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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — It’s been a minute since the weekly Monday press conference with Jim Harbaugh has produced a lot of laughs along with some memorable catchphrases and moments. But it’s also been a lot of time since Michigan football was undefeated through five games.
Thanks to the 38-17 drubbing of Wisconsin, Harbaugh has a little extra pep in his step as the team continues to impress and grow in its own confidence. Another tough challenge awaits with a night game at Nebraska on deck, and while that will certainly take more of what we’ve seen from the Wolverines to remain undefeated, they continue to overpower every program they’ve faced thus far.
So, naturally, Harbaugh has been happier to talk about it. Here is everything he said about the Wisconsin game and what to expect from Nebraska.
What he's seen from Nebraska
“I think Nebraska is really impressive. They’re playing their best football. It was a dominating performance. You look back at their games that they played, they’ve all been close, against outstanding opponents. Oklahoma — gonna be a big challenge. No different really from what we were facing last week. We’re in the same situation, getting ready to play a really hungry team, a team that’s hitting their stride. I was impressed with their game, for sure.”
How much did facing Noah Vedral help them prepare for Adrian Martinez?
“Yeah, he’s a heckuva quarterback. Hate to compare, but it’s that and then some, this quarterback and this offense.”
How has Cade McNamara become an extension of the coaching staff?
“There was some real bright spots from the game. The one that really struck me the most was he was able to extend the play, buy time. Some free runners — talk about not taking a sack, but there was a couple incidences, free runners at him and he was able to sidestep them. He had that sense of where to escape in the pocket, find a receiver, find an outlet for the ball. That’s something that’s really new, that ability to play dodge ball as a quarterback. Move out of the way and then keep your eyes downfield and find a receiver — that was outstanding.
“Threw some great balls, some receivers really stepped up. Cornelius Johnson — tremendous catch in the back of the end zone. Got another touchdown catch on the flea-flicker. Daylen Baldwin asserted himself, it was great to see. And then Roman Wilson, of anybody, had the best day. Offensive player of the game, etc. Fabulous-type catches. Erick All as well. It was good to see.”
On a play he audibled and threw a pick and was yelled at by Mike Ditka and this team not making similar mistakes
“I do remember the play, very well. Yeah. Like it was yesterday. It was like one of the bottom five memories of my life! I would just say that everything Cade’s doing — I would just say the whole team, the way they take coaching, they really listen. They hear. And they take that instruction and embrace it wholeheartedly, and do their very best to execute it and try to do extra. They want more, they want new, they want things that stimulate them. It’s that way with Cade and a lot of our players. A great majority of our players are like that. Stuff that’s just fun, stuff that makes the little hairs on your arm stand up, what they do.
“Got back from Wisconsin — we got back pretty quick. And unpacking the office and run into J.J., Donovan, and Andrel Anthony, and they’re heading out to the practice field to get more work in. I even took a picture of it, it meant that much to me. It’s that kind of group!
“And I wasn’t out there on the practice field, by the way! It was just those three. No other coaches out there. Just the three of them, throwing the ball around. I didn’t observe it, either! OK?”
On the 'Jump Around' moment and the fun this team is having
“Yeah, I have noticed it for a long time now, going back to the winter conditioning cycle and spring ball. You can see it in their eyes, they’re having fun playing football. As far as that, that was au naturale, that just happened. We talked about it during the week, when you go on the road, you want to embrace that environment, make their crowd cheer like it’s your crowd cheering. Make their music your music. They played that song quite a bit during the week, the crowd noise, etc. They just made it theirs in that moment.”
Did he jump around himself?
“No, I was thinking about the 10-point lead and still a full quarter to play.”
The keys to why they haven't turned the ball over
“It’s been a big emphasis as a team. On special teams it’s a big emphasis. It’s a big emphasis in our offense. Players, there’s a real focus there. When they get the ball, they understand the responsibility of taking care of it.”
How he's seen the team's confidence grow from Week 1 until now?
“Yeah, you see it when you see it. David Ojabo is a tremendous example of just — it’s just in the look. It’s just in the eyes. They’re cheerful and undefeated. And getting this great knack of getting the ball to come out and being at the right place and long reach. Two games in a row, he’s caused a huge turnover. Pressuring the quarterback, just everything he’s doing. Tackling, getting guys on the ground. His whole game, he’s flourishing. Ascending player. That’s one of many examples.”
Josh Ross looks faster this year. What's his biggest advancement this year?
