Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has brought a lot of friendly faces with him from his past coaching stops, including offensive coordinator Tim Drevno and former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.
He also apparently brought along one not-so-friendly face: a 4-inch tall man named Freddy P. Soft. Allegedly, while wearing “a cape and a hat with a plume in it,” Freddy stands on players’ shoulders and speaks directly into their ears, advising them to relax, take reps off and not put in full effort.
According to redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight, the coaches are well aware when Freddy makes appearances in practice — especially during fall camp, when Drevno will literally yell at his own shoulder to tell Freddy to go away.
This imaginary and unusual figure may sound like nothing more than a humorous motivational tool, but he might be the Wolverines’ worst enemy after two games this season. Fresh off wins over Hawaii and Central Florida by a combined score of 114-17, Michigan sits at No. 4 in the rankings and has barely been tested.
But even with the dominance on the scoreboard, Harbaugh refuses to allow his team to be complacent, and he’s happy to see that the Wolverines still have plenty of room to improve.
“I’m very excited, as a coach, that when you win a game 51-14 and then you still have things to go in and coach and feel like you can improve your play on,” Harbaugh said. “Probably no better feeling as a coach than to start the week that way. It makes me very optimistic that there’s ways that we can improve, there’s things that we can fix. I’m very confident with the coaches and players that we have that we’ll do that.”
Michigan was never in any real trouble in the win over the Knights on Saturday, but a few cracks in the armor did emerge.
Thanks to a few quarterback scrambles and an 87-yard touchdown run, UCF finished the game with an eye-popping 275 rushing yards against the Wolverines, a number that certainly won’t cut it against more talented opponents. Michigan’s defensive line feels the problem is fixable, though, especially given that it was just a few big plays that inflated the Knights’ numbers.
“I think it’s just (a matter of) all of us working together on the D-line,” said fifth-year senior defensive lineman Matt Godin. “A lot of times, our rush lanes get a little hectic. Different guys doing different moves, one guy goes inside, one guy goes outside. I think if we just get the communication better in the coming weeks, we’ll definitely improve.”
Redshirt sophomore defensive end Chase Winovich, a player who appears to play every down at a hundred miles an hour, agreed with that sentiment. When defensive players are making full-speed decisions, he said, sometimes all a ball carrier needs is a few feet of space to get loose.
The Wolverines experienced similar communication issues on the other side of the ball, where some well-timed UCF blitzes and a stacked run defense held Michigan running backs to just 2.9 yards per carry.
Harbaugh said Michigan’s offensive linemen occasionally struggled to communicate, slide their feet and have their eyes in the right place, but all are fixable issues that will be points of emphasis going forward.
Even as the Wolverines struggled with the running game, though, Harbaugh noted that they were able to take advantage of opportunities in the play-action passing game, with Speight finding receivers in single coverage and throwing for 312 yards.
Michigan’s few flaws haven’t come back to hurt it so far, and there’s plenty of time to figure them out — as long as the Wolverines continue to put in the work and shake off Freddy P. Soft, that is.
“We’re gonna embrace the adversity that comes with this game, and we’re gonna address it,” Winovich said. “And if it comes in the form of Freddy P. Soft, we’re gonna try our best to spell him.”