Jim Harbaugh and Michigan had an impressive win over Illinois Saturday afternoon, winning 41-8. Maize N Brew was on hand for Jim Harbaugh’s post-game press conference.
First half, you’re up huge, did you guys take your foot off the gas or was it something Illinois did to not quite rack it up like you have been?
“Yeah, first of all, I just think our team really played well today. The execution was outstanding both offensively, defensively, special teams. We were just executing well. I was really, really impressed. Those first three drives of the game, and then the entire game-- I thought Wilton Speight might have had one of the best games of his career.
“It was pretty windy out there. It was pretty tough to throw the ball whether we were going into the wind, with the wind, he was throwing the intermediate deep stuff—the 30-yard throws, the 35-yard, 40-yard throws, just on the money—it was impressive. Sometimes it’s never as good as you think until you look at the tape, but I have a feeling that was the best he’s played.”
Hank Aaron was the honorary captain today. What was that like, having him around the team and yourself?
“It was outstanding, Trevor. He’s just such a great man, such a gentleman. His granddaughter, as you know, goes to Michigan, and we’ve become friends through her. I was getting texts last night, I was at a high school game and some of the guys on the team were texting me how great Hank Aaron was. He talked to the team last night. Just A+. Can’t have it better. Got a nice autographed picture that he was gracious enough to sign so I’m gonna hang that in my office. Just being around—you know when you’re around greatness, and he’s one of the all-time greats. Really honored to share a sideline with Hank Aaron today.”
The two Bens on the left side, is that something you worked on during the bye week and you liked what you saw?
“Yeah, we’ve—Ben’s not just in the improvement week. We’ve seen what he can do at left tackle. We’ve seen that over the last 23 months. He’s a very versatile player. Felt like that was our best combination, Ben Braden and Ben Bredeson. Ben Bredeson’s a very ascending player. Thought he had a heck of a good game today. Really, everybody on the offensive line played extremely well today. It was impressive the way they executed.”
Jim, talk about Dymonte’s play. He had a couple big plays today, as well as overall pass defense today.
“Dymonte was outstanding. Read the screen as good as you can read it, and leapt up and made a great interception. I think Jourdan Lewis was applying pressure on the play. That was outstanding. Needed that turnover, and we also got another turnover on a fumble. I thought he, Dymonte, was really good. Had a couple other PBUs in the game. It was impressive to see him play so well.”
And then the overall pass defense.
“Yeah, it was—at one point I looked up and there was 0 yards passing somewhere right around the half, second quarter, so yeah, that speaks volumes. The pressure was good up front. I thought our guys really played well, executed extremely well. Really just the two plays we did not defend well in the entire ballgame. I thought it was outstanding.”
Rush defense all season held opponents under 100 yards—7 for 7 this year. How important was that, holding Ke’Shawn [Vaughn] and Kendrick [Martin] under 100, especially with Michigan State coming up next week?
“Give a lot of credit to the front seven in terms of the run game. Our defensive line’s just playing great football. They really are. They’re playing physical. Consistently see them playing on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And linebackers, McCray and Gedeon, Jabrill, have been outstanding.
“Also, we’re also getting a very good rotation going, as well. Rashan Gary’s playing extremely well. Chase Winovich is doing a heck of a job. Mo Hurst comes in the rotation and has a lot of juice, so there’s a lot of good players playing well.”
You mentioned Wilton’s intermediate game. He said last week he tried to watch every snap that he played all season. Did you give him one thing in particular to work on last week? Was it the intermediate game? Was it something else you wanted him to step forward with?
“No, not one thing in particular. Actually, he got some rest. He was out there coaching last week, but yeah, can’t take any credit for that in terms of coaching him. He just played really well. The short stuff was good as well. There were some really good, accurate throws today. You can talk to him about it, but I wonder if he feels the same way. It felt to me like he played good. Just good, efficient quarterback play. I think his statistics would say the same thing. Very efficient.”
With Chris [Evans], did he have a concussion? Any update on Evans?
“Yeah, Chris is doing good. Saw him at halftime and he was doing well. He got hit and went out there for a little bit and some of the experts say that’s a good thing when that happens. The brain resets. I hope I’m saying that right. This… this is what I’m hearing from the doctors. Seemed to be in a good place relatively quickly, by halftime.”
Why didn’t Grant Perry play today?
“Working through something with him.”
“—and a few other guys.”
