Michigan football’s Jim Harbaugh speaks to the media on Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Ann Arbor.
Nick Baumgardner, Freep
Michigan football is entering the stretch run of its season now.
The Wolverines (8-1, 6-0) sit at the top of the Big Ten. They’ll most likely be in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings when they’re updated Tuesday.
This week brings Rutgers.The next, Indiana. And then a showdown at Ohio State for a spot in the Big Ten title game
Jim Harbaugh says his team doesn’t plan on taking the next two games for granted, though.
“Well, it just doesn’t seem like a very good idea to look ahead,” Harbaugh said. “Concentrate on the ball game that we have. Take it one game at a time.”
Here is what Harbaugh said as he previewed U-M’s game Saturday at Rutgers (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
High praise for OL, Higdon
Michigan’s turnaround up front has been remarkable. The Wolverines’ offensive line has emerged as one of the best in the nation and are paving the way for senior running back Karan Higdon, who has had seven consecutive games with 100 rushing yards and is just 37 away from 1,000.
Harbaugh singled out Higdon for praise, complimenting his running style and ability to hold onto the football. Then he talked up the offensive line.
“Offensive line, they’re playing consistent, they’re playing well,” Harbaugh said. “A few missed assignments here and there but for the most part not many at all. The other thing you’d compliment the OL on is the play without being penalized.
“Very disciplined football. I think Coach (Ed) Warinner has done a great job of instilling that type of play in the offensive line.”
Mason, Cochran stand out on special teams
A play from Saturday’s win over Penn State circulated on Twitter. It involved fullback Ben Mason running full speed down the field on a kickoff, taking his blocker with him, and then running through another blocker to make the tackle.
Mason and the rest of the kickoff unit limited Penn State receiver KJ Hamler from doing any damage. Harbaugh has been pleased with his team’s kickoff coverage thus far.
“I think our special teams has been doing well,” Harbaugh said. “This past game, the two stars were Ben Mason and Tyler Cochran. Ben Mason on the wedge, he’s able to break the wedge, he’s able to stay alive on the wedge. He’s penetrating, puncturing the wedge, especially in this past game.
“And Tyler Cochran, he’s coming form the other side and really cutting the field in half. There’s others that are playing really well, but those two are really a force. Been very good.”
Harbaugh on Shea Patterson
“I think all quarterbacks are tough, in my opinion. That’s a physically demanding position. But there’s no question in my mind, he brings a level of focus and toughness, mental toughness, a level of intensity to the position that few do.
“We ask him to do something and he delivers, over and over again. A great feeling to have a quarterback like that.”
“Their kickoff coverage is really impressive. One of the best in the nation. Ridiculous statistics in that regard.”
Depth chart moves
Redshirt freshman quarterback Dylan McCaffrey broke his collarbone late in Saturday’s game.
That means the backup spot is up for grabs.
“We’ll see this week,” Harbaugh said. “Definitely Brandon (Peters) and Joe (Milton) will be competing for that spot.”
Peters, a redshirt sophomore, started several games last season. He had originally won the backup position entering this year, but suffered an injury early in the year that allowed McCaffrey to take over.
Milton, a true freshman, played briefly against Wisconsin. Under the new rules, he can play in three more games and still remain eligible to take a redshirt — which is U-M’s current plan.
“I think we’re on schedule for that,” Harbaugh said.
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