Cincinnati Postgame Presser: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on September 10th, 2017 at 11:59 AM

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[Upchurch]

First Evans last week, now Isaac today. How big is it for you guys to gain more depth at the running back position with all the guys you lost from last season?

“I thought Ty had a heck of a game. Career high for him and he keeps ascending, so feel good. Fullbacks are doing a nice job. I think most of our veteran players are playing good and kind of the theme is we’ve got to get experience. We’ve got to get experience playing. It’s guys’ first time playing here in the Big House, first time going through a week of school, and got to be patient. We’re going to coach ‘em up and long road ahead but can’t get experience without playing, so that’s kind of the theme.”

If you could talk about two plays: the first one the 36-yard reception by Zach Gentry that kind of got things going for the offense and then the decision to go for it on fourth-and-eight.

“Yeah, that was a nice job by Zach. Wilt threw a good ball on the crossing route. Yeah, we needed that to flip some field position where we had a couple previous punts, so that was good.

“The decision to go for it on fourth-and-eight, we were around the 33-yard line, would have been a 50-yard, 51-yard field goal. Punting it could have gained you only eight yards, so decided to take the chance there. I think, I believe—who made that catch? Was it Grant? Kekoa.

“There was a lot of good. There was a lot of good and a lot of times where the screen’s going a little fuzzy and we’re not doing our assignments. Then the fumbles, those hurt. And the ball handling. We’ll just keep going. Wins are tough to come by and we’re glad to have this one.”

Started strong in terms of the score and the final score was lopsided but what happened in between to maybe make it closer than expected?

“You saw the game.”

[After THE JUMP: “I’m dead in here. It’s like burnt wood in terms of nervousness and butterflies and emotions that way.”]

I’m not the coach.

“I’ll just let you write whatever you want, Larry.”

[laughs]

“Did you not watch the game?”

Yeah, I did.

“Okay, well, you’re a paid writer.”

Right side of the offensive line: I know last week you mentioned Nolan [Ulizio] was improving. How would you grade out Nolan, the good and the bad. Same with Mike Onwenu. The right side as a whole, how would you assess those guys?

“It was a game where mistakes were made and weren’t multiple in terms of like three or four by one person, but it was one by each. One by Mike; you know, he pulls, when the play’s coming toward him he pulls and we get hit in the backfield on third-and-two. Made it fourth-and-four down on the goal line. Stuff like that. A guy gets a holding penalty not using the technique and blocking the guy he should. There’s the personal foul by Nolan. Quarterback on the ball handling, ball slips out of his hand, et cetera et cetera.

“I could document it and go through it play by play like Larry wants me to do but that’s kind of the cause of it. There’s guys that are taking turns and we’ve got to get into a rhythm. All 11 got to execute and that’s on us as coaches and the players to evaluate what’s causing it and how to get our offense into the rhythm, because we can move the ball. We can move the ball, and we had the feeling coming out of this game that we stopped ourselves on occasion. That’s the challenge for our team.”

Is there any level of frustration or anticipation? In your mind how long does this stuff need to take to be ironed out? Week two, still early in the season, but are you thinking about that, like, ‘Okay, this stuff need to be ironed out now’?

“Well, as I said in the very beginning, very patient. You can’t gain experience playing in games—you can only do it by playing football, so there’s definitely a certain level of patience there. And stubbornness. Call it either way. Some people like to say stubbornness, I like to say patience. We’ll continue on that path striving for perfect, striving for perfection. That’s the goal, execution, and we’ll keep going.”

Going through the roster there’s about a dozen kids from the state of Florida and all those starters from the state of Florida. With Hurricane Irma, was anything addressed with the team or players?

“We all—I have relatives in Florida. We all do. We talked. All you can do is pray about it. And you check and make sure your families are okay and yeah, it’s a challenge. Guys were talking about it and making calls, et cetera, but that’s… you pray for the state of Florida but certain things aren’t in your control.”

Nothing was addressed to those guys prior to the game?

“We had conversations.”

Thank you.

“You’re welcome.”

You made a change at punt returner. It looked like on the sidelines you had a talk with Donovan [Peoples-Jones] at one point about being able to come up and catch the ball and be in control. Was that what that conversation was about, and when you switched to Grant [Perry], why did you switch to Grant?

