‘Thrill of winning’ keeps Harbaugh inspired
Ann Arbor — Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has refrained from being wistful about leaving the NFL to return to his alma mater and coach again in the college game.
Harbaugh has been all business as he’s prepared his team and led Michigan to a 3-1 start, including a 31-0 victory over No. 22 Brigham Young on Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
He did, however, become a bit reflective after the game when asked by San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy, who had covered Harbaugh at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers, whether the atmosphere and Michigan Stadium and the fan response was why he wanted to come back to coach college football.
“I had a couple opportunities to just see how inspired our crowd is, our student section is, a full stadium just so enthusiastic about our university and our team — it was good,” Harbaugh said. “Had a nice couple occasions to look up and go, ‘This is good.’
“This is really good for us and good for football. It looked good. Attitude of gratitude about that and the way our team plays and the way they prepare.”
He said he still watches NFL games and even used a play that scored a touchdown for his brother John’s Baltimore Ravens last week. Michigan’s version, however, was tipped during the BYU game.
What Harbaugh said is not different from level to level in football is the emotion.
“Whatever level you’re at, the thrill of winning a football game is a great thrill. A team victory all the way. Feel happy when we win a game.”
Running to the finish
De’Veon Smith was the last person to think he was going to emerge from the pack and finally shake off BYU defensive back Michael Davis and score on a 60-yard run.
But that’s what Smith did.
“To be honest, I thought I was down for a second,” Smith said. “Once I got to the second level, I knew for a fact I was not letting No. 15 (Davis) tackle me. That’s what kind of made me want to score even more. I was just really determined not to go down since I was close to the end zone.”
Smith and the offensive line struggled against a tough Utah defensive front seven in the season opener. Michigan had 76 yards rushing and then followed that with games of 225 and 254 yards against Oregon State and UNLV, respectively. The Wolverines had 254 yards rushing against BYU.
“They’re being a lot more physical than we were in the first week from pass protection to running the ball,” Smith said of the offensive line. “That’s the biggest difference for me and making sure (quarterback) Jake (Rudock) is off the ground.”
Smith said he’s changed his approach since the season opener, as well.
“I’ve actually been going into the offensive line room with them and we go over protections and we go over blocking schemes, so that’s probably what’s helping me out the most,” Smith said. “(Offensive coordinator) Coach (Tim) Drevno coaching me up a little more.”
Receiver Amara Darboh said he was on the other side of the field when Smith made his touchdown run. Darboh praised him for being such a physical runner.
“We tell him he has the greatest balance of everyone we’ve seen,” Darboh said. “No one guy can take him down.”
Smith left the game in the third quarter with an injury to his right ankle. He wore a protective boot to the postgame news conference.
Smith, who has 69 carries for 331 yards and four touchdowns, said he was “banged up” and that the boot was for precautionary reasons. Harbaugh said X-rays of the ankle were negative.
“Yes, I expect to play next week,” Smith said. “It’s a little bit sore.”
Harbaugh on the Wolverines through four games: “I’m starting to know our team, and I’m liking what I’m knowing.”
All Roses for ’80 team
Michigan coach Bo Schembechler always spoke fondly of his 1980 team that won the 1981 Rose Bowl. Those players were reunited over the weekend for a reunion and celebrated before the Michigan-BYU game wearing special shirts and hats made to commemorate that season.
Bubba Paris, the great offensive lineman from that team who went on to win three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, reminisced about Michigan teammates, Anthony Carter, the great receiver, and quarterback John Wangler. Wangler was coming off a horrendous knee injury suffered when Lawrence Taylor hit him during the 1979 Gator Bowl when he helped lead the Wolverines in 1980.
“Michigan was always known as a team that was 3 yards and a cloud of dust,” Paris said Saturday morning. “Michigan had a paradigm shift when Anthony Carter came in. You knew he could make magic happen, but we didn’t have a history of quarterbacks that could get the ball to him. When John Wangler was our quarterback, magic happened.
“We had AC, we had linemen who had the ability to protect him, and he was one of the most accurate passers that I’ve ever had an opportunity to play with. I’ve played with Joe Montana and Steve Young and they were more mobile because (Wangler) had limitations because of his injury, but his ability to throw a ball — in my 21-year career from little league on, there’s no one had a touch on the ball like him.
“I say that with all sincerity. He is the best quarterback in Michigan history as far as passing goes.”
Paris compared every other team to that 1980 Rose Bowl team. He was on the 49ers’ 1984 Super Bowl team that went 15-1.
“We could score on anyone, but that team, in my mind, had to compete with the memory of this team,” he said. “This team, when we found ourselves and discovered that we had talent and we could depend on each other, there was a confidence of knowing when we went into the game that no matter what the situation was, we had a defense that could hold and we could find a way to get one more point than our opponent did. That’s called swagger. We had a belief in our heart and ourselves that we displayed a confidence when people played us, even if they were ranked higher, they almost expected to lose.”