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Jim Harbaugh, J.J. McCarthy praise defense’s late-game heroics

The Michigan head coach also gave laurels to other defensive standouts in his postgame presser.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

With five minutes left in the game, the Michigan Wolverines’ defense found itself in a do or die situation.

Between a quick touchdown drive for the Hawkeyes to start the fourth quarter and three consecutive three-and-outs for the Wolverines, momentum appeared to be firmly in Iowa’s favor. Now, as the Hawkeyes set up for an opportunity to make it a one score game, the Wolverines needed someone to step up.

Enter Mike Morris and Eyabi Okie — who answered the call, and did so in a big way. They recorded a sack and a quarterback pressure each to force a turnover on downs.

While the touchdown run by Blake Corum confirmed it, the game was effectively sealed by Morris and Okie’s late game heroics, and quarterback J.J. McCarthy highlighted it after the game.

“These guys right here, these guys right here showed up when they needed to,” McCarthy said in the on-the-field interview after the game. “It’s their non-stop determination every single play. They never stop, they go balls to the wall every single play, and then they just have those god given abilities that just make them so special. I’m happy to see them going against another opponent, not gonna lie.”

In the same interview, head coach Jim Harbaugh gave effusive praise for Morris’ play in particular.

“Listen, he’s the guy you should talk to,” Harbaugh said with a big grin, slapping Morris’ chestpad. “You had one great game, Mike. Huge motor, I mean look at the guy — 6-foot-7, 290 pounds, and he’s got a big heart right there.”

After multiple weeks of rather quiet performances for this year’s Michigan front seven, Saturday looked like an epiphany. Following the game, Harbaugh lauded not only the pass rushing unit, but also the interior rush-stopping.

“There was a lot of extra effort there,” Harbaugh said. “Both Eyabi and Mike, Jaylen Harrell, they were doing a really good job on the edge. But Mazi Smith and Kris Jenkins inside were doing a tremendous job forcing things to the outside and getting the pressure up the middle that allowed those edges to come through in the end.

“They probably won’t show up in the statline, but it was under 20 yards I think we held them in rushing the first half. You’re not doing that unless your guys are playing really good inside on the front.”

While Iowa’s offense is by no means a powerhouse, the Wolverines’ ability to meet the moment was key to victory not just on Saturday, but moving forward this season.