“Just felt like the decision to not catch the ball was coming too late and was allowing too many of our guys to be around the ball. Going to have to keep coaching that up. Guy’s doing it for the first time. There’s a point where you have to come off blocking your man as you get closer to the returner. That 10 yards distance away and got to be able to find the returner and it’s not easy to do. Trying to block a man, got to find the returner, got to have that awareness and St. Juste at one point was getting blocked into the catch spot and saw that that was one that Donovan needed to—he needed to… he wasn’t going to be able to make a play. He was going to run into his own man, so there’s experience that needs to take place there and felt like we wanted to go with the guy that had a little bit more time on task, a little more experience. It was just that simple. Donovan will be really good but need more experience, and you get a couple thing that go bad and you’re not confident, so that was the decision to change at that point.”

Between games one and two, overall did you see the growth that you wanted to see between week one and week two?

“Well, we grew in experience. Again, there will be a lot of things for each individual player to think about. Just… In a number of ways of playing a football game, there’s things that you can’t experience until you experience ‘em. There’s handling your emotions, handling a week at school for the first time, even that environment, that atmosphere. There’s nerves, there’s butterflies and you get experience on how to handle them. At some point. I mean, it’s like, me, I’m 53, it’s gone dead. I’m dead in here. It’s like burnt wood in terms of nervousness and butterflies and emotions that way. Guys that are doing it for the first time or second time even? It takes some time on task. It takes some experience. We got some more of that today, and that’s a good thing.”

Maybe this falls in that category but Wilton was in here talking about his mechanics and the passes that sailed on him. There were a number of them today [and] there were some last week. To the casual fan it may look like open guys, shouldn’t he make those but enlighten us: when that happens, is there more to it than that?

“I mean, guys—there’s different ways people throw. They’re gonna—you go with the usual buzzwords. I can think of one that sailed: I think it was Donovan coming on the deep crossing route. He had a nice throwing lane. See the lane, see the throw, and make the throw. You’re not going to be perfect. Went 17-of-28, 58% with a couple throwaways. Not bad. Could be better, and we’ll keep striving for that perfection. I don’t know exactly what his mechanics were on that but people throw how they throw. He’s done it enough where he’s going to hit most of them in my mind.”

You mentioned you were, what did you say, charred wood, dead wood inside—

“Yeah, to those emotions of nervousness.”

Have you had to stop and think when you’re reacting to some of these guys about how young they are? In a game, in camp or anything, have you changed the way you coach at all the past couple weeks?

“Yeah, I think about it a lot, Nick. And what you’re asking somebody to do and putting them in a position where they’re confident they really understand it. That’s the ideal position. There’s a lot of it right now. There’s a lot of who’s really got this and you don’t know for sure, but happened some—first, punter, snapper, kicker I think did a nice job today. You don’t know but you remember. You remember. It’s hard to execute. It’s hard to play with a lot of emotions. You’re better off being dead to ‘em.

“But to answer your question, yeah. Think about it, try to anticipate, try to resolve when you can but the other thing in my mind is you can’t dumb it down Barney-style either and just line up in a two tight ends and a balanced line and think that you’re just gonna run off tackle play after play after play when they have five defensive linemen in the game and they’re doing a nice job as the case was today.

“I don’t know. Probably talking too much here but yes, I do think about it. Try to anticipate, try to resolve, and the experience has taught me that they’ve gotta go do it. They’ve gotta go do it and keep moving forward and gaining the experience. I know what these guys are made of and they’re going to get it. I feel very, very confident about that. Did that make any sense?”

It did.

“Thanks for interpreting.” [laughs]

Did you get an explanation from Wilton on the couple fumbles that he had? Was it a miscommunication?

“Uh…no. No miscommunication. He’s taking the other hand off the ball and trying to do it one-handed. I’ve been telling him it’s a matter of time until it slips out of your hand. Today was the day. Today was the day it just slipped right out of his hand. It’s a bad habit. Keep working hard to break him of that but got us today on that.

“The fly sweep, I’ve got to see that one, whether the depth—the snap off-point I thought was too late. Kekoa might have been a little too tight and I’m not so sure that that ball didn’t slip out of Wilton’s hands. I think it was a culmination of three things that went wrong with that play and we’ll get more time on task on it. That was my feelings on both of the plays. Quarterback’s gotta—you’ve got to handle the ball handling. Belt to belt, seat it in there with your eyes.”

