Big 10

It was only Week 1, but Jim Harbaugh is ecstatic about his defense

September 6, 2017

ANN ARBOR — Jim Harbaugh can’t stop raving about his defense.

It all started Monday during his weekly news conference and has since dragged on during the week, with the Michigan football coach offering up lots of praise for his players following Saturday’s 33-17 win over Florida.

The numbers alone were impressive: Michigan recovered three fumbles, totaled six sacks and had 11 tackles for a loss, holding Florida to 192 yards of total offense.  

“The way they played, it was the best I had seen since I’ve been coaching here,” Harbaugh said. “Our defense ran to the football. I saw holes open up and close.”

Upon review of the tape, Harbaugh liked it even more. He saw guys play fast and on constant pursuit of the football.

Nobody ended up on the ground, he said, but they when did they busted their hump to get back up and start running again. Then there was another tackle.

“What we need to do when there’s an interception,” Harbaugh said. “Watch that tape and put it on. 

“And get three fumbles? We had six last year. We had three in this game. We’re diving on their mistakes and pursuing.”

Michigan named linebacker Devin Bush Jr. its defensive player of the game, and for good reason. Bush led the the team in tackles (seven), including three for a loss, and sacks (two). 

But Harbaugh also admitted that it was a tough decision. He had plenty of guys to choose from, from safety Tyree Kinnel (six sacks, 1 1/2 for a loss) to tackle Maurice Hurst (five). 

There was also Chase Winovich (four tackles), who sacked Florida quarterback Malik Zaire in the end zone that forced a fumble and led to a Michigan touchdown. Five different players got credit for a sack, and Harbaugh lobbied sports information director Dave Ablauf to give Rashan Gary credit for a half-sack.

“Don Brown had an excellent game plan,” Harbaugh said. “He changed it up, the way we played defense. Schematically, we worked one style of offense with the first quarterback that was in there, and then when they went to Malik Zaire it changed.

“More read-option. It adapted. The scheme held up and adapted. Our players knew it. They knew what they had. They knew what they had next. Then we’re on it. Yeah, very happy.”

Harbaugh said Michigan employed a lot of man-coverage against the Gators, a staple of Brown and the fast, in-your-face defense he likes to play. If it works, like it did Saturday, it helps cut down on long, sustained drives. 

They were few and far between for the Gators, who had to rely on big plays for offense. Florida scored touchdowns on a pair of returned interceptions, then got 165 yards of offense on six catches.

“You’re not always seeing the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand, (so) it’s hard to get the interceptions,” Harbaugh said. “But diving on those mistakes and those fumbles were critical. I thought the way our defense ran to the ball is the best I’ve seen.

“We thought we were going to be good, and we are good.”

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