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MADISON, Wis. — Michigan football refused to relive the same old story. The Wolverines hadn’t won as an underdog under Jim Harbaugh, they hadn’t won big games on the road, they struggled to beat their supposed contemporaries in Wisconsin and Penn State. The Badgers had destroyed the maize and blue the last two meetings, but this team, as Harbaugh put it, would not be denied.
It was as emphatic a win as there could be when two Big Ten powerhouses meet. And though Wisconsin has been reeling — it’s now 1-3 on the season — there was a prevailing thought that it could right the ship against a Michigan team that it’s accustomed to beating. However, Michigan flipped the script.
Here’s everything that Harbaugh said after the big win in his postgame press conference.
How significant was this being a road win?
“It was a really, really good ball game played by our team in all phases. It was physical. The intensity in which our guys are playing with on defense, tremendous game. Six three-and-outs, two turnovers caused. Just playing hard. Can talk about that — just playing hard with tremendous intensity. Saw the same thing with the offense. Our guys are playing confident. They were playing physical — in all areas, really. The offensive line, the tight ends, the backs, receivers, quarterback. He stood in there and made some big plays. Well-rounded in the passing game and the running game and special teams, as well. They had a great game. Got us a big turnover early in the game on the punt. Stole a possession and got points out of that.
“So yeah — tremendous team win. I think the most impressive thing continues to remain our guys, how hard they’re playing, the intensity — playing hard and the intensity.”
What went into the aggressive, more creative offensive game plan?
“Yeah, we threw the ball on the first play of the game! That’s what — we’ve been striving to be balanced, throwing the ball and running the ball. Had a very similar approach this week and a team that has a really good run defense. Yeah, it was well-mixed. We really believe in our quarterbacks, we believe in our receivers and our tight ends. We believe we can throw the ball well, we believe we can run it well. But yeah — we’re gonna do both. There’s two ways to travel, right?”
Responding to Wisconsin's punches
“We were all pretty sure — momentum is gonna shift in any football game. This group’s different, they don’t flinch.”
How much does this game show how much progress the team has made?
“A lot of ways. The team has been playing good. Last week, talked about the situational defense, those in the red zone, two-minute, backed-up. Situationally, offense — running the football, throwing the football, protecting, blocking, tackling. There’s — seems like a very well-rounded team in a lot of those areas, and today there was a situation of rushing the passer and the intensity of the blitzes were outstanding. It was great to see getting that kind of pressure throughout the game.
“Was just really solid, real solid, all three phases today. Really pleased with that. Tough place, tough, physical team. I thought our team played really physical and matched it every bit.”
On the team jumping around during 'Jump Around'
“Yeah, it was really good. They had that kind of vibe about them from when they first stepped into the locker room when we first got here early this morning. The vibe was they were not gonna be denied. They weren’t gonna flinch when punches were thrown and that’s the way it played out.”
On the pass rush and Hutchinson not getting double teamed
“Thought we had a lot of really good push in the middle, which was great to see. Mazi Smith, Donovan Jeter. And then the edge pressure was getting home. I thought we did a really good job disguising those blitzes. We had some blitz simulators in there — we were simulating the blitz, but we’re not blitzing. Thought Mike called a great game in that regard and we even got home on some of those because of the push inside. Made the — just did a great job of getting the quarterback off his spot in the pocket.”
On the response to giving the momentum away at the end of the first half
“Yeah, I think the way we started the game, getting that first touchdown, getting the three-and-out stops on defense, after the fourth — we went for it on fourth down five times today. And the one time we didn’t get it, early in the game, we left the ball right there in the middle of the field and got a three-and-out from our defense. They were backed up inside of our one-yard line. I thought that was tremendous poise by our offense — key situation, backed up, to get that first down, get some breathing room and to be able to get that field position back.
“There was multiple momentum swings during the game. You just try to get that momentum back as fast as you possibly can and our guys did a great job of that today.”
On using J.J. McCarthy in designed run plays
“He’s really athletic and we thought we’d have some looks for him to be able to pull the ball and try to get the ball on the perimeter. Got one where he had a nice game. Had a nine-yard gain. And he can throw the ball really good, too. We just tried to get him in there as much as we can. That’s the thinking.”
Why the fourth down plays? Was it something in Wisconsin?
“Yeah, I really felt like, like I said earlier, at the time we got here to the stadium early this morning, just walking around, talking to all of the players, there was just a vibe they weren’t gonna be denied. And was — give them every chance to attack. Wanted to bring that to life.”
The progress Mike Macdonald has made as a playcaller on defense
“That was a tremendous game to be able to talk about somebody! He was really — Mike, the entire defensive staff, they were really dialed in in this game. They have been in the previous games as well, but especially so this game. Just the — the communication is a lot better when you’re playing on the road defensively. That helps, helps a lot. Our stadium has been really loud for four games. When our defense is out there, they’re loud.
“Just continually getting better in specific areas and really put it all together today.”
On Roman Wilson's progress
“Yeah, another guy. I don’t know how much you can really tell from just looking at somebody’s eyes, but the demeanor and then — he’s catching the ball. Getting open, catching the ball, blocking. His blocking has improved so much. He’s growing leaps and bounds. As A.J. Henning has. There’s a lot of our players — it’s a pretty young team. It’s almost like some of those X-Men movies where the little kid or the teenage X-Men finds their power. Now they know they have it and they’re using it. It’s really exciting to watch as a coach.”
On Daxton Hill blitzing
“His play has been tremendous all year. He’s been close and always near the ball. He plays with so much energy. He’s so good. Today, I just felt he got closer and closer until he finally got — got the interception, got the big sack. He’s all over the field again. He is one heckuva player.”
How he's maximized the talent level
“I was just gonna comment on that. Dax is a great example. I think Mike’s done a great job, the defensive staff has done a great job of maximizing the talent of Dax Hill, of Aidan Hutchinson, a whole list of guys that the system fits and the amount of things they’re letting them do. Letting the playmakers — putting them in a position to make plays.”
What about offensively?
“Yeah, that’s actually the same with the offense and Josh and the offensive coaches as well. Sherrone. Putting the players in the position to be successful, trusting them, trusting the offensive line when they’re calling for it to be run over the left side or run over the right side. But tremendous amount of creativity that’s in there. Got a lot of plays, a lot of — darn near every play known to man offensively. And guys have learned them and are executing them. Just onward now. I knew our guys were ready to have at it today, felt like they weren’t gonna be denied. Now onward to the next one.”