Harbaugh: "It's OK" To Credit Great Defenses For Michigan's Struggles

Are the Wolverines really "hitting their stride?"

Jamie and Stoney
October 08, 2019 - 1:40 pm

Michigan's struggles on offense this season can be traced back to a number of things. 

A new offensive coordinator, a new scheme. A quarterback who's regressed, an offensive line not playing to its potential. Turnovers, missed opportunities. Take your pick. 

Jim Harbaugh sees another factor, one that's maybe been lost in the stir over what's gone wrong. In its last three games, Michigan has played two of the top-ranked defenses in the country. 

"It's OK to say Iowa’s got a really good defense. They’re ranked fifth nationally now, with a really good defensive coordinator and really good players. I’m going to tip the cap to them, as (well as) Wisconsin. They're the No. 1 defense in the country," Harbaugh told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket.

Three weeks ago versus Wisconsin, Michigan managed 299 yards and 14 points. Last week versus Iowa, 267 yards and 10 points. Harbaugh might point out the Wolverines fared better than most. Wisconsin's allowing 179 yards and 5.8 points per game, both of which rank first in the country. Iowa's allowing 254 yards and 8.8 points per game, which rank fifth and third, respectively.

Of course, Iowa gave up more than 400 yards to Iowa State three games ago, so it's not like its defense is impenetrable. 

Harbaugh raised eyebrows after Saturday's win when he claimed Michigan's offense is "hitting their stride." He said he likes what he's seen in practice in particular. Asked what encouraged him about Michigan's performance against Iowa, when the Wolverines failed to score a point after taking a 10-0 lead midway through the first quarter, Harbaugh said the effort was there. And so were the opportunities. 

"First half, thought our offense moved the ball well, put up the 10 points. First drive of the second half it appeared that we were moving, then had a penalty that stalled that. Another drive we took down the field and got into the red zone and went for a field goal that wasn’t made. And then the fourth quarter, there were three drives, one that went to midfield and we got a penalty and didn’t convert on third down, came up six yards short. We tried the trick play, backed up, that went for a loss and then a sack the next play. And then the third drive we were running out the clock and putting it in the hands of our defense in the last two minutes there. Those five possessions really could have resulted in more," Harbaugh said. 

As for Shea Patterson, who hasn't looked great in Michigan's new offense, Harbaugh said Saturday was a step in the right direction. Namely, Patterson, who's committed several fumbles this season, didn't put the ball on the ground. 

"I thought his pocket ball security was really improved in this game. There were some chances where some pressure came free on him and I thought he took what the defense gave him as well as he’s done all year. Sometimes there was nothing there to take and he had to throw the ball away or secure it and we had to take a sack and then punt it away. That’s a big improvement (over) a fumble," Harbaugh said. "His accuracy continues to be really good, he’s been productive. I think he’s coming along very well." 

Michigan's next test comes Saturday at Illinois, followed by dates with No. 10 Penn State and No. 9 Notre Dame. The offense will need to improve for the Wolverines to keep their Big Ten hopes alive, and Harbaugh remains confident that it will. 

"Feel like the effort is so good, that when you have that you’ll get everything else," he said. "I feel like we’re getting it. I think it’s coming, I think we’re hitting out stride."