“Yeah. He does, he does look a step quicker. Coverage is better, he’s running better. You can credit a lot of that to — he is faster, he looks faster. I don’t have any time to say that, but the eye time sure says it. Just the instincts and the way he’s able to diagnose a play and be there a step, a step and a half to two steps in the right direction. Time after time, I think it’s a combination of his instincts, the coaching he’s getting, just how important it is, how much he’s studying — all those factors. His anticipation of diagnosing a play is high-level.”
On J.J. McCarthy coming into the game; is he trying to keep him content since he's not the starter?
“I would not put that as one of the high reasons. Yeah, him getting game experience, him playing, him contributing. Just like Donovan Edwards — because they’re good, they can help the team, they can contribute to the team right now, playing. Andrel Anthony — trying to get him as many times into the game as possible. I could say that with some other players, but just because — a player is only, they’re only trying to do two things: trying to become the best football player they can be and they’re trying to contribute to the team in any form or fashion that they can. Coaches — you’re only trying to do two things: make each player as good as they can possibly be and find each way a player can contribute to the team in whatever form or fashion that is. That’s where J.J. and Donovan, Andrel — they all have the license and the ability to be as good as they can get and help our team on Saturdays win games.”
On the running game vs. Wisconsin
“Yeah, some good, tough yards being made. The big runs were like eight and nine. It’s very rare that you get a 50-yard run in the season, let alone think that would be happening every single game. Three, four, eight, nine — those are big runs, those are big plays. So I would assess it that, once again, they really ran, they ran hard. Some of Hassan’s best stuff was pushing J.J. in on the quarterback sneak. That was tremendous — the enthusiasm they did that with and the strength to push J.J. those last six inches over the line. Just little stuff he does all the time. He’s such a great football player.
“And the other thing is Blake Corum is tough! That is a tough dude! Some of the hits he took would’ve killed a lesser man! So, tremendous respect for Blake Corum and the other guys. There was some hitting going on, there was some tackling going on and those guys jumped right back on their feet. Sometimes that’s more impressive than a 60-yard breakaway touchdown run.”
Why aren't there costly mental mistakes this year?
“Been better in a lot of those areas. Knowing the situational — including penalties. We’ve had some — like I said before, they’ve really listen to the coaching, they’ve really embraced it. They do their best to execute it and they do that in practice, they do that in meetings, they do that in games. That’s what I’d really attribute it to: they really listen. They embrace it.”
Are they listening more or responding to it better than years past?
“Yeah, I think they’re listening to it better, I think they’re embracing it better. I think they’re executing it — yeah, I do.”
What it says about Josh Ross that he's been able to adapt so quickly to the new scheme?
“Huge. Him and Aidan are right at the top. Those two leaders, along with Brad Hawkins. Brad’s been doing some of the same stuff. Open field tackles in coverage. Mostly guys have been doing a tremendous job of leading the team on defense — winter conditioning, since spring ball, through the summer. Yeah, we’re not very far along without them leading the way. As good a leader as you can have, and as I’ve said before, playing as good as any inside linebacker since I’ve been here. Which is, that’s saying a lot.”
Aidan Hutchinson is trending high in new NFL mock drafts. . .
“Where is he?”
(Close to one, maybe one.)
What don't we see that makes Hutchinson so good?
“I think you see it all, I think you really do. He’s as transparent as a baggie. What you see is what you get. He loves football. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great leader. He does everything right. I still — the first thing that pops up to my mind is when he went to the strength coaches and said, ‘Every day I come in here, wring me out. Make sure I get my money’s worth. Everything, just make me do it, even on the days I might not want to do it.’ Said yeah, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet here in the weight room! And they did and he did. He didn’t have a bad day, just attacked it the entire offseason.
“Also go back and observe that David Ojabo was in his hip pocket every one of those workouts. Tells you how smart David Ojabo is. You can see him reaping the benefits right now.
“Couldn’t say enough good things, but I think you know everything about Aidan Hutchinson.”
On Jake Moody and Brad Robbins' performance against Wisconsin
“Yeah, three great field goals by Jake and Brad did a great job holding again. Also the punts, both those punts landed exactly at the five-yard line, one of which we were able to recover. Great job by Joey Velazquez. Good thing Joey likes to do curls, he likes to do curls. Good thing, because he had to curl that ball in and hold it. That was a big play. And then Brad had another kick they fielded at the five. So, two inside the 10 and one that we got — that was big. Yeah, they’ve both been doing a great job.”