Jim Harbaugh faced the media back in Ann Arbor on Labor Day – yeah, college football coaches don’t generally have days off in September – and talked about the good, the very good, the bad and the things that need to be corrected.
There wasn’t anything too “ugly” after Michigan’s convincing 33-17 win over the Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Opening the season 1-0 on the road against a quality opponent was a great way to kick things off – with Cincinnati next and Air Force on deck, both at the Big House.
While the defense grabbed most of the headlines, the offense was solid against the Gators. And the offensive line certainly did a good (great?) job opening up the running attack and protecting the passing game.
Senior Patrick Kugler “graded out the highest of all the offensive lineman,” according to Harbaugh. “He did great,” Harbaugh said Monday. “I was really happy with the way the offensive line played and Pat played his best game.”
Harbaugh also pointed out other areas on the offensive side of the ball that he was at least pleased with, especially considering it was a first game with a young roster.
“The run game, I liked our pass protection, on the passing game we hit big plays, we executed at times very well, the play action was extremely good and we moved the ball,” he said.
Getting the ball into the hands of Ty Isaac “was the plan” for the game with Florida and the senior running back from Joliet, Ill., delivered with 114 yards rushing on 11 carries.
“He had a terrific game and he’s going to be our offensive player of the week,” Harbaugh said. “He really got us going. I’m really happy for him.”
There were some big plays and big moments and big decisions made in this game and all of those “bigs” came together with 12:51 to go in the third quarter and the Wolverines down 17-13.
With a third and two near midfield, the Wolverines came up a yard short on their first drive of the second half. Harbaugh didn’t hesitate and pulled the trigger on a BIG fourth-down call. The popular and outspoken coach may have tapped the player side of his brain to make this decision but it also shows the confidence he has in his young team.
Wilton Speight handed the ball to Isaac who got the yard – and 17 more for a Michigan first down at the Florida 38-yard line. The drive would result in a touchdown, the first of three scores the Wolverines would produce in the first 6 minutes of the second half.
“It was a play we worked on a lot during camp and as a team we knew it was the play we were going to call,” Harbaugh said. “We agreed on the call, we sent it in and the players were ready for it and executed it. Right as the ball was getting snapped I got pessimistic about it, what are we doing this for, why are we doing this, this is dumb, second-guessing myself and then we crack it for the first down and a nice gain,” Harbaugh said. “Good job.”
Harbaugh credited the preparation his staff and players put into that play long before the ball was snapped on Saturday.
And then there was the quarterback position – which featured two veteran and capable options in Speight and John O’Korn. Speight got the start and performed well, despite some high throws including a couple that ended up in the end zone – the wrong end zone.
“There was a lot of good things and things to coach and improve,” Harbaugh said. “If you can’t handle that type of situation when something goes bad then (QB) is the wrong position to be playing. I thought (Speight) did well. Sometimes that breaks a guy. He kept firing.”
Harbaugh said that Speight will be the starter but O’Korn “will be used again.”
Speight, who finished 11-of-25 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown, clearly established himself as the starter. But having two capable quarterbacks is a luxury Harbaugh, the former quarterback, will take advantage of throughout the season.