downs, we’re trying to score points, put points on the board. That’s what we’re trying to do the entire game. When it gets down to seven minutes left in the game and I’m thinking last long drive that ended up in the field goal attempt that was missed took seven minutes and there’s 6:48 up there on the clock then we’re going to play not—to give our defense good field position, not turn the ball over, run the ball, and it was great to see our offense in with the ball, and that ball ended up in the end zone. That was good.

“We had some tight ballgames last year that we weren’t able to win… you know, when the pressure was on to move the ball or get the stop. Good to see this year’s version of the ballclub not only win but pull ahead in those situations were you’re up nine or ten points. So fell good. Feel great. Very happy for the win. Move on with humble hearts and get ready for Purdue.”  


Mr. Yost

September 17th, 2017 at 12:19 PM ^

What we're doing isn't working and we're going to do some extra work in that area this week in practice. I plan to get our offensive coaches together and our analysts and we're going to figure out what we're doing wrong and open the floor for ideas on what we need to do moving forward.


....buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut, that would never happen. So, no answer is the right answer.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:34 PM ^

Why put anything on tape for future opponents when you believe you have the game in hand?  No good coach does that.  Also, no good coach messes with player confidence/ego by proclaiming to the world that what they're doing isn't working.  In meetings rooms I'm sure they're talking about it, analyzing it, coaching it, but...really?!

Hail Harbo

September 17th, 2017 at 1:04 PM ^

You don't really believe that, do you, that they're waiting until some future date to bring out some exotic sure fire scoring plays?  Seriously, in the red zone they aren't executing their basic plays well, what would make anybody think they'll execute unproven plays better than what they've currently done?



September 18th, 2017 at 8:27 AM ^

Harbaugh will never answer a question like that. I think he knows the red zone scores will come and he will never say anything negative about players. He could say we need to block things up a little better and Speight is flat out missing some guys, but I don't think anyone wants to hear that and you never will. He knows the plays that are called, what they should look like and what the result should be. I am sure they will be working on the plays in practice and some things will be addressed. All of us know where the deficiencies lie. If Michigan gets better and more consistent play at QB and from the o-line this team will roll over a lot of opponents. I share the frustrations with everyone on this blog because we are so close, but I think the offense will continue to progress as the season goes on. What's funny and the thing that makes me feel pretty confident about this team is just how cool Harbaugh seems. He really does'nt look all that frustrated to me at all.

Sten Carlson

September 17th, 2017 at 1:26 PM ^

An indictment of whom? Harbaugh's first QB recruit is a RS Freshman. If one wants to point the sharp end of the stick at someone for Speight being the best on the roster shouldn't it should be pointed (at least in part) and the previous regime?

Let's say for fun that Harbaugh put Peters in because he was "his guy," and everything statistically was the same -- inaccuracy, RZ struggles, etc. How do you think the fanbase would be reacting? Obviously, a speculative exercise. But, it's clear that even with WS's limitations Harbaugh believes that he gives the team the best chance to win.

Now, if you want to indict Harbaugh for not developing Peters fast enough to beat out Speight, well that's a different issue. Personally, and I've said this before, I do NOT want a RS Freshman QB to start when there's an experienced QB on the roster -- and Harbaugh's recruiting and development plan/method should ensure that going forward. Some might, but I urge those to be very careful what you wish for. Would Peters have bounced back versus Florida? WS might not be the greatest, but he's a smart, tough kid who doesn't sulk and who has played through mistakes to lead Michigan to 12 wins in his career.


September 17th, 2017 at 2:08 PM ^

On a team with this many underclassmen playing, Speight's experience is particularly valuable.    For all his shortcomings, he certainly has a command of the offense.  On several occasions we've seen him have to tell his teammates where to line up before the play.  I can see how that could tip the scales in his favor in the coaches' minds.



September 17th, 2017 at 2:39 PM ^

Have been thinking exactly the same thing. Speight, to my untrained eye, appears to have pretty good command of the offense. I have seen him move players around before the snap and have not seen confusion or delay of game penalties that I see with some QBs. To me this means he has better command of the offense than many QBs and it's probably an asset that provides less-obvious benefits.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:12 PM ^

that would appease you?  He said that AF had better play calls on D than we had on O down there.

Do you want him to say that 

1) Our O-line isn't dominant ala Bama so can't just slam it into the endzone even against "inferior" teams?

2) Speight is an average at best QB right now who isn't dynamic enough to finish drives on his own?

3) Speight is playing not to screw up at this point, after all the interceptions and fumbles he has the yips and is throwing passes out of bounds and not to be picked off instead of going for it?

Any of the above answers diminishes from the team and further erodes Speight's confidence.

It's pretty obvious to everyone and their mom that Speight isn't where he needs to be right now for this team to go where it wants to go....Harbaugh needs to build him up.