Comments

Mr. Yost

September 10th, 2017 at 12:55 PM ^

Couldn't agree more.

Either go with the high ceiling/low floor JBB who can develop while we play some less than stellar opponents. Or go with the low ceiling/high floor Runyan to hold down the fort this year until JBB, Ulizio, Stuber, Filiaga, etc. are ready to challenge him a year from now.

Enough is enough, but I have to trust Harbaugh, Frey, and Drevno. That said, it's REALLY hard to believe JBB is worse...he wasn't good last year, but he was a lot better than what we've seen from Ulizio and has shown flashes. Or just go with Runyan and let him be boring RT with a bunch of 0's in the UFRs. +3/-3...Total 0. I feel like that's Runyan all year and I'll take that.

mgoblue98

September 11th, 2017 at 8:55 AM ^

don't understand the logic.  You want to replace Ulizio with one of two guys who are further down on the depth chart, meaning that they are not as good, so that the position will be better.  If JBB hasn't made the starting line up by now, I don't think next year is going to be better.

ST3

September 10th, 2017 at 1:17 PM ^

What is your background? Do you coach offensive linemen? Do you watch the team at practice? Have you seen anyone else at RT in a college game? High school highlight films are one thing, actual college games against actual collegiate scholarship athletes is another.

They very well may try someone else at RT next week, but it will be because of what they see during practice, not what message board monday morning QB coaches say on the internet.

I'll trust the coaches on this one. OK coach?

BornInA2

September 10th, 2017 at 12:32 PM ^

It reads like a post-loss presser. I can give the young kids and other new starters a pass, but Speight isn't in either of those categories. Frankly, I'm surprised to hear that Harbaugh has told him to use both hands on hand-offs and he isn't doing it.

CompleteLunacy

September 10th, 2017 at 3:00 PM ^

Perry spun the ball and got 15 yards. He stopped.

Speight hadn't fumbled a hand off yet, even if coach warned him. Hard to break a bad habit if nothing bad happens from it. Well, now it did. I imagine he'll take it a bit more seriously now. Just glad it was Cincy and not somebody better where it happened...

Ezeh-E

September 10th, 2017 at 7:56 PM ^

When it happens in a game AND you have time in practice between games to fix an issue. 

Harbaugh could have held Perry out for the rest of the FL game after his first spin, but at that point probably figured we needed Perry (as we did at the time). So he fixed it in practice the week after.

I bet $20 that Speight does the handoff correctly next game.

pistolwolf

September 10th, 2017 at 3:29 PM ^

speight is mistake prone, its just part of who he is. like when a qb is clutch. cant really describe it  you just know he will find a way to make big plays. speight is the the other, prone to make careless mistakes, and cant quite get it done when it matters.

w2j2

September 10th, 2017 at 12:38 PM ^

This presser really lets us know that Harbaugh is fully aware of the problems that his team had in this game, and that he intends to fix them.  That includes play calling and individual player mistakes.  And he threw nobody under the bus.  What a great coach.

champswest

September 10th, 2017 at 1:14 PM ^

young team and going through growing pains. They are talented, but lack experience. They can play at a high level, but also make a lot of mistakes. We will just have to trust the process.

PapabearBlue

September 10th, 2017 at 1:24 PM ^

The conversation about speight and his hand-offs is mindblowing. How many times does he hand off the ball in a game? The coaches have told him "use two hands or you'll fumble". He's been with this staff for 2.5 years now and still does it one handed? WTF? Put two hands on the fucking football it's not a god damn difficult concept nor is it something you do so rarely that you shouldn't have this as a natural reflex.

Communist Football

September 10th, 2017 at 1:54 PM ^

That and Speight's comment that his footwork was "sloppy" on the high throws. What the hell? You're supposed to be a leader on this team and you won't listen to your coaches about two-handed handoffs and aren't interested in attention to detail with footwork? That is not only terrible, but terrible leadership -- it sets a terrible example for all the young guys on the team.

Brandon Peters can't get "command of the offense" soon enough.

