Jim Harbaugh breaks down 35 players after Michigan football's opening win
Wolverines win opener against Middle Tennessee State
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh spoke Monday after the team's 40-21 win over Middle Tennessee State to open the season.
Overall, Harbaugh said he was pleased with the defensive effort and the play calling of first-time offensive coordinator Josh Gattis.
You can watch the full press conference in the video above.
Here's what Harbaugh said about the performance of 34 different players.
Offensive tackles: Ryan Hayes, Jalen Mayfield
The first question to Harbaugh was about the young offensive tackles Ryan Hayes and Jalen Mayfield, who made their first starts as redshirt freshmen.
Mayfield was named the starting right tackle last month after an ACL injury sidelined Andrew Stueber. The two were battling for the starting spot when Stueber went down.
Hayes is the primary backup at both tackle spots, but was thrust into a starting role Saturday when All-Big Ten left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. was held out due to a lingering injury.
"They played good," Harbaugh said. "Especially Ryan Hayes. He was our offensive player of the game. He graded out right there with Ben Bredeson and Cesar (Ruiz) and Mike Onwenu, which I thought was really impressive."
Harbaugh said Hayes was good with his hands and sets.
"I thought Jalen was also good," Harbaugh said.
He didn't rule out the possibility that Hayes could battle Mayfield for the starting right tackle spot when Runyan returns on the left side.
"That's something that we'll address," Harbaugh said. "We'll see, though. Really impressed with Ryan. It's a meritocracy all the way, so is there an ability to compete at the other (right) tackle spot? Sure. Does that open up options if he's come this far, he's playing this well? That bodes well for the team."
Here's are some comments from Mayfield after his first game as a starter:
Michigan has a handful of talented tight ends who might contribute this year, but it was once again McKeon atop the depth chart. The veteran has been a solid all-around player for Michigan the last two years, at times as a pass catching threat and always reliable as a blocker.
McKeon caught two passes for 37 yards, including a 28-yard touchdown.
"Thought he did a real good job on the one," Harbaugh said. "Caught it in traffic, took the hit from both sides and then got the ball into the end zone. The other one would have been a difficult catch but I think as he keeps progressing, you'll see him make those more times than not."
Harbaugh said McKeon was also in consideration for offensive player of the game.
Here are some comments from McKeon after the opening win:
Secondary: Josh Metellus, Brad Hawkins, Lavert Hill
When asked about the new faces on defense, Harbaugh first spoke about the play from his secondary.
Josh Metellus was the team's clear No. 1 safety coming into the season. The other starting spot was won by Brad Hawkins, who had to hold off five-star true freshman Daxton Hill.
"Both Metellus, Brad Hawkins did an excellent job in the game," Harbaugh said.
Lavert Hill, like Metellus, is a returning starter as a senior. He was good in coverage but dropped a punt and a wide open interception.
"Lavert played really well," Harbaugh said. "He missed the one can of corn."
Here are some comments from Hawkins after the opener:
It was a bit of a surprise when Ambry Thomas took the field in the opener. He recently recovered from colitis and was expected to be eased back into game action.
But Thomas was the star of the game, picking off a pass, recovering a fumble and making a tackle for loss.
"Just thrilled for Ambry," Harbaugh said. "Everybody on the team thought that was just a wonderful thing. Spent a lot of time in the hospital in the summer, but to go out and get the interception, get the fumble recovery, make the tackles and (tackle for loss). All the things that he did in the game was really just inspiring for the ball club."
Harbaugh confirmed Thomas was named the team's defensive player of the game.
Defensive line: Aidan Hutchinson, Kwity Paye, Carlo Kemp
As expected, Michigan replaced starting defensive ends Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich with Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye.
Michigan didn't get much pressure on defense, but that was mostly a testament to Middle Tennessee getting the ball out of Asher O'Hara's hands.
"Aidian Hutchinson -- thought he was really good as well in the game," Harbaugh said. "He played a lot as a true freshman but I think it was his first start. Kwity Paye was also good, Carlo Kemp, as we have been seeing, played really good football."
