Notebook: Harbaugh praises Isaac, young offensive linemen

Sophomore offensive lineman Michael Onwenu earned the starting right guard job this offseason.

Sophomore offensive lineman Michael Onwenu earned the starting right guard job this offseason. Buy this photo
Sam Mousigian/Daily
Monday, September 4, 2017 - 4:44pm

Long third downs can be an offense’s worst nightmare. The defense often sells out against the pass, making it all the more difficult to convert long completions. In Michigan’s 33-17 victory over Florida, the Wolverines faced one of those situations during their opening drive when a sack forced a third-and-13 from Michigan’s 48-yard line.

The Wolverines, though, went against convention, calling a draw play that sprung loose fifth-year senior running back Ty Isaac for 36 yards.

The draw play worked perfectly as what Jim Harbaugh calls an ‘off-schedule’ run — where Michigan runs the ball in a passing scenario to try to catch the opponent off guard. And Isaac, who rushed 11 times for 114 yards, was the beneficiary twice, converting another long third down on a similar play in the third quarter.

“It’s in the scheme,” Isaac said Monday. “We look at a lot of film, obviously the coaches know what they’re doing when they’re drawing up plays. There were a couple situations where we got the looks that we were expecting to get, which made it a little easier.

“They know what they’re doing. I’ll never doubt my own abilities, so it could be third-and-30 and if they call my number, I feel like I’m going to go get it. We practice certain things, we do a lot of situational work in practice, so it goes back to knowing the type of looks we’re going to get for the most part.”

While Isaac led the team in rushing yards, sophomore Chris Evans — the starter — still received double the amount of carries with 22. But Isaac is okay with however many touches he gets. He said he simply wants to have an impact on the game, whether that’s with three or 11 or 20 carries. And his continued improvement with limited carries certainly caught his head coach’s eye.

“Ty has been a very elusive runner,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been outstanding. I think his pass protection has improved greatly, he’s always been a great catcher of the ball and his instincts are good and improving.”

Harbaugh pleased with offensive line

While an outside glance at the stats — five sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss given up — might indicate Michigan’s young offensive line had a rough afternoon against Florida’s front seven, Harbaugh was pleased with what he saw from his starters.

He’s mentioned before that he thinks the line is more athletic than previous units. On Monday, he compared the new group to last year’s line, which featured three senior starters.

“There were times consistently during the season last year where we were getting beat and there were free runners on the quarterback, and there was a lot less of that in this ball game against a very good defensive line and linebacker corps where they’re fast,” Harbaugh said. “We were getting them blocked. We were moving our feet. It wasn’t perfect, but it’s a good place to be, and glad we’re at that level. You don’t know where you’re going to be exactly until you play your first game, and we’re at a good level. We can improve from here.”

All three of the new starters — fifth-year senior center Patrick Kugler, sophomore right guard Mike Onwenu and redshirt sophomore right tackle Nolan Ulizio — earned praise from Harbaugh for their efforts. He was especially pleased with Onwenu, who won the starting job this offseason after losing weight at the request of the coaching staff.

“Very happy with Mike Onwenu,” Harbaugh said. “You go into it and you think, ‘Okay, Mason Cole is our best offensive lineman, and then Ben Bredeson right there close. Mike Onwenu or Ben Bredeson, who’s better?’ They’re both ascending, and Mike’s ascending real fast.”

Nordin earns award after first start

Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin arrived on the college football scene in a big way Saturday. He hit his first four field goals, setting a program record by converting two field goals of 50 yards or more in one game, and even went viral for his haircut imitating Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn from the popular 1989 film Major League.

His breakout performance saw him named co-Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday, sharing the award with Maryland’s Antoine Brooks.

“He’s got a great leg,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no question about it. We worked very hard. You’ve got to give Cameron Cheeseman a lot of credit, you’ve got to give Garrett Moores a lot of credit, I mean, that whole battery. It’s a battery. Two out of the three gotta go really well to make a kick. One of the three go wrong, you’re not going to make the kick. So that team effort was good.

“I think (Nordin) responds to the moment and the pressure. I think he’s got that wonderful quality about him.”