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'Energized' Jim Harbaugh keeps positive tone as Michigan tries to 'push through' skid

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh remains upbeat and optimistic, understanding his team didn’t offer any positives during a blowout loss to Wisconsin last Saturday night, but believes they’ve been engaged and playing hard.

The Wolverines have hit the skids losing three straight, including the 49-11 loss to the Badgers last Saturday at Michigan Stadium where they are winless this season. They are preparing this week to play Saturday night at Rutgers, and Harbaugh has opened the quarterback competition so that four-game starter Joe Milton and backup Cade McNamara will share snaps with the first string this week in practice to determine the starter against the Scarlet Knights.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh says he remains "energized" to coach, despite the team's 1-3 start.

Harbaugh said after the game that there was nothing good about the way Michigan played against the Badgers — that was clear to anyone who watched — and said every aspect would be evaluated.

During his weekly Monday news conference, Harbaugh came across as enthusiastic and encouraged about his team.

“I’m energized as a coach,” Harbaugh said. “Hopefully you can tell; I don’t know if you can with the glasses, it’s in my eyes. I’m cheerful, excited to go coach the day. As I said before, never going to stop, never going to quit, never going to slow down. We’re just gonna keep attacking and coaching guys. I don’t think I could live without that. That’s darn sure what I’m going to do.”

Michigan now is entering the second half of the abbreviated Big Ten-only season, and this is when players could lose interest on a 1-3 team. Harbaugh was asked if he’s concerned about the buy-in of his team.

“Just like we’re not going to feel sorry for ourselves, we’re not going to make any excuses, either,” he said. “Not stopping, not slowing down. We talk about confidence. Confidence really is faith, faith that you can find a way and you get the job done.”

There isn’t just one area of the team that needs to hit the reset button, but quarterback is always the most prominent position on any football team. Milton, a redshirt sophomore, was intercepted twice on his first two pass attempts of the game and Wisconsin built a quick 14-0 lead. McNamara, a redshirt freshman, entered the game late in third quarter and led Michigan to its only touchdown and converted a two-point conversion.

“We’re gonna open it up,” Harbaugh said. “There will be competition. Both will see action with the ones throughout the week.”

Milton is 74-of-126 for 967 yards and has four interceptions against four touchdowns this season. McNamara is 4-of-10 for 74 yards and a touchdown.

But making sure the players are not shattered by a 1-3 season and wilting under the deafening noise emanating from the fanbase and national media may be Harbaugh’s biggest job.

“Me, personally, I can’t remember when it was that I gained humility,” Harbaugh said. “It was so long ago that I can’t remember. The players themselves, some may be going through that for the first time in their lives, but I doubt there’s many. Everybody’s had obstacles, everybody has to overcome challenges. Guys are 18, 19, 20, 21 years old, everybody has gone through challenges and obstacles by this time in their lives.

“Having faith in themselves that they can find a way and collectively as a team have faith in each other that they’re going to find a way. Yeah, it hurts losing. The reaction with the guys, you could tell, they felt it, I felt it, we felt it, but come back, shake it off. You go forward, you push through and with enthusiasm, with a bounce in your step. That’s the objective.”

The bounce hasn’t been there at the start of the last few games, players said. That has been clear to anyone who has watched them play.

“Sometimes we came out flat,” safety Dax Hill said Monday. “We’ve just got to continue changing the energy on the sideline in the game. Come out strong, that’s the biggest key of this game. Whoever has the momentum first is gonna really determine the outcome. Coming out flat is not where we want to be. The energy is the most important thing for us right now.

“The team effort needs to be picked up. That’s the objective right now.”

Harbaugh doesn’t believe the bounce in their step has been missing, but is more than aware there has been a disconnect in how he sees them practice and then play in the games.

“I think our guys were really engaged, really played hard and weren’t successful, so I can’t say that was missing,” Harbaugh said. “Of course, can’t argue that anything that we did was good, either. I can’t make that argument either. That’s the approach. You’re asking what the approach is, that’s the approach. And help them do that. Lead ‘em in that direction.”

First-year starting cornerback Gemon Green and fellow corner Vincent Gray were picked on repeatedly in losses to Michigan State and Indiana. Green said the mood among the players is to forget about what happened last week and go into the Rutgers game feeling as though they’re 0-0.

“And try to win every game after that, get our excitement back up, get our groove back,” Green said. That’s really all we have to do.”

Green said Harbaugh spoke to the team and assured them the talent is there, but it’s all about execution. He told them they haven’t been very good, as the record indicates, but now they have to find a way to improve.

“We still have an opportunity to be the best players we can be, really,” Green said Harbaugh told them. “We still have an opportunity to showcase our skills out on the field.”

Twitter: @chengelis