Harbaugh. Saban. The names alone bring memories of sideline screaming and headset throws that rival spiking the football into the ground, just with a little more damage.
And that matchup — the one between the coaches, the offensive-minded Harbaugh, who is known for winning with grit and determination as the heavy factors, and Saban, who out-schemes and outworks every team and coach imaginable — is what has the respective coaches excited as well.
The two shared great admiration and respect for each other at Tuesday’s press conference ahead of Wednesday’s contest. It was like two warriors paying each other respect before going to war.
On Saban, Harbaugh said:
“He’s got a lot of great things to talk about schematically, and players. Offense that is built for speed and attacks every part of the field in the passing game, in the running game. Physical, physical football team,” Harbaugh said. “Defensively, really the same thing. Very attacking, multiple in coverages and the special teams is really dangerous, especially in the return game. The punt return, kickoff return, in all facets, everything is tight, everything is battened down and there are no weaknesses.”
And then, returning the favor, Saban spoke on Harbaugh:
“They’re a very well-coached team in every phase of the game,” Saban said about Michigan. “On defense, they do a lot of movement, they’ve got a lot of quickness, they’re very aggressive, a lot of multiples in what you see and how it challenges your offensive line. On offense, they have a lot of the multiples that a lot of college teams have now in terms of how they attack the entire field. They’ve got great balance on offense and they’re very physical on special teams and do a very good job in that area of the game as well. I see a team that’s very strong in every area, but I think the No. 1 thing is they play with great intangibles and they’re very well-coached.”
How kind, considering that at 1 p.m. today both coaches will be wanting to destroy the other, in coaching terms, at least.
If this game was played eight of nine years ago it would be much more anticipated. At that time, Harbaugh was undoubtedly considered one of the top coaches in college football, having turned around a long-time struggling Stanford Cardinal program.
But at Michigan, his prestige has taken a bit of a hit, with the Wolverines struggling against Ohio State, postseason play and in capturing the national spotlight on an annual basis.
Saban, however, continues to be the threshold coaches strive for. He and Alabama have won five national titles since 2009, and he had another in 2003 with LSU.
If Saban wins today, it’ll still be a lackluster season for the Crimson Tide, given they did not make the College Football Playoff. If Harbaugh pulls off the upset, however, it would be a huge win for the Wolverines, pointing them in the right direction for the 2020 season while giving Harbaugh a little bit of his mojo back.
Remember young Nick Saban?
Speaking of Saban and Michigan... anyone remember when Saban was the coach at Michigan State?
An article published Tuesday by the Detroit Free Press highlights Saban’s time in East Lansing, but more importantly it discusses his disdain for the Wolverines stemming from his time there.
The article quotes former Spartan Jason Strayhorn throughout. At one point he discusses Saban not being able to get from under Michigan’s shadow.
“I think that gave him a little sense of frustration while he was in East Lansing,” he said. “Michigan was always there. It was always there. You heard it in the locker room from players and coaches alike. And Nick Saban wasn’t immune from that.”
Former MSU guard Brian Mosallam is quoted in the article saying that disdain for Michigan will be what will ensure Alabama comes into the lowly Citrus Bowl ready to play.
“If you look at Alabama historically, it has not fared well in these games when there wasn’t much to play for beyond (a title),” said Brian Mosallam, a former guard at Michigan State under Saban. “But I think that will not be the case (Wednesday) because of (Saban’s) personal feelings about Michigan and being the head coach at Michigan State. I think it will always be in the back of his head.”
- Looking to get mentally prepared for the game today? A few Maize n Brew staffers got together to preview the contest. You can check that out here.
- If anyone doubted Juwan Howard’s popularity with Michigan and its players, this article published by MLive should end that, but he isn’t doing it alone. Assistant coach Saddi Washington has played an important role, spotlighted here.
- Baylor head coach Matt Rhule was a popular name to throw around when discussing various NFL head coaching vacancies, but it appears he isn’t going anywhere. The coach said Tuesday he expects to be back with the team next year.