Harbaugh says Michigan will play, unclear how many players out

Monday, December 14, 2020 - 12:24pm

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the Wolverines plan to play Saturday.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said the Wolverines plan to play Saturday. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

The Michigan football team returned to full practice on Sunday and plans to play on Saturday.

After two weeks off due to a COVID-19 outbreak, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that the Wolverines were healthy enough to do strength and conditioning work starting Thursday. 

Asked if they would play Iowa on Saturday as scheduled, Harbaugh gave a rare direct answer.

“Yes. That’s our plan,” he said. “As I said, we were able to practice yesterday. Practicing today. Scheduled the rest of the week. Tomorrow, we won’t practice. It’s a heavy day for finals. So we’re going to let the guys focus on taking those finals tomorrow. Plan to be back on the field practicing Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. Fly to Iowa City Friday afternoon.”

Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Carlo Kemp and junior running back Hassan Haskins both expressed excitement at playing another game, although it’s just for pride.

“It’s just an opportunity,” Haskins said. “Opportunity to get better, play an extra game. I always love more opportunities. It’s just a blessing to have an extra game.”

For the last two weeks, there’s been little in-person interaction among players. They sat at home waiting to learn what was to come, watching Big Ten games on Saturdays and trying to learn about any teams they could play next. 

Getting back into Schembechler Hall, despite the circumstance, meant everything.

“It just felt good,” Kemp said. “It just felt good to be back out there and put the helmet on, put the shoulder pads on and just start going again. Especially when the level that we were shut down was you couldn’t even come into the building.

“… You really just spent a lot of time being by yourself and that’s tough when a lot of you guys are feeling the same way. You don’t get to feel that same feeling emotionally with all your teammates.”

Exactly what the Wolverines’ roster looks like right now is unclear. But it will almost undoubtedly be depleted.

Harbaugh didn’t get into the specifics of how many players Michigan has available and at what positions, citing privacy concerns. Asked who would start at quarterback — Cade McNamara and Joe Milton have both dealt with injuries and neither’s COVID-19 status is publicly known — Harbaugh merely said, “Saturday, we’ll have the opportunity to answer that question.”

According to Big Ten protocols, any players who tested positive for COVID-19 must sit out for 21 days — an initial 10-day quarantine period followed by cardiac testing and a return to play progression. That means any players who tested positive after Nov. 29, the first day Michigan’s practice was shut down, would miss the Iowa game. Additionally, any players who had close contact need to quarantine for 10 days, per a U-M spokesman.

Fourteen athletes tested positive in the athletic department in the week following the Penn State game, accompanied by nine last week. That number, however, is department-wide — not just the football team.

The Wolverines also have a number of players injured, including junior linebacker Cam McGrone, senior safety Brad Hawkins and junior right tackle Jalen Mayfield. Harbaugh didn’t say if any of them are expected to be back. He also declined to address the center position after backup sophomore Zach Carpenter entered the transfer portal this week. Fifth-year senior starter Andrew Vastardis has dealt with injuries this year as well. 

With the Wolverines 2-4, Saturday’s game is a chance for Michigan to end its regular season on a high note, a chance Harbaugh said it’s ready for.

“I’m inspired by the way our players approach it,” Harbaugh said. “(We’re) very focused on responding to this particular challenge.”

If the Wolverines can pull an upset, 3-4 may be enough to earn a bowl invite in a depleted field, particularly given Michigan’s drawing power for TV ratings. A number of schools have opted out of playing a bowl. Harbaugh declined to say whether Michigan would follow.

“Those are all individual matters individual to individual schools,” Harbaugh said. “Each have their own unique circumstances and perspectives. It’s all going to be based on health and safety. That’s the thing that is respected the utmost. And those matters are respected and honored.”

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