Coming off a weekend that saw the Michigan football team lose by double-digits at home to a previously winless team, the Wolverines’ failure on the field wasn’t even the biggest storyline.
On Monday morning, the program announced it would pause all in-person team activities following presumptive positive COVID-19 tests. As PCR testing worked to confirm the results, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh met with reporters on Zoom. Much of the press conference consisted of questions regarding the Wolverines’ temporary shutdown, but Harbaugh was also asked about a number of pressing on-field issues.
Here’s what the sixth-year head coach had to say.
No meaningful injury updates
Just when it seemed Michigan had found its answer at the quarterback position, sophomore Cade McNamara exited Saturday’s game against Penn State due to right shoulder pain. He suffered the injury at the end of a redzone run on the Wolverines’ second possession, and after working with trainers on the sidelines, he was forced to head to the locker room.
He tried to play through the injury after re-entering the game, but Harbaugh ultimately opted to roll with junior Joe Milton when it became clear McNamara’s shoulder was tightening. Asked whether or not McNamara would return Monday, Harbaugh offered little clarity.
“Yeah, Cade, we’ll see or evaluate that as the week goes on here,” Harbaugh said. “But don’t know. See how the recovery comes.”
Elsewhere on the injury front, Harbaugh provided no update on a possible timetable for linebacker Cam McGrone’s return. The junior missed Michigan’s game on Saturday after suffering what appeared to be an ankle injury in last week’s triple-overtime win over Rutgers.
Defensive backs show improvement
Lost in the shuffle of an ugly loss, the Wolverines’ secondary took a significant step forward against the Nittany Lions. After surrendering big plays in the passing game against the Scarlet Knights, Michigan State and Indiana, Michigan held Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford to just 163 passing yards.
Junior cornerbacks Vincent Gray and Gemon Green prevented big plays from plaguing the Wolverines, limiting Clifford’s longest completion of the afternoon to just 22 yards.
“Gemon Green had a very good game and was particularly good in the man-to-man coverage,” Harbaugh said. “So (were) Vincent Gray and (sophomore safety) Dax Hill. Those three, especially, were outstanding. I thought across the board in the man-to-man coverage we were good, ascending, improving. That was something I think we’re getting good at. So, want to continue to build on that.”
Following Lavert Hill’s graduation and Ambry Thomas’ decision to opt out this fall, Michigan’s defensive backs have been a weakness for much of the season. But if the young secondary continues to improve over the Wolverines’ final two games, it’ll be a positive development heading into 2021 for a team that desperately needs one.
Harbaugh stresses process over results
As speculation surrounding Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor intensifies, he doubled down on his process-over-results attitude Monday.
“I know there’s disdain for the process by some, but to us, that’s the whole ballgame,” Harbaugh said. “And so, we’re going to keep learning. … Sometimes outside of the program, I think people are very results oriented. And that is — the process to us is very important. So process (is) not as important outside of the program as it is to us inside the program.”
To Harbaugh’s dismay, Michigan’s 2-4 record is part of the ballgame, too. It matters that his team lost as a three-touchdown favorite against the Spartans, fell to the Hoosiers for the first time in three decades and suffered the worst halftime deficit in the 94-year history of Michigan Stadium against Wisconsin.
The reality remains unchanged: Results define performance. The process isn’t much of a selling point for donors, season-ticket holders and the national perception of the program. Rather, it’s an afterthought behind the struggles of a program in the sixth year under a coach initially made out to be its savior.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.
For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.