Was it injury?
Was it discipline?
Do you turn the page to Michigan State any quicker given the way that one hurt a little bit more last year?
Do you turn the page to Michigan State quicker--
“Yeah, no question about it. Big game. Championship game for our team, and we’re gonna enjoy. We celebrate all wins, but we’ll very quickly be focusing in on our next opponent.”
And then the glasses is that a Woody Hayes nod?
“It is, actually. There’s really three people. Got my eyes checked out a couple weeks ago and they said I needed to go to glasses full time, so as of Tuesday I’m now a full-time glasses person. This style in particular is a tip of the cap, a nod, to Woody Hayes, to Michael Douglas in the movie ‘Falling Down,’ and also a tip of the cap to Malcolm X. In honor of those three men.”
Karan Higdon had a couple big runs today. What do you like about his running style?
“His acceleration, his vision, everything improving. He’s healthy. He’s doing a heck of a job. And then he gets on the second level, he’s got a real gear. He’s got another gear to him, which a lot of the really good backs do. Very impressed with Karan. Doing great in the ball security department as well, so just keeps getting better.”
It looks like every week you guys come out with more and more and more formations, more and more places to put Jabrill and everything else. Do you feel like after the bye and after seven weeks you’re as prepared and as ready as you can be for the stretch drive now?
“It’s an ongoing process. Never like to think that the hay’s in the barn or that we’ve arrived. Keep forging onward.”
But do you feel like you have been putting more and more things in each week. Is that how you like a season to unfold?
“Uh, yeah. I mean, it’s a process. You evaluate what our players can do well and put them in position to do well and looking at the opponent and trying to find something, things, that will work. That’s a weekly process. There were new things in today.”
Jim, it’s about a year a week ago since that 10 seconds in the Big House here. Does that play still sometimes pop up, or have you tried to just shut that down. Does it just randomly come up at times?
“As I said, this will be a huge game for us. It’ll be a championship game and it’ll be a big game for our team. Gonna enjoy this one, though. We’ll give ourselves that. Celebrate all wins, then quickly move our focus to next week.”
The way that this team’s executed, to use your words, Jim, was very apparent out there. It’s been apparent all fall. A team would be forgiven given what’s happened in East Lansing and against them in recent years for wanting not only to beat them next week but perhaps to put a severe beating on them.
No, I realize coaches have to laugh at that, but really, given the way that your team is progressing, the problems they’re having up there, and also considering the emotions and the history, that would be something that would be expected. Is that anything that’s in your mind?
“We’re gonna prepare for a big game. We’re gonna prepare for a championship game. That’ll be our mindset.”
What did you think of Jeff George Jr., and did you ever play against his dad in the NFL a long time ago? Does he remind you of him at all?
“Yeah, he was impressive getting his first action. Thought… looking at him through the face mask, I saw a lot of his dad. There’s no doubt that that’s Jeff George Jr., you know. No denying that it’s his son. I thought that he acquitted himself very well today.”
You were able to get Kekoa [Crawford] and Eddie [McDoom] in pretty early. They were able to get reps this season. What have you seen from them these past six weeks, this game, and what are you expecting from them throughout the rest of the season?
“Kekoa was instrumental on the touchdown run that Ty [Isaac] made. His blocking is really improving. Had the chance at the one ball. There’s still improvements to be made. Let one get away.
“Eddie’s got to learn to line up on the ball. Eddie again was good on the fly sweeps, et cetera. And then Nate Johnson got his first catch. So, our young receivers are doing well. Time on task. But I love the way all three of them practice. I love the way they compete. They’re coming along nicely.”
Particularly with the freshmen, has it been a case where you feel like you can just leave them be, or have you had to closely monitor them. You know what I mean?
“Uh, I don’t.”
Do they need a lot of--
“Coaching, teaching? Yeah, yeah. Doing our best to give them as much as possible.”
You ran De’Veon 14 times in the first half. Was that the plan going forward this week in preparation?
“I thought De’Veon was in a real good flow, good rhythm, running hard, breaking tackles. We went more than what was planned with him. Went back to calling the same play, calling his number, more than we had sequenced based on how he was doing.
“Plus, I ran into his brother last night when I was in Detroit, and he said ‘Get the ball to De’Veon.’ I felt like maybe he knew something, [like] maybe he had some inside information so went with it. His brother was right. Had a heck of a game.”