September 17th, 2017 at 1:50 PM ^

No one could have said it any better. That is the size of it. Once again it's a team sport and the QB is only as good as the players around him.
He had LB's and Safety's in his face all game long. He was getting hit so hard my teeth were rattling. He wasn't getting the same protection he was getting in the Cinci game.


September 17th, 2017 at 6:07 PM ^

He was under rush pressure and going to take a hit and delivered a perfect ball. This was good to see.

He also made two very accurate throws late in the game one of which was dropped by Crawford.

On his QB scramble he wants Crawford to drift open for a pass into the corner. However Crawford was trying to block and got caught in no man's land. Speight is a big boy and should probably lower his shoulder and go fo the pylon.

Some of the issues we are seeing are young WR timing issues. Is this influencing the play calling?

I think we are seeing some progress for Wilton. Steeping into pressure for accuracy is right at the top.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:54 PM ^

Exactly.  Furthermore:


  1. Just because a coach doesn't say it PUBLICLY, it doesn't mean that he's oblivious to the issues.  These guys are at the peak of their professions.  If something is screamingly obvious to the average fan (getting bogged down in the red zone is a problem), then these guys definitely see it too--whether or not they admit it publicly.  In addition, they're in a much better position to diagnose the exact nature of the problems.  Is it really Speight's accuracy?  Just a timing issue w/ new receivers?  OL blocking?  WRs not running their routes the correct way?  Are they simply sand-bagging some of their redzone packages for later in the year against key opponents?  Bottom line is it may be a mix of everything, but only the coaches really have the insight to make the correct diagnosis & any possible corrections; and
  2. Just because he doesn't say anything bad about kids publicly doesn't mean he doesn't correct, gently criticize, or totally ream out certain players (depending on the player personality & the situation) in private.


As a fan base we WANT to hear him verbalize everything we see so that we are all reassured that they see the issues & are working on it.  But that's not necessarily the best approach for the players and team psyche.  This certainly isn't a lazy or incompetent coaching staff.  Which means, one of two scenarios will unfold--either certain issues will get fixed/improved, or--despite the best coaching and motivation--that particular issue simply isn't fixable with the current players at this moment in time (personnel injuries, personnel understanding the playbook, personnel not being bulked enough to start yet, personnel not yet mastering college-level technique for certain things like blocking/blitz pick-ups, etc.).

But if something doesn't get corrected, for God's sake it won't because the coaching staff overlooked it or didn't do everything in their power to directly fix it or engineer work-around solutions to the problems.

I think that's one of the huge differences between this coaching staff versus the Hoke staff or maybe even the late Carr era.  These dudes are most certainly not mailing it in, and they are either ON or pretty darn near the cutting edge of football in terms of schemes and innovations.  We might derp a game or two away that we shouldn't.  We might lose to a team that has a stacked roster like OSU or in an intimidating environment like PSU at night.  But 99% of the time it won't be due to the coaching staff's laziness or incompetence.  It'll simply be the young roster and/or perhaps some holes in our recruiting that we have yet to fill in.

Harbaugh has an incredibly long leash in my book.  The guy is a stone-cold winner.  This team will "regress to the Harbaugh mean" which basically means in our case that eventually we are going to have a Stanford-like offense where we WILL be able to pound & ground whenever we want. 

It's just a matter of time.


September 17th, 2017 at 1:15 PM ^

thank you. people can be so stupid, thinking they see something wrong, and" by god i could fix that in a minute." the bottom line is if you dont have faith in this coaching staff fixing what is wrong and becoming the best team they can be, you really should do something else with your time.

    there are no quick fixes and every team is not going to be a powerhouse. these coaches as far as i am concerned are building something special. and as far as im concerned if they cant do it, who could?

Mr. Yost

September 17th, 2017 at 12:23 PM ^


Edit: I forgot to check Twitter for my updates.…

Still a rumor, but it's definitely causing some panic. How long do broken foot bones take to heal?

If true, insert DPJ...and put Drake Harris back at WR. No reason for him to be playing CB if he's not playing.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:30 PM ^

It was a periscope video. I can't imagine Milton would be spouting off incorrect info but its certainly not a 100% source that's why the question mark was there.

Broken foot depending on the bone is like a 2 month injury, would suck.


September 17th, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

Obviously speculating here, but on the missed short RZ pass to Crawford where the pass got knocked down by the AF player, it seems like Crawford was supposed to run his route deeper into the end zone.  Right after the play it was clear Speight went up to Crawford to discuss the route.

Granted, Speight might have been able to tuck & run it in, or done a pump fake to get the AF guy to jump early & then completed it anyway.

But at first glance it seems like Crawford cut his route off sooner than what was designed.