ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan has passed its first three tests with flying colors, but the competition starts to get much harder this week when an improved Rutgers team comes to town.
The Scarlet Knights rehired Greg Schiano before last year and the improvement was immediate. While Michigan certainly was a shell of what it had been, Schiano’s Rutgers took the Wolverines to triple-overtime in Piscataway in 2020 — the first game that we really got to see current starting quarterback Cade McNamara in action.
In his weekly press conference, Jim Harbaugh spoke about the challenges Rutgers poses, how much he interacts with his brother, John Harbaugh, on football-related matters and how much the Wolverines mirror the Ravens, what he’s seen from various position groups and much, much more.
Here is everything Harbaugh had to say.
How important is running back depth for Michigan and other teams?
“It’s a pretty big factor. You’re right — Rutgers, they’ve got really good backs. Always have great respect for Pacheco and they’re extremely athletic — he’s a really good runner. Always gets north-south, breaks tackles, can make the big play. They have a very good quarterback. The receiver, No. 18 — outstanding.
“To answer the question, the more good playmakers you have, the better.”
Why has Rutgers improved in his eyes?
“They score points, they average about 27 points a game. Playing real salty defense. Really good special teams. They’re playing good football.”
How has Cade McNamara grown the most since the Rutgers game last year?
“In all areas, but he’s just been consistently good since he’s played in games. I think the ability to drive the team for points, that’s getting really impressive. I don’t know exactly what that percentage is, but it’s gotta be pretty high. He’s just, overall — confidence, ability, time on task, reps — just like anybody, when you play in a game and you realize: ‘I can do this!’ It’s not as hard as it seems and you get better at football by playing football.
“I just think about all of the guys that played this past weekend. Just had the feeling and the knowledge of, ‘Hey, I can do this!’ And then when they go to the practice field and you take that experience and it makes you better. You know the feeling in the game and you can replicate that in practice, you make big strides.”
Is he happy that game turned out as it did, with McNamara taking the reins?
“He capitalized on it — the biggest statement you can make is coming into a game like that. That’s your opportunity. 17 points down, I think it was. Rally the team, comeback victory. That does a lot. Does a tremendous amount for your own confidence and the belief everybody has in an individual.”
Did it set the program up for where it is now?
“Capitalized on his opportunity, took the bit and ran with it! Yeah. Gotta give great credit to Cade for doing that. For having the fortitude to step in there, take the bull by the horns and he hasn’t given it up. So that’s all to his credit.”
On teams getting the ball out quickly to neutralize the pass rush
“That’s been the formula so far: quick passing game, get the ball out quick. Also max protect. Particularly, they’ve been finding Aidan and blocking him particularly with a running back and a tight end and a tackle or a guard and running back, they pull. They try all sorts of ways to slow him down. And then, usually wen they get that max protect, they’re trying to take a shot down the field. It (isn’t) quick game, but it’s when they take some shots and where we’ve seen the double moves the most.”
What does he say to Hutchinson when he’s getting extra attention?
“Yeah, he understands that. He understands that. He goes hard every play. That’s the thing about our team. They’re playing so hard. They’re having fun, you can see it in their eyes, and they’re having fun playing hard. Just love hit and keep it going.”
Why is Michigan so improved this year?
“The biggest is just how hard they’re playing. And they’re having fun doing it. Good things happen. Good things happen when you play hard. Energy. Energy just finds the ball, whether you’re on defense or whether you’re on offense. Energy — the ball just finds you.”
How much does he watch other Big Ten teams and how is the conference this year?
“It’s very strong. Top-to-bottom looks like a very strong conference. Yeah, I watch, that’s what I believe. Very strong, top-to-bottom.”
Assessment of the secondary through three games
“I thought Gemon Green had his best game. Great to see him get an interception. Vince, as well. I thought for the most part, we were tackling, we had guys covered up, running to the football. It’s been really good.
“Vince, DJ, DJ Turner. Dax continues to play at a super high level. Brad Hawkins, RJ Moten. Really, really good. Just playing with a lot of want to, playing with a lot of energy, playing really hard. You’re seeing it in the secondary, really you’re seeing it at all positions. See it in the offensive line and the tight ends and the receivers.
“Some of the hustle and the downfield blocking coming from Hayes — 15-20 yards down the field, or Roman Wilson, Erick All. Schoonmaker had some tremendous blocks — touchdown type of blocks and they’re occurring 10, 20, 30, 40 yards, 50 — even had a 50-yard block downfield. Like I said, good things happen when you play hard.”
