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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At last, both Michigan football and rival Michigan State will truly discover what they’re each made of.
Neither the Wolverines nor Spartans have played an even remotely daunting schedule, but both are 7-0, ready to find out their mettle as the two teams battle each other in East Lansing on Saturday.
As usual, Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh met with the media on Monday, but unlike what we’ve seen throughout the year, Harbaugh was quite mum, as he tends to be during rivalry weeks. Still, he had a lot of praise for MSU and Kenneth Walker, while also addressing the state of his own team.
Here is everything he had to say.
Does he appreciate that both teams are 7-0?
“Yeah. Yes. Obviously, the questions kind of answer themselves. But huge game for us. We’re very excited about it. We’re gonna get to practice today and roll.”
Are there things about Cade McNamara that we don't see that he likes?
“Yeah, obviously, playing winning football, taking care of the football. Average points per drive, and others.”
The impact Sherrone Moore has had on the offensive line
“He’s done a fabulous job as evidenced by how the guys are playing. But yeah, things you don’t see: a cohesive group on and off the field. They play for each other, they play for the team and he’s done a fabulous job.”
On teams being 'nameless, faceless opponents'
“Yeah, there’s definitely — there’s the approach of one game at a time, which you need to do. You have to do that and you have to practice that and that has to be implemented unless a team be painfully humbled. Now we’re in a situation — huge game. In some ways that mindset’s similar, in other ways that definitely gets turned up a notch.”
On the tight ends in the passing game lately
“Yeah, more impactful in terms of being targeting and catching the ball. Saw that with Erick All, thought he had his best game. The game before that, Nebraska game, Luke Schoonmaker had his best game. They continue to do a great job in the run game, on special teams. I think Erick had about 60 reps, 60 plays in the game. And, as you pointed out, more of a threat in the passing game.”
What impresses him about MSU?
“They’re playing team football, winning football. On offense, they take care of the ball. Their running game is outstanding. Quarterback, playing very well, very efficiently. Versus all coverages and he’s very good against the blitz, he’s very good at scrambling. Averaging about eight yards a run. They do a lot of things.
“Defensively, they play really good defense. Not a lot of tendencies to pick up on and play really well on special teams. They’re playing really good ball.”
What he thought about DJ Turner's performance against Northwestern
“Yeah, I thought he had a great game. The interception, I think it’s one of the best I’ve seen all season in college football. Also really impressed with his physicality. He made some big tackles in the game, a tackle for loss, one of the screens that Northwestern had run. Two of our guys had taken a bad angle and the ball got out, but he took a great angle, came from the other side of the field. Playing really good football. Great to see. Peaking at the right time, really helps the ball club.”
What's changed for him since spring ball?
“My sense is he’s always been great. He’s always kinda been right there as a starting player and then had a setback — maybe that’s what you mean by battling. Battling — or maybe Dax meant that — where he was working through something that slows him down. But he always battled right back. It’s great to see him peaking at a great time.”
What would a win on the road vs. MSU mean?
“Those questions just answer themselves, you know? Excited to be in the position we’re in and we’re ready to practice, we’re ready to roll. And get our preparation for a huge game on Saturday.”
Will Zak Zinter or Trevor Keegan return for MSU?
Does Michigan work more on 2-pt. conversions in case there are long overtimes?
“Yes, we have. Yes, we have. Before that — I can’t say that we’re gonna have nine or would be any more successful. That’s a tough play to convert. But yeah, we do have more in the arsenal than we did last year, for obvious reasons.”
Does he like the overtime rule changes?
“Things change and you adapt.”
On Michigan's red zone offense and defense
“It’s field strengths, just the room that you have to work with that makes it harder to score touchdowns.”
How Karsen Barnhart has done filling in on the O-line
“Good, really good. He’s stepped in very well. As you know, the Nebraska game, he played both left and right guard. He plays tackle for us. This past game, he started and had a really good game.”
The influence the Michigan-MSU game has on in-state recruiting
“Probably another question that answers itself, I would say. It’s important.”
What would a big win mean for the team's energy?
“It would help, for sure! I’m sure it would give it a boost. Yeah, you’re talking all the way to — win the conference, win the national championship? It’s one of those elimination mindset. Playoff mindset at this point. Win this game, it’ll help your chances.”
What has Andrel Anthony done to increase his role?
“Attention to detail, he’s practiced really well. I know I’ve said this for awhile now, but that’s what he’s done. He’s practiced well, he’s been able to take that from the meeting room to the practice field, the practice field to the game situations and down. At least I foresaw that he would, and I foresee that he’ll continue to grow. You do things good, more things get added to your list of things that — the to-do on your plate, your to-do list is gonna grow. That’s what I predict. What he’s done, he’s earned it by the way he’s practiced and played.”
Will DJ Turner start on Saturday?
“It’s been dependent on who’s the best player that week. I’m sure we’ll continue that.”
What makes Kenneth Walker III a good running back?
“He’s got great vision, really good balance. He runs their zone schemes, their man schemes extremely well. He’s fast. He looks to be about a mid-4.4 guy. But he’s also big, too. The most impressive thing with him is the yards he gets after contact. I think it’s about 4.5 yards after contact. So he’s a fine back.”
Is there any difference playing on grass?
“Yeah, there’s a difference. We have a grass practice field. We’ll get on that as much as we possibly can. The footing, what it comes down to. Make sure guys experiment, have the right cleat. Something you don’t think about, the proper cleat for the turf and the grass.”
On Aidan Hutchinson being held frequently
“Yeah, done a great job, Aidan — keep bringing it. He’s tough to block. Hope for the best. Hope that you’re gonna get a fair shake every time you go out there. Not always do you get that. Yeah, we turn the plays in, yes.”
What has he thought about Josh Gattis' playcalling this season?
What have been his strengths?
“I think he’s mixing up well. I think he’s been creative. Not predictable. I think he’s had a good feel for calling the game on third down and all the situations — third down, fourth down, red zone. Does a great job preparing for the games. Been consistently good.”
Why have Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum been so successful?
“They’re both really strong and they train themselves to be that way. And they both have the natural, God-given ability, the things that running backs crawl out of the crib having. Athletic ability, balance, innate ability to just see the hole and balance and contort their bodies. It’s amazing, the kind of things you wish you had yourself. And the tenacity, too. A real drive. Just two high-drive individuals that ‘will not be denied’ mentality. Also very tremendous attributes to have. Respect the heck out of both of them. I think they’re both true football players. No higher compliment you can give a football player.”
How well does he know Mel Tucker?
“Somewhat. He was neighbors with my brother-in-law Tom Crean and my sister Joani in Georgia. Had great things to say about him. I’ve been on calls with him and I think he does a tremendous job.”