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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — When Michigan football has a big game forthcoming, Jim Harbaugh tends to revert from being relatively open to a man of few words. For the most part, but not entirely, that was the case on Monday with the Wolverines preparing to travel to Happy Valley to take on Penn State this Saturday.
Unlike the previous two trips, the game is a noon kick, but Harbaugh still spoke about why the environment is still raucous, as well as what he expects to see from the Nittany Lions. He also addressed injury concerns as well as the officiating calls made two weeks ago in the Michigan State game.
Here is everything he had to say on Monday in his weekly press conference.
What has he seen out of Penn State on tape
“Yeah, a lot of good things. Quarterback is very good, very good running back — Cain. Jahan Dotson, receivers, tight ends. Very good offensive line. Defensively, outstanding secondary, really good linebackers, good up front. Good, solid, strong team all around.”
Injury update on Blake Corum and Erick All
“No, I don’t have any updates on injuries at this time. It’s a matter of team getting, working every day, grinding every day. You’re prepping, you’re trying to have good days, trying to have good days. Good meetings, good practice and then go play the game.”
Has Cade McNamara exceeded his expectations as a first-year starter?
“He’s playing really well. I think each week he’s showing really good play. I would say the term expectation, ‘exceeded expectation’ — with all players, they have the license and the ability to take that as high as they can.”
What does he think about McNamara's ball security?
On Dotson and Cornelius Johnson each putting up big numbers last week
“Yeah, there’s some really good players that are receivers, really good players that are quarterbacks. Really good explosive offenses in the Big Ten.”
Is it exciting, the possibilities that still lie ahead for Michigan?
“Yeah, I’m excited. Excited for the next game. Today’s meetings, today’s practice. Excited to have a good day.”
Against Indiana, when he called timeout on the fourth-and-short, were they going to go for it?
“Yeah, we were trying to take some time off the clock — oh, you’re talking about the short-yardage play? Yeah, yeah — that was a play we called that was dependent on the look. We really didn’t get the look that we wanted to to run the play. But then as the play was developing, we thought we could still run it against the look they had and it just looked to me like I wasn’t sure that everybody was on the same page. So that’s why I called the timeout.”
What's the process of putting together a game plan if unsure everyone will be healthy?
“It doesn’t change. It doesn’t change. It’s more of a next man-up mindset than changing a game plan.”
How has Mazi Smith improved this year?
“To me, when I look at it, just his physicality, his knock-back. His ability to unload his hips out of his stance. That strength is the other — he’s very, very strong. And consistently strong throughout the game and his conditioning and his strength. How he’s developed as a football player. Just really pleased, I know he is, with how he’s developed as a football player.”
Were there any pass rushers when he was a player who were great at creating fumbles? And why is Ojabo good at it?
“I think the ones that are really good at that, they train themselves to be. Guys with long arms, got length, got wingspan, got athletic ability and balance. There’s so many things that are key. It’s coached and he’s trained to do it and he’s got a lot of the athletic gifts to really get that done.”
How much value does he put on banged up QBs playing through pain?
“Value? It’s a quality. It’s something that took a lot of pride in as — a lot of football players take a lot of pride in that.
“Pain threshold — that was the word I was looking for! Looking for that word, you know? Some have it, some have a very high pain threshold. It’s a very good quality. I know a real football player prides himself on it.”
What does he remember about the 1986 Ohio State game?
“Yeah, I just — like you said, I’m just not one of those guys that likes to get up and pontificate on what I did or what happened 35 years ago, etc.”
Does he remember any of his teammates being particularly good?
“Yeah! I remember a lot of it! I remember every bit of it. I just — it’s just not something I enjoy doing, standing up and pontificating on stuff I did before, or we did before, or anything. Just kind of here in the now, in the present, you know? Getting ready for, excited about this football fight that’s coming up. Doing everything we can to — as a coach, prepare players. Get to where they can have a good day. Trying to have good days. Good meetings, good practices. And then another good day after that, try for another one after that, and then go play the game.”
How does he prepare for the week with a depleted RB room and is Tavierre Dunlap become the next man up?
“Yeah, Tavi Dunlap, Leon Franklin, Danny Hughes, Isaiah Gash. There’s really good, quality players there. Those guys that have been preparing, they’ve been working all season, and comes their opportunity.”
What makes Happy Valley a difficult place to play?
“Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a great venue. Why? They’ve got a great fan base that’s really into it. That’s like a lot of football environments across the country, it’s really good. I’d say don’t fight against it, you go with it. Enjoy that stage, enjoy that opportunity. Personally, I like to pretend they’re cheering for me when I was a player! I think I see our players taking that same mindset. Their music is our music. People that love football — can’t fault them for that! Just kind of go with it.
“When it’s all said and done, there’s only 11 players on each side that are out there on the field that can affect the game and the officials. Those are the only people that are out there on the field that play-after-play can affect the down.”
Did he hear back from the Big Ten about the officials vs. MSU?
“Yeah, as we all expected, all saw, mistakes were made. That was the response, they made a mistake.”
On the Aidan Hutchinson TD call?
“Yeah. And others.”
They said they made mistakes on other calls?
“Yes. Can’t be any more clear than that.”
There were a lot of calls
“Yeah, there were. The film doesn’t lie, you know?”
Are they saving things for the bigger games?
“I wouldn’t call it save, but anything’s possible. It’s true. As like anything with our opponent, you’d like them to think anything’s possible.”
What did they save?
“It’s just the word ‘save,’ it doesn’t resonate with me. Those will tell you the season is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. It’s a sprint. It’s not a marathon, it’s a sprint. The marathon approach doesn’t work, in my opinion.
“So yeah, it’s just the save word — we’re doing everything we can every game to win that game.”
How do they fix the red zone issues?
“Yeah, you address it, you emphasize it, practice it.”
Trying new things or keep practicing what they were already doing?
“You emphasize it, you come up with a plan, then you practice that plan, then you run the plays that you practiced in the game.”