LKLIII

September 11th, 2017 at 10:12 AM ^

I've started to wonder about Speight RE humility lately too. Maybe he did it last year and I just nver noticed it, but a few times already this year after a touchdown I've seen him sprinting and looking at the sideline or crowd and wagging his finger. Not sure what it means. Defiance? Was he saying "no"? Or "number 1"?

At any rate, although I'm taking it out of context, his TD celebration seems more arrogant than just the average fist bumps/helmet slaps that you'd see normally.

Hopefully I'm way off base on that.

Sten Carlson

September 10th, 2017 at 1:31 PM ^

This game lacked all semblance of rhythm for Michigan offensively. The opening series was near perfect, the pick 6 ... couldn't have drawn drawn it up any better. But, then the mistakes started -- the first made by two freshmen -- that's going to happen, especially when you have a true freshman returning punts. Lots of people armchair QB'ing in here, but coach mentioned both issues specifically -- mental/execution mistakes, and running into a stacked box.

It's a tough spot for a play caller, IMO. You run successfully forcing the defense to stack the box, you counter, but your QB keeps missing open guys or checking down to guys nowhere near far enough downfield. It's clear, at least from my vantage point, that the vast majority of the time in the past two games that the plays have been there and are well designed. On a couple of occasions it appeared that the young guys made some subtle mistakes -- Black not driving PAST the line to gain so he could come back to the ball, for example -- and otherwise well executed plays resulted in stalled drives. Again, no rhythm.

Coach said it best, patience. It's clear Wilt has issues at the moment, but (as I said after Florida) it also clear (to me at least) that he's "in command of the offense," i.e., he knows where to go with it. If, BIG if, Wilt were clicking on all cylinders we'd have blown out Florida and decimated Cinci we won both pretty easily despite the mistakes and that's a very good thing.

I'm as frustrated as most, but this is a case of "dance with the girl you brough" at this point. The last thing we want to do here is put someone at QB who isn't "in command" and watch them play Joe Clueless. Wilt is hot and cold right now -- not sure why, but that's that -- and he's the best chance we've got. People can wring their hands and say who we'll never beat or 8-3, etc. But, all we can do is see how it shakes out. Again, if/when Wilt clams down and starts hitting those throws with complete consistency this offense will be very hard to stop.

getsome

September 10th, 2017 at 2:01 PM ^

agree with most of your comments - but speight is hot and cold bc thats the type QB hes been.  not sure thatll change.  they can win with him but people expecting him to consistently hit 75% and make all the throws havent been paying attention...hes played great games and poor games (along with great / poor stretches) though usually hovers around average.  hes inconsistent...he also gives this team the best chance to win right now

Blue Ballin'

September 10th, 2017 at 2:43 PM ^

My brother took this girl to a dance and discovered she danced like Elaine Benes. Once he realized she'd never be a better dancer, he ditched her in favor of this new girl in school who had a 'higher ceiling' as a dancer and with a little experience she became an amazing dancer. They had a great time. He even got lucky later that night. He was so glad he dumped the girl he took.

Of course, afrer fifteen years they got a divorce.

Probably a moral in here somewhere. 

Sten Carlson

September 10th, 2017 at 3:14 PM ^

I have seen enough from him -- in every game he makes some great throws. But, obviously, it remains to be seen. To me (as an armchair coach/sport psychologist), the issue seems to be a deep seeded mental issue: Wilt has an inferiority complex of sorts regarding his own arm strength and possibly his throwing motion and he's trying to change it to be "better." As such, he's often "playing perfect passer" and not just seeing the receiver and delivering the ball at the right velocity.

It's very similar to golf, as I've brought up before. Guys think they don't have the best swing and so they play "golf swing" not golf. When they do this they usually have some weird misses and never really get into a good rhythm -- sound familiar? Coach eluded to it, and that has sort of crystallized my thinking on this. Wilt seems to be throwing the ball too hard -- which causes it to sail -- and trying to alter his own unique throwing motion. Just get it done, Wilt! It's not a beauty contest.

If Harbaugh and Pep are QB gurus, then I wouldn't be surprised to know they're staying positive with Wilt and working on his feelings about his action and get him to just play QB as himself, not trying to be something he's not technique wise. He's got the tools, maybe not the prettiest of motions, but plenty of arm strength to do everything the coaches are asking him to do -- just don't try too hard!