Has Ronnie Bell had his surgery yet?
Where has Sherrone Moore had the most impact on the OL?
“Yeah, he’s done a heckuva job. Really playing — not historically known as a fun position to play, but they look like they’re having a lot of fun. I go by their meetings and it’s engaged, it’s energetic, it’s loud, a lot of guys are laughing. They’re enjoying it. Same on the practice field, day-after-day. It’s a real cohesive unit there that’s developed and they enjoy each other’s company and they’ve built a lot of confidence in themselves and each other. I think Sherrone has had a tremendous amount to do with that from where I stand. It’s been very, very impressive.”
What are Greg Schiano-coached team traits?
“Hard, tough — guys that play all out, play together, don’t make mistakes, execute, disciplined teams. All the good stuff.”
Coaching players that don’t have a lot of football experience
“Yeah, that’s a good question. That’s something like Julius Welschof — there’s been a few. Guys that have played more basketball than football or different — I think it’s good to have played some football, but overall, just about any sport you play has carryover to football. Whether it’s the movements, the training. There’s — any sport that you could play in a lot of ways will prepare you for football.
“I could make more analogies, other sport analogies for guys that haven’t played.”
How much do Michigan and the Baltimore Ravens mirror each other?
“Quite a bit. Quite a bit, really. In almost all ways. Offensive philosophy, defensive philosophy, special teams philosophy. Coaches that have coached at the Ravens, coaches who have coached at the 49ers or Stanford. As you know, as recently as last year, Mike Macdonald was on the defensive side, Matt Weiss on the offensive side. My brother John — yeah. There’s a lot of similarities.
“We strive to have similarities with the Ravens. Because, gosh — what a game. That was an unbelievable game last night. People say the Buffalo Bills, no one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, but nobody circles the wagons like the Baltimore Ravens!”
Did the Ravens’ success running the ball influence Michigan?
“I would say yes, yes. Just yes. Just yes!”
Did it come up in conversations with John when he asked for advice on staff?
“Yeah, everything — running game, passing game, defense, coverage, blitzes, special teams play, all that. All comes up. All football things. We mostly talk football.”
On his brother letting Lamar Jackson run the 4th down play at the end of SNF
“I know that he knew that that was the right thing to do. He was getting the double buy-in from Lamar. Honestly, Lamar is just so great. Once he had that double buy-in from Lamar, they were prepared and confident and got it. I really think all he needed was that double buy-in from Lamar and they would get it.”
On the LB coaching
“They’re humming. I would say this: the other great thing — I’ve talked about the players and how hard they play and they’re having fun doing it and you see it. The other thing I see is the staffs. The defensive staff, the offensive staff — real cohesive, real good. And they’re humming, they’re humming. You go by those meetings, sit in those meetings, you can really see it and hear it. It’s great football being discussed and they’re on the same page. Humming.”
On the linebacker play thus far
“Yeah, Josh Ross just continues to be — playing so well. All out, all the time, playing with great instincts. And the strength is there. When he’s covered up, and he was — I’m thinking one play in particular, the guard had the angle on him, came off of a deuce block, had him right in his sights and Josh was able to take on the hit, duck, get in on the tackle. The run went for three or four yards, but he still made the play. He’s doing some great things. As good as any linebacker play as I’ve been around since I’ve been here.”
How complete are special teams right now?
“I think A.J. did a tremendous job returning the ball. You’re talking about the returners? (Everybody.) It feels good. I think they’re doing a great job, they’re going all out, playing so hard. They’re good and having said that, I think you hear this from our players, at least I do: there’s nobody looking to take a deep, long bow right now. We just want to get back and get ready for Rutgers, a team we really respect and be prepared and work and practice and get ready for the ball game on Saturday. I think they’re doing really good. I wouldn’t use the word complete about any of us because we think we can do better.”
How does recruiting work with the type of offense the team is running?
“I just think you’ve got some kind of story already written and are just looking for my — plug something from me in. We’re trying to move the ball, trying to score touchdowns, get as good at football as we can get.”
Thoughts on Junior Colson thus far
“Oh yeah, I was gonna mention him before when I was talking about Josh Ross. He’s really playing well. I was gonna say he doesn’t look like a freshman out there, but physically he’s really ahead of his years. He really studies and prepares. I probably should just stop there. Junior’s gonna be good, and the longer it takes him to figure that out, probably the better off he’ll be. He’s really on a good track.”