- ESPN staff writer
- Joined ESPN in 2011
- Graduated from Central Michigan
Coach Jim Harbaugh was aware of the criticism his offense received after the first four games of the season for a lack of creativity in the playcalling and relying too much on the run.
Michigan’s offense averaged 290.8 yards on the ground compared to 164 passing yards per game, and Harbaugh said it was a goal to change that going into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin.
“Yeah, we threw the ball on the first play of the game. That’s what we’ve been striving to be — balanced, throwing the ball and running the ball. Had a very similar approach this week and a team that has a really good run defense,” Harbaugh said. “Yeah, it was well mixed. We really believe in our quarterbacks, we believe in our receivers and our tight ends. We believe we can throw the ball well, we believe we can run it well.
“But, yeah, we’re going to do both. There’s two ways to travel, right?”
He was referring to his analogy that Gen. George Patton was able to get his job done on the ground and astronaut Neil Armstrong through the air when defending his offense earlier in the season.
He didn’t have to defend much this game, as Michigan’s offense racked up 365 total yards in the 38-17 win over Wisconsin in the Wolverines’ first win in Madison since 2001. Quarterbacks Cade McNamara and J.J. McCarthy were responsible for 253 yards passing and three touchdowns through the air, compared to 112 yards on the ground and one touchdown from the running backs.
Part of the offensive strategy in this game included utilizing McCarthy on designed run plays, which eventually helped open up the pass game that led to a 56-yard completion for a touchdown to receiver Daylen Baldwin.
“He’s really athletic and we thought we’d have some looks for him to be able to pull the ball and try to get the ball on the perimeter,” Harbaugh said. “Got one where he had a nice gain, had a 9-yard gain. And he can throw the ball really good, too. We just tried to get him in there as much as we can. That’s the thinking.”
Michigan is starting to answer some of the questions on offense while the defense continues to progress as well. Now with the Wolverines at 5-0, Harbaugh said he thinks there is some confidence helping to push this team that it hasn’t had in some time.
That confidence was visible on the sidelines when “Jump Around,” by House of Pain, was played in Camp Randall Stadium before the fourth quarter and Michigan’s team could be seen participating in the tradition of jumping to the music. That was a stark difference from when the Wolverines were on the road against Wisconsin in 2019 in a 35-14 rout.
“They had that kind of vibe about them from when they first stepped into the locker room, when we first got here early this morning,” Harbaugh said. “The vibe was they were not going to be denied. They weren’t going to flinch when punches were thrown and that’s the way it played out.”
That confidence has led to trust between the players and is translating to Harbaugh and the coaching staff in the play on the field. The team isn’t yet where it wants to be, but Harbaugh said its moving closer and closer each game.
“Tremendous amount of creativity that’s in there. Got a lot of plays, darn near every play known to man, offensively,” Harbaugh said. “And guys have learned them and are executing them. Just onward now. I knew our guys were ready to have at it today, felt like they weren’t going to be denied. Now onward to the next one.”
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