With so many talented young defensive linemen and linebackers on the roster, it's hard to believe the only two sacks of the game for Michigan came from former walk-on Jordan Glasgow, who earned a lot of playing time at linebacker.
Glasgow was also third on the team with six tackles.
"Jordan Glasgow was a standout in the game defensively," Harbaugh said. "He's been a special teams standout all along, but he probably would have been runner-up for defensive player of the game."
Harbaugh said he thought Josh Ross was very good, as well.
Ross took over at middle linebacker for Devin Bush and made six tackles, including four solo tackles.
Injuries: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Jon Runyan, Donovan Jeter, Michael Dwumfour
Michigan was without Jon Runyan, star wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones and defensive tackle Donovan Jeter in the game. Michael Dwumfour left the game after appearing on the field early.
"All three (Peoples-Jones, Runyan and Jeter) have a chance to play this week," Harbaugh said.
When asked about Dwumfour, he sounded less optimistic.
"We'll see," Harbaugh said. "Haven't seen Michael yet today."
Kickers: Jake Moody, Quinn Nordin
It appeared during the game that Jake Moody had edged Quinn Nordin to be Michigan's starting place kicker, but Harbaugh said it's not that simple.
He said Moody made one more field goal than Nordin during practice, so he got to take the first kick. But after that, the plan was to have the two trade attempts.
"All through training camp, the kickers were practically dead even," Harbaugh said. "They were like one kick apart, one made field goal apart, with the same amount of attempts -- over 50 attempts. We decided they were dead even and the plan was -- this past game, and I think it will be going forward this week as well, depending on practice -- the kicker that was one kick ahead was Jake Moody. He would kick the first field goal and then we would rotate every field goal between the two kickers -- Jake then Quinn."
In the end, Moody converted both of Michigan's field goal attempts -- 34- and 27-yard field goals -- while Nordin made all four extra points.
Harbaugh was asked about the starting long snapper before anyone even mentioned the quarterbacks.
"Cam (Cheeseman) had a perfect game this past game," Harbaugh said. "We rewarded him the special teams player of the week and he's just consistently good. He's also a bigger body, which you like in the pro punt formations and for field goal."
Cheeseman joined the program as a walk-on but was awarded a football scholarship last August.
"He was perfect in protection and in accuracy and snapped them back there good and firm," Harbaugh said. "The value of that is high. As a guy -- great guy. We all love Cam Cheeseman."
Quarterbacks: Shea Patterson, Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton
Michigan got the top three players on the quarterback depth chart into the game, with Shea Patterson starting, Dylan McCaffrey earning significant playing time and Joe Milton closing out the game.
Patterson completed 17 of 29 pass attempts for 203 yards and three touchdowns. He lost a fumble on the first play from scrimmage and dropped a couple of snaps, but Patterson looked comfortable running the new offense.
McCaffrey only threw two passes, one of which was tipped at the line of scrimmage and caught on the rebound by Ronnie Bell. He rushed eight times for 42 yards and a touchdown.
"They both did really well," Harbaugh said. "Shea was able to make some big plays and get some big chunk yardage throws. The ball handling's being addressed -- ball security, etc. Same with Dylan. Great to see him get in there and make big plays, as well. Both ran the offense very efficiently. So did Joe when he was in."
Milton threw an incomplete pass and rushed once for 9 yards.
"It was nice to see all three quarterbacks get that work," Harbaugh said. "They were accurate and ran the ball well, ran the offense well. Shea was really good against the blitz. That's the thing that defenses will do. They'll blitz you. They'll test you. They ran a multitude of blitzes and Shea, for the most part, had a really clean game in terms of getting us in the right protections and the right plays. Same with Dylan."
Harbaugh raved about true freshman Zach Charbonnet before he was even asked about the five running backs who saw the field Saturday.
"Every back was 100% on their pickups," Harbaugh said. "Zach Charbonnet had nine pickups in protection, which I don't think we've had a back get nine pickups in a protection since we've been here -- one single back -- and be 100%, nine out of nine. So it's, like, 'Wow, that's really good. There were some sophisticated protections going on.' There were some protections changed right before the ball was snapped by the quarterback or the center and it was just easy for him. He just handled it. Not even a missed step. It's rare. That's rare. I've been around pro backs that don't understand the protections as well as the freshman back did in this game so that was a real positive."
