Michigan safety Hill arrives for Orange Bowl, status in question

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Dania Beach, Fla. — Michigan safety Dax Hill, whose playing status for the Orange Bowl was described as “questionable” early Thursday morning, has arrived in South Florida on the eve of the Wolverines' national semifinal game against Georgia.

A source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed to The Detroit News that Hill traveled from Ann Arbor on Thursday afternoon and has joined the team.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday morning during the final news conference before Orange Bowl semifinal Friday night that Hill, who did not travel here with the team on Dec. 25, has been “working through something.”

Later in the day during an interview with ESPN, Harbaugh said Hill is "not ruled out" and called his potential to play a "game-time decision." Hill was part of Michigan's game plan installation before the team departed for Florida.

Dax Hill

At the time of the video news conference Thursday morning featuring the two head coaches, Harbaugh said Hill was not in Florida "right now." He also said he would know more during the day "whether he'll be able to play."

The Wolverines (12-1) are preparing to face the Bulldogs (12-1) on Friday, with the winner advancing to the national championship game. 

If Hill were not not available, that would be a significant loss for the Wolverines. The junior, voted first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches this season, has played in 32 games and started 22. Hill is second on the team in tackles this season with 65 and has 4.5 tackles for loss, assisted on a sack, had a fumble recovery, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions.

Freshman Rod Moore, who emerged late in the season, making his first collegiate start at Penn State on Nov. 13, likely would be expected to take over if Hill isn’t available. The 6-foot, 173 pound Moore has played in 10 games and has 31 tackles and one pass breakup.

“I feel great about the depth of the safeties,” senior safety Brad Hawkins said Wednesday. “Rod Moore is a tremendous player. He’s a leader as a young guy, he listens, he wants to learn, he wants to get better every single day. He works his butt off. For a young guy to be thrown in the fire like that and continue to grow and continue to play well, it’s tremendous for him. He’s gonna continue to grow as a person and a leader on this team. I’m just very happy for him and can’t wait to see his success in the future.”

For the love of the game

Harbaugh notably took a substantial pay cut earlier this year when he signed an extension that pays $4 million, half his original contract.

He was asked Thursday if that hurt his pride.

“No big deal,” Harbaugh said when asked his reaction to the cut in salary. “It didn't really mean anything to me. It's just money. Big deal.”

The contract extension also was heavily incentivized with bonuses for things like winning the Big Ten championship, making the national playoff and winning coach of the year. Last month, Harbaugh and wife, Sarah, decided to give his incentive earnings back to the athletic department to defray the financial losses of department personnel who were impacted by COVID-19-related pay cuts.

“People have been very appreciative,” Harbaugh said when asked if he heard from those who benefited. “I was really happy to be blessed to be in a position to be able to do that. Our coach, my coach and a lot of our coach, Bo Schembechler has a saying here at Michigan. It says, ‘Those who stay will be champions,’ and it's always resonated with me from Day 1.

“Those that stayed through the pandemic when there was voluntary pay cuts, mandatory pay cuts, that kind of thing, just to be able to reward those that stayed in that way was something that Sarah, my wife, and I wanted to do.”

Later during the news conference on Thursday, Harbaugh, joined by Georgia coach Kirby Smart on a side-by-side Zoom, said he’s honored to be in this position, coaching in the national playoff.

“I'd do it for free. I would do this job for free,” Harbaugh said. “I just love it. Whether it's the first day, first game, or position we're in now, which we're very — feel really happy about that. I guess I've just enjoyed the ride the whole time. Every day is a blessing, and happy for it and blessed for it.”

Radio booth change

Michigan’s radio booth will be without analyst Dan Dierdorf for the national semifinal game on Friday. Jim Brandstatter, who handles the play-by-play, said “circumstances totally out of his control” have prevented Dierdorf, the College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, from making the trip.

Brandstatter made the announcement on social media Thursday and indicated the issues is, “not COVID-related.” Jon Jansen, who handles the pre-game show, will work the game with Brandstatter as analyst and Dierdorf will join the radio broadcast by phone on occasion during the game.

Brandstatter and Dierdorf, who were teammates at Michigan, are retiring from the radio booth after this season.

achengelis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @chengelis