UM quarterback Rudock grateful for Harbaugh's backing

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Three games in, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh felt he needed to silence what must have seemed like growing noise and criticism about his quarterback.

Jake Rudock, a graduate-transfer and former two-year starter at Iowa, has thrown five interceptions in three games, had a fumble and has missed on some key throws. Harbaugh wasn’t thrilled about the line of questioning about Rudock during his weekly Monday news conference and quickly and definitively shut it down.

“To be clear, Jake Rudock’s the best quarterback,” Harbaugh said. “Not by a small margin. He’s our best quarterback.”

Rudock said Tuesday night after practice that Harbaugh’s public backing is appreciated.

“It’s always a good thing when you have support,” Rudock said. “It’s like in a family, you want support from everybody.  You don’t want that one outlier or someone just not having your back. In any walk of life that’s a good thing just to have someone who has your back and supports you. That makes you feel better.”

Through three games, Rudock has completed nearly 65 percent of his attempts, but this touchdown-to-interception ratio is 3-to-5. Harbaugh has made clear the inconsistencies in the passing game are a shared responsibility.

“There’s improvement and obviously there are mistakes,” Rudock said as an evaluation of his first three games. “That’s part of football. There are always things you can learn from and always things you can do better. You don’t want to blame (the interceptions) on your offense — I’m still the one throwing the ball. Just had to be better decision-making on my part.”

One positive for Rudock is that he has taken one sack, which bodes well for an offensive line that has been under fire the previous two seasons.

“It’s been really good, as simple as that,” Rudock said of the pass protection. “Our guys have done a really good job of keeping people off me. Also the running backs are doing a good job stepping up filling in blocks. That’s all you can hope for is to be able to stay clean, step up and get the ball out.”

The knock on Rudock while at Iowa was he tended to be conservative and didn’t make the big throws. He has overthrown wide-open receivers and had a few poorly thrown balls to receivers unable to make the play. 

Receiver Jehu Chesson has said on multiple occasions that the timing issue on the throws is the responsibility of the receivers. Rudock said it’s about continuing to practice.

“The biggest thing is, these things are going to happen,” Rudock said. “Unfortunately, sometimes they take more time than you’d like. I know the biggest thing is to keep going at it, keep trying to get those big plays. You can’t shy away from them. You have to keep working on them. We work them in practice, try to make them perfect in practice and try to carry them out to the field.”

He admitted there is an immediate frustration after a failed play, but he has to take a short-term memory approach and move on.

Lewis comes up big for Michigan at cornerback

After each series, whether it ended with a turnover or success, Harbaugh is there on the sideline to discuss things with Rudock. Harbaugh often reaches his arm around Rudock’s shoulders as they discuss what happened and how to improve or continue to roll.

 “He’s fiery,” Rudock said, when asked to describe some of the conversations. “Sometimes he’s fiery, but it’s still a calm message that he’s sending even though he might be yelling, but it’s not yelling at you. It’s, ‘Hey, it’s-loud-in-the-stadium-I-need-you-to-hear-me’ kind of thing. That’s just kind of how he is. He does a good job of comforting you, making you feel good and also saying, ‘Hey, what the hell was that? We need to be better at that.’ That’s just him coaching.”

Rudock has his years at Iowa to draw upon, but so far during his time at Michigan, his growth as a quarterback has accelerated working with Harbaugh. He said Harbaugh is about details and fine-tuning, and he dips into his resources from having played quarterback at Michigan and in the NFL and then all his coaching experience.

He said Harbaugh is a smart man.

“Very, very intelligent,” said Rudock, who plans to become a pediatrician. “He sees things you wouldn’t see. Obviously, he has a lot more experience than I do, so you respect that.”

Expectations, Rudock said, are what you put on yourself. The objective is clear, to win all the games, but he also knows he walked into a program that has been craving a return to consistent success. Michigan was 5-7 last season, made a wholesale coaching change and now has a new quarterback spending his final year of eligibility here. 

“Maybe you feel it, but you try not to,” Rudock said. “I experienced that at Iowa. We had a losing record and I had to come in and play. You try to use that motivation from the previous year and just understand that, hey, that needs to fuel you a little bit and try to go out there and win each game and try to leave everything on the field.

“I don’t know what my expectations (coming to Michigan) were, to be honest. I was just excited to get a fresh start with some new guys and new coaches. It’s been fun so far. Hopefully we can keep it rolling and have a good season.”