ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football finally made its 2022 debut as defending Big Ten champs, and it certainly impressed, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The offense moved the ball and scored regularly, but the defensive side really shined with multiple pass rushers getting home as the maize and blue finished with eight sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
After the game, head coach Jim Harbaugh was very pleased with the play from his defense, his quarterbacks, and the overall cleanliness of the game, as there was only one penalty all game. He addressed everything in his postgame press conference. Here is everything he had to say.
What he saw from the defense adn the depth
Coming into the game, the goal is to win, get better, improve as a football team. And stay healthy. If you can do all three of those things — and I think we did.
84 players played in the game. So, you know you got better that way. I thought the preparation was tremendous by the players and the coaches coming into the game. The thing that strikes me the most, the opener is when you usually get the most blown coverages or muffed punts, quarterback-center exchange, turnovers. Really nothing. There was one penalty on the offense, no turnovers. No communication issues, no delay of games. Both on the headsets of the defense, the offense, special teams — real tip of the cap to the coaches and the players for their preparation coming into this game.
Speaking of the depth, I thought the defense played extremely well. The front — we were feeling the front, just getting better and better. 11 TFLs and eight sacks. I don’t think they included the forced fumble that Mike had which included the scoop and score. The return yardage, both on the turnovers, fumble, scoop and score, interception return by Rod Moore, really good. Just nothing you can really point to where the guys didn’t seem to know what they were doing or where they were supposed to line up, what their assignment was. Really good, for especially a first game, taking care of their business.
And also, the conditioning of the team. It’s been a very cool August. Probably the coolest August I can ever remember. And we knew we’d have an Indian summer day or two in September, and we got one today. And nobody cramped. Everybody looked like they’re in tremendous shape. Again, their preparation points to the players’ preparation and the strength staff. So a lot of real positives.
On Cade McNamara's performance
Yeah, I thought he was really good. He had a couple balls that were dropped. But just very good, doing — executing, as I said. No issues. You’ve gotta give credit to the quarterback as well when that’s taking place on offense. Moved the football, scored points and thought he had a really good game.
Who's the third running back?
The third is really C.J. Stokes, Tavi Dunlap, Isaiah Gash — those three are really the third guy. Good to see them all get in there and run today. Really good first start.
Some really good first plays, right? You had C.J. Stokes, the first time he touched the ball, went for a first down. First play, Eyabi Anoma was in, he gets a sack. First time you throw the ball to Colston Loveland, he turns it into a memorable play. It was neat to see some guys get their first action and doing a really good job. Hunter Neff coming back off of the ACL. There were some really good stories in there.
But the best story is Erick All! His girlfriend Mia had a baby this morning at 7:45 a.m., approximately. Eight-pounds, four-ounces. Haven’t gotten the wingspan yet. I’m still weighting for the wingspan and the hand-size numbers, but from the pictures, they look long and athletic. It was great to welcome Houston into the world. Our team got better and it got bigger.
Did the QB rotation go as planned?
J.J.’s starting next week, so it’ll be different in that way. But yeah, things were operating really smooth in the first half. Finally said, ‘OK, let’s get J.J. in there.’ And he was electric when he got in, had no question about that. Thought he also went through his reads very well. Great to see him calm, cool, collected. It’s been conveying: he’s doing a great job, too, and really improved a lot, as you’d really expect going from your freshman year to your sophomore year.
Neat to see Alex Orji. We wanted to get him some reps. Wanted to be a little more ahead in the ball game, but if we got in that position — we hoped we did, we did — and we were able to get him some good reps. He had a nice touchdown, as you could see. He’s a physical runner. And one of these days you’ll see his arm — it’s real strong, too.
Really good. Can’t really think of any instance with the team where I didn’t think we improved from today’s efforts. Good learning experiences across the board.
Cade McNamara's 50% completion rate and the criteria for deciding a starter
As I said, there was a few drops. You never go off of any one criteria. I think we can all agree, the way we’re doing this, we got a lot more information after two weeks than we would have two weeks ago.
Where has McCarthy improved the most? Is it slowing the game down?
I would say that, yeah. I think you hit the nail right on the head, I think it’s slowing down. Really good players have the ability to do that. They’re feeding off a real adrenaline there. But the game slows down around them. I see that from Donovan Edwards. Nobody’s a gamer like Donovan Edwards, but you can really see the game slowing down for him, as well. It’s a real superpower.
That’s what I would point to. Just calmly going through your reads, looking for the downfield throw, but you’re not gonna fight the dropping defenders and check it down. He did a couple times very effectively today.
The one to Bredeson, the one to the running back.
On Ryan Hayes' injury
God-willing and the creek don’t rise, he’ll be back next week.
McNamara seemed disappointed in the QB rotation. How do you manage the situation?
I don’t feel like I have to manage it. They’re both tremendous competitors. They both are warriors. I don’t feel I’ve got to manage anything. I’ve just gotta let them go out there and compete and do what they do.
Is Karsen Barnhart going to be OK after his injury?
I don’t know, but he’s a pretty fast healer. We don’t play until next week at 8 p.m. so that’ll give him a few extra hours to get ready for the game. We’ll see. But it looks to be an ankle injury.
Karsen Barhart, from Paw Paw, Michigan — tough as a two-dollar steak! I would not count him out for next week’s ball game.
Assessing the offensive line
I thought they did really well. Protection was good, I think we really just had the one sack. Run blocking looked good. I mean, we allowed some penetration a few times on some of our edge runs. It would be good to have some things to improve, but overall, I thought they played well. No false starts, no delay of games — just the one holding penalty on the outside run to the right. Yeah, I don’t know what kind of grade I’d give them, but room for improvement and we’ll scour to find it going from Week 1 to Week 2. But overall, very pleased with just how clean the game was in all phases.
On Will Johnson giving up the touchdown and his message to him
It’s a learning experience. Everything — your first game, your first college action as a freshman. It says a lot that he’s out there, that he’s playing in that role. He’s currently our fourth corner on our depth chart right now. He’s gonna have a huge upside, no doubt about it. Treat it as a learning experience and it was a heckuva throw, heckuva catch. In by about an inch. He had some other good plays. Played physical. Was good game one.
If that was your son out there playing game one, you’d probably be pretty proud. Some other freshmen acquitted themselves in the same way. Just so proud of those guys. Mason Graham, Jimmy Rolder, Alex — I think we mentioned a few of the guys. Most of the receivers, all the freshman receivers, they got in. Good start, good learning experience — that’s a good way to assess it.
Also really feel good about the coaches, the communication, the preparation. Really good. There were no substitution issues. I thought it was a really well-prepared game plan by the coaches and the players.
How much does the offense change when McCarthy is in the game?
They’re similar, they’re pretty similar. A couple of quarterback runs — the one he scored on the touchdown was a designed quarterback read-option. It was good — I don’t think anybody laid a hand on him. He’s got that electric-type of ability when he’s running with the football. Thought he acquitted himself really well.