Charbonnet gained 99 yards from scrimmage in his first college appearance, gaining 90 yards on eight carries and catching two passes for 9 yards.
"It's eye catching with Zach Charbonnet because it looks like it comes easy to him," Harbaugh said. "It's like difficult math equations that guys, they just get it. So it catches your attention. As far as running the ball, I thought he was really good, too. When he decides to hit a hole, he hits it. He's through and out the other end. He catches the ball really well, as well. So it's great to see."
Running backs: Christian Turner, Tru Wilson, Ben VanSumeren
Harbaugh said Christian Turner, Tru Wilson and Ben VanSumeren were also good in blitz pickups.
"As a group they were perfect in pass protection, which really bodes well for us," Harbaugh said.
Turner led the team with 11 carries, picking up 49 yards on the ground. Wilson gained 8 yards on two carries. VanSumeren scored his first touchdown while gaining 7 yards on four carries.
"Christian Turner had some really good runs, too," Harbaugh said. "The one he made on the boundary, watching it on film, that was outstanding. There's very few guys that can keep their feet and not go out of bounds in that type of situation, with that much momentum going sideways and then to make the right turn and go up the boundary and get the first down. The extra effort run was really, really good, as well."
Fifth-string running back Hassan Haskins also earned two carries, running for 1 yard and a loss of a yard.
"It was a really good group in this game," Harbaugh said.
Leaders: Khaleke Hudson, Carlo Kemp, Bredeson, Patterson, Metellus
Harbaugh was asked about the leadership of his captains, Khaleke Hudson, Carlo Kemp and Ben Bredeson, as well as alternate captains Patterson and Metellus.
"Those five guys that the players voted -- they're the guys," Harbaugh said. "There's some others, too, that are very good leaders. But to a man, Khaleke Hudson is arguably the leader of the team. Ben Bredeson, arguably the leader of the team. Same with Carlo Kemp. Same with Shea Patterson. Same with Josh Metellus. All five of those guys are really looked up to on the team."
All five players are true seniors and returning starters on a roster that saw plenty of attrition this offseason.
"When they talk, people listen," Harbaugh said. "They're followed and they set a great example."
If Thomas hadn't been ready to play, redshirt freshman Vincent Gray, from Rochester, would have gotten the start in his place.
Instead, Gray got plenty of action as the third cornerback, making four tackles and an impressive tackle for loss to keep Middle Tennessee out of the end zone.
"He played really well," Harbaugh said. "He was another one that was in the top six for defensive player of the game. Had the four tackles, tackle for loss, was good in coverage. Played really well."
Here are some comments from Gray after his first significant college action:
Michigan seemingly had a dozen possible options for kick and punt returner heading into the opener, and true freshman wide receiver Giles Jackson earned the kick return honors.
Jackson returned three kicks for an average of 25.3 yards, including a long return of 34 yards.
"Really good," Harbaugh said. "The thing I talked to him about was just, 'Squeeze the ball. Squeeze it.' Ball security conscious the whole way, and he did that and more. So that was impressive. I was happy with Giles.
"He's doing the kick returns and got in a little bit at receiver and his role will grow more as you seen him succeeding at the role we've given him."
Wide receivers: Tarik Black, Cornelius Johnson, Mike Sainristil, Bell
Tarik Black was Michigan's leading receiver Saturday, making four catches for 80 yards and a touchdown.
Harbaugh said he feels good about Black being in the mix with Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins when the full wide receiving corps is healthy.
He also spoke about some of the team's younger wide receivers.
"Good to see Cornelius Johnson get in and play, making some good catches and some tough catches," Harbaugh said. "He needs to improve the assignments a little bit.
"Mike Sainristil, as well. He had a competitive ball that would have been a great catch. We've seen him make those in practice so I think you're going to see some good things out of him."
Johnson caught two passes on the drive right before halftime, gaining 19 yards. Sainristil was held without a catch.
Bell caught two passes for 18 yards. Harbaugh said he missed a tough catch that they've seen him make in practice.
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