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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — While the opponent wasn’t a marquee team on the Michigan football roster, the fact that the Wolverines of old came out and imposed their will on a MAC team said a lot about the maize and blue in 2021.
Michigan had a lot of good and really only one bad — which, naturally, is Ronnie Bell’s injury — in the season opener, punishing Western Michigan with impunity down the stretch. Behind a solid defense, big plays, and a dynamic running game, the Wolverines looked as one would have expected in the years before 2020, when the maize and blue were but 2-4 in the COVID-shortened year.
Of course, Jim Harbaugh had a lot to say in his postgame press conference. Here is everything he touched on in our full transcript.
What did he see from the defense?
"Some great play. Let's just start with Dax Hill -- he was all over the field, making plays in the secondary, pass breakups, physical tackles, playing behind the line of scrimmage on the screen passes and the bubbles. I just thought he had a tremendous game. Aidan Hutchinson -- tremendous. Both the lines, I thought, played really physical. They were in shape, they were well-prepared. I thought the whole team, players, the coaches -- everyone together had the team well-prepared for this game. Cade McNamara -- thought he played a very efficient -- seeing the field well, making the right throws. All the right decisions. He moves our team. All the drives he's been in, I think he's about 66% -- we score points when he's out there. 14-to-21. "Blake Corum, tremendous game. Total yards over 200. Over 100 rushing and 80 on the kickoff return. Special teams -- a tremendous performance on special teams. The way they were running and blocking and tackling. Tackle inside the 10. A punt return. A blocked field goal. Real solid play the entire day. "We were all great -- great effort. Loved how our guys played, played a lot of guys. 73 players played in the game. Just worried about Ronnie Bell right now. As we come out of this game, that's the biggest concern. He'll get an MRI tonight and we'll find out the severity of the injury."
On Ronnie Bell's play before the injury
"The one-handed catch was amazing -- I didn't think there was any way he was still in-bounds. The big play he made on the adjustment, the post, really cracked the game open, got the big play when we needed it. We established we could run the ball at that point. They were starting to get lower and lower and lower with the secondary and then Ronnie got behind them, made the contested catch, kept his feet and took it in for the score. And then another big play on the punt return. Fabulous, phenomenal, phenomenal -- all prayers are with Ronnie right now."
What did he say to Bell after the game? How did the team stay focused?
"It's a big deal. Ronnie is loved by everybody. Captain of the football team. What can you say other than you hope for the best, expect the worst and wait until you get the MRI results. But, no matter what, he'll be back. He's got too much drive not to be."
Pass defense improvement after first drive
"Definitely the pressure started coming. Aidan Hutchinson was getting a lot of pressure, so was Josh Ross. They were getting a lot of push up front. That was really good. I thought Mike did a great job of mixing the coverages. Right before the second half, started going to more of a two-high shell as we were stopping the run -- played more coverage which made their quarterback hold the ball a little bit longer and we were able to apply some pressure. The secondary, I thought, played very well. They were getting their hands on balls. I talked about Dax. I thought Brad Hawkins was moving and running well. RJ Moten had a heckuva game. And the corners played well. It was good. Good adjustments, good defensive effort all around. It was good defensive football. Three-and-outs started coming and the pressure. "They're good -- they're good at what they do. We knew that going it. This is a very good football team. They didn't turn the ball over, they played extremely sound. The quarterback is really good, the receivers are really good. And we were able to make some defenses on the ball in the air and get some good pass breakups."
How was Mike Macdonald's first game as a playcaller on defense?
"Really good. We needed some change-ups, we needed to show some different looks. We needed to disguise some coverages and he was able to get that all in and have that all in for the first game. That speaks volumes for what our players understood and knew and executed. "But he was cool. He was cool calling the game, calling the adjustments and having the answers. Very impressive."
How valuable were J.J. McCarthy's reps and thoughts on the TD throw
"Yeah, so saw him get out of the pocket and was hoping he wasn't gonna hold it much longer. And then he did and he took a hit. That's probably something -- I don't ever want to make him a victim of overcoaching or throwing back, running to your right, throwing back to your left. He's got that in him, he's got that creativity in him and I'm not gonna coach that out of him. But he's come a long way and going through his reads in a very short time. I thought he was cool in the pocket -- you saw him step up in the pocket. Climb the pocket, got a couple completions. Things that are all -- any experience he gets is gonna be good, so that's the thought process."
On Zak Zinter and Chuck Filiaga
"I thought Chuck did tremendous. He's -- of all our players -- he's one, nobody's done more than Chuck when it comes to offseason, his preparation. Chuck, the kind of training camp that he had, it's really been A-plus. I thought the offensive line played good, really good together. "Zinter was able to play today and will be a factor in the game. I think each week, more and more and more."
More thoughts on the defense
"I really thought they executed well. And we can get better. I told the team in the locker room after the game, 'We're not gonna fall in love with our stuff because we could get better.' But I thought in terms of first game, making adjustments, playing with poise. Sometimes we had too many guys on the field -- I had to call two timeouts with 12 out there. We sometimes were taking a little too long making the adjustments. There's things we'll improve on. But overall, I thought it was, as I said, to execute the amount of things that were in defensively, adjustments, there were disguises, there were some blitzes that really timed up well and hit good. There's just little things. All these things to improve on. But I thought they really executed at a high level today. And adjusted well."
Was this a complete game?
"I guess I wouldn't characterize it as a complete game -- I'd be in love with it. We're not gonna quite do that. I really thought the team was prepared. I thought the players themselves -- they've been doing this since back in February when it was cold. They were there in the spring, they were there in the summer, they were there in the hot days in August. In love with the coaches and the players -- preparation, their determination, their focus I think was really good. Saw it pay off in the level of execution today. A lot of things to build on, especially when you're a physical football team, you play physically. A lot of good things to build on from there."
Has he been more hands-on with the QBs?
"That's definitely a great group to work with. I like working with the quarterbacks. Matt Weiss is doing a great job. I like going to those meetings, I like going to the offensive line meetings. I like going in the linebacker meetings. A lot of meetings I like going into. I wish I could be in two places at once at times but I guess I've been in there a lot."
Is it Ronnie Bell's knee or ankle?
"We'll see tonight. We'll see tonight."
Did he accomplish everything he wanted in the first game?
"Like the things I've already said -- it was good to see our players have success. That's the thing I wanted to see the most. Guys execute and have success, knowing the focus and preparation that's gone in. Gives us a lot to build on. Definitely winning -- can't win two unless you win one first. So, we'll go back to work and get ready for a big game against Washington."