It was was on display again when the Wolverines ran for nearly 300 yards against Penn State. “I heard we’re the only team in the country to have a back rush for 100 yards seven straight weeks,” Harbaugh said. “[senior] Karan Higdon deserves a lot of credit there. He’s really running the ball hard and well, and he’s getting hit too and not fumbling the ball. He’s taking a lot of the hits where you don’t see the defender … they are re-tracking or coming in at an angle where the back can’t see the defender.
“He had five this ball game, one time someone grabbed and torqued his facemask and he was able to hang on to the ball. One he got hit hard from a blind side defender on a non-aggressive angle from behind him. Those are the kinds of plays where there’s a high percentage of coughing up the ball, and he hasn’t. He’s been really good.”
Of course, the line play has had plenty to do with that, as well. Sophomore center Cesar Ruiz has been “outstanding” making the calls and adjustments on the line, Harbaugh said, and each of the linemen are playing their best football.
The final tallies last weekend: one tackle for loss and a sack on a screen before the half on which the running back couldn’t get open, and junior quarterback Shea Patterson did the right thing in not forcing the play. U-M led 14-0 at the time.
“The offensive line is playing consistent, playing well,” Harbaugh said. “There were a few missed assignments here and there, but for the most part not many at all.
“The other thing I really compliment the offensive line for is their play without being penalized. I think they’ve had three, maybe four, five penalties all year; four procedures and one holding penalty. No illegal chop blocks, no high lows, no cutting downfield, no ineligible receiver downfield. They’re playing really good in that regard, very disciplined football. I think Coach [Ed] Warinner has done a great job instilling that kind of play in our offensive line.”
They’ve got three more games to continue to improve before the postseason, but Harbaugh isn’t looking ahead.
“It doesn’t seem like a very good idea to look ahead,” Harbaugh said of his message to his team. “Concentrate on the ball game we have.”
Junior defensive end Rashan Gary set the tone with a big hit on Penn State’s Trace McSorley last week. Even though McSorley completed the pass, it was clear early he would never be comfortable in the pocket.
Harbaugh didn’t have an update on Gary’s status for the week but said it was good to see him out there playing again.
“I think it was really good for the morale of the team and for Rashan, too, to be back out there,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a tremendous leader on our team, somebody everybody has great respect for. He played really well, too. He’s a special player.”
The same could be said for redshirt freshman Tarik Black, who caught a long touchdown pass but had it called back on a Zach Gentry hold.
“He’s looking good. Everybody’s happy to have him back,” Harbaugh said. “He’s been playing, and its great for his morale and the rest of the team’s to have him back out there playing and practicing.”
Redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey is “probably” out for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone, Harbaugh confirmed. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Peters and true freshman Joe Milton are battling for time behind him.
“We’ll see this week [who the backup is],” Harbaugh said, noting they still hoped to redshirt Milton. Milton has played in one game and can play in up to four before burning it.
• Harbaugh believed the targeting call assessed after sophomore receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones got hit high in the third quarter should have stood.
“I don’t know the answer to that, whether we’ll be able to expect consistency with that call or not,” he said. “It looked like a launch to the head and neck area. When the rule was first put in, that was the thing they were most trying to rule out of the game, trying to get out of football … it had been really progressing in that direction.
“So like you, I don’t know if we’ll have consistency with that call. Launch, leaving the feet to the head and neck area would suggest a foul and what they were really trying to get out of the game of football.”