The Wolverine

November 2021

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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NOVEMBER 2021 THE WOLVERINE 21 couldn't have any one-on-one conver- sations about the defense. It was always like, 'Players, do this.' But this year, we do a lot of adjustments, even throughout the games. I feel like it's a lot better. "I feel like it's more man on man. We can have a full conversation with the coaches this year. I can go in Coach Clink- scale's office and just sit there for like an hour and chop it up with him about any- thing — football, life. Last year, I didn't do that, that much … but that was last year." THE NUMBERS DON'T LIE This year, it's undeniably different. The Wolverines through seven games surren- dered an average of just 14.3 points per game, ranking No. 2 in the nation in scor- ing defense. That's shaving off nearly 20 points per contest from last year. The Wolverines averaged 28.3 points per game in last year's seemingly rudder- less offense. That's turned around as well, U-M putting up an average 37.7, good for No. 15 nationally. While many love watching the laser strikes and nimble feet of McCarthy in his usually brief appearances on the field, they certainly don't mind 7-0 behind McNamara and his steady-as-she-goes direction of the offense. "We saw what he did in practice throughout the spring, throughout train- ing camp … he doesn't make mistakes, which at the quarterback position, when you have a guy that plays like that, you can win a lot of games," Weiss recently said on the Inside Michigan radio show with host Jon Jansen. "More than not making mis- takes, he makes the plays that are there, makes the right read, does the right thing. "That stability has really been the con- sistency that carried our team, and our offense, to a lot of success throughout the first part of the year so far." Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzger- ald recognized it, and more, before send- ing his team out to face the new-look Wolverines. "Quarterback play has been outstand- ing," Fitzgerald said. "The big-play home runs have been outstanding. They grind you out. And then you pop on the de- fensive tape, and their front seven is vio- lent; they're really violent. They're really, really physical across each position, and then the back end is as fast and physical as we've seen. "Complete team — no doubt about that — and that's why they're ranked in the top 10." The biggest tests remain. Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State each provide an opportunity to show how far the Wolverines have come, not to mention marking the difference between good and great in this season. But it's a far cry from a year ago, and the chief architect likes what he sees. "It's a gritty team," Harbaugh noted. "Through their preparation, they've earned that confidence they have. They have fun doing it." ❏ First-year safeties coach Ron Bellamy and his colleagues have placed an emphasis on build- ing strong relationships with their players, which paid dividends during U-M's 7-0 start. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL Assistants Talk About Their Approach With Players More than a few Michigan players have raved about the staff changes Jim Har- baugh executed in the offseason. It obviously never hurts when it results in a 7-0 start. But the Wolverines noted one has directly impacted the other. The newcomers to the staff include Ron Bellamy and Mike Hart, both former Wolverines who know the sort of pride Michigan brought to the field in their time in Ann Arbor. Asked what impact the new staffers looked to make, Bellamy didn't hold back. "First and foremost, get to know the kids," noted the former Wolverine, fresh off a state championship as head coach of West Bloomfield (Mich.) High when he came back to Ann Arbor. "Make sure they understand that they are loved. We tell them we love them every day. "You're building that trust. They know we have their back. They have our back. It's a brotherhood. Although Clink [cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale] and I are older than our defensive backs, they understand that we've been through what they're going through, and we're going to lean on each other. "There's no finger-pointing. You're going to pick each other up. You made a mis- take, let's figure out why we made a mistake, clean it up, pick each other up, hold each other accountable and let's play ball." Clinkscale backed the notion that Michigan's assistant coaches, while clearly in charge, want to be approachable by the players. "It's being myself," Clinkscale said. "I played the game, I respect the game, I respect that coach-player relationship. There are times when you come close to that line as a coach, and you get on them really hard. "You've got to understand, too, in this day and age, those young men, they weren't always coached like that. You've got to find a balance, per player. As a group, I coach them hard — but I also love them up." Hart, meanwhile, knows the importance of staying focused on the task at hand. He played on the last Michigan team to win a Big Ten title (2004), and understands well the week-to-week focus required to keep winning. He's appreciated the "We haven't done anything yet" stance by the players, and encourages remaining in the moment. "They know it's one game at a time," Hart said. "When you look ahead is when you get in trouble. We have a group of guys who know what they have to do and know what they want to do." — John Borton

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