COLLEGE PARK — Jim Harbaugh is not one to disclose his gameplan, even after a win.
But whatever he envisioned for Saturday’s trip to 3-5 Maryland, giving up a pair of six-minute drives into the red zone before halftime wasn’t it.
Neither ultimately ended with points, thanks to a missed field goal and a Josh Metellus interception, but for 20 minutes, the Terrapins drove down the field with relative ease. It wasn’t the same explosiveness that they showed when they scored 142 points in the first two games of the season, but when you come in expecting a blowout, two long drives is enough to raise an eyebrow or two.
Michigan’s response? Two first downs and 25 yards allowed on the next six drives, buoyed by the constant defensive pressure that led the Wolverines to 38-7 win.
“The pressures, really (were the difference),” Harbaugh said. “I think that led to just about every three-and-out that I can think of, was we were making (Maryland quarterback) Josh Jackson throw it quick, throw it away or get a sack and put him in a long yardage situation.”
The pressure, though, didn’t only come after the slow start.
It took all of three snaps for Josh Uche to find himself in Maryland’s backfield, swarming Jackson and forcing a punt. Two drives later, his second sack pushed the Terrapins out of the red zone, precipitating their missed field goal.
“(Defensive coordinator Don) Brown’s just done a great job just trying to get me in as much as possible, utilize the things I’m good at, and just try to build some things around me, stuff like that,” Uche said. “For the system I’m in, he’s just trying to get me on the field as much as possible.”
Added Harbaugh: “He’s on a mission when he’s in pass rush, you just see it. And that was — the way our guys are getting to the quarterback, that was big today.”
Those sacks, as well as Metellus’ interception — a product of pressure from fifth-year senior defensive end Michael Danna — kept Maryland off the scoreboard when at least three points felt like an inevitability. In a heavily maize-and-blue Maryland Stadium, they kept fingernails out of mouths and maintained the pervasive sense that Saturday afternoon was a mere stepping stone to more important games.
Still, it wasn’t what the Wolverines wanted, with every run play seemingly going for four yards and paving the way for a pair of chunk passing plays off play action.
Led by Metellus’ two tackles for losses, neither of those trends lasted long. The drive after Maryland’s missed field goal, he burst into the backfield, forcing running back Anthony McFarland into a three-yard loss.
Two plays later, the Terrapins punted for the first time in more than a quarter.
“To have a safety come up and make that kind of play, that’s a statement in the game,” Harbaugh said. “That was really impressive.”
For the rest of the game, that ability to break into Maryland’s backfield was the overwhelming trend, whether it was Metellus, sophomore linebacker Cam McGrone or sophomore defensive end Aidan Hutchinson doing it. As a result, Jackson spent his return from an ankle injury fleeing a consistent slew of pass rushers, unable to find any sort of groove on a day where he finished 9-for-20 with 97 yards and an interception.
And at the end of the day, Michigan had its second-straight near-shutout, with Maryland’s only points coming on a kick-return touchdown.
Last week, against Notre Dame, it came thanks to the Wolverines’ speed that prevented the Fighting Irish from executing its gameplan. This week? Just ask Harbaugh.
“The pressures were key all day.”