The Wolverine

February 2024

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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38 THE WOLVERINE ❱ FEBRUARY 2024 ❱ MICHIGAN FOOTBALL BY ANTHONY BROOME M ichigan was able to grit its way through the Rose Bowl against Ala- bama despite a laundry list of errors on special teams in the College Football Play- off semifinal win. The Wolverines muffed a pair of punts and missed an extra point in a day that was shockingly off for one of the best units in the country, but they found a way to advance to the national title game despite it. Special teams coordinator/safeties coach Jay Harbaugh spoke about the miscues ahead of the media day event in Houston for the championship game and explained what he saw on film with what Michigan went through. "Unfortunate that multiple guys had uncharacteristic plays in the same game," Harbaugh said. "I think pretty much all of them, you can tangibly put on film and say, 'OK, this is why this happened.' I don't know that those players in my ex- perience with them could be guys who struggle with nerves or anything like that. "That type of stuff is kind of unknow- able anyway. I think it's mostly just me- chanics and technical types of things. And that's what you hope for, because that means you can identify a problem and then work to fix it. We've had a good week of prep so far. I feel really great about those guys, and they feel good about themselves, and they should because they have a lot of reps and great preparation to be able to draw confidence from." The list of special teams miscues against Alabama included a muffed punt return by Semaj Morgan in the first quar- ter, a bad snap from William Wagner on a missed extra point in the second quarter and James Turner missing a 49-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. One of the biggest errors in the semi- final turned into a game-saving play for punt returner Jake Thaw. Near the end of regulation, Thaw muffed a punt near the goal line that could have resulted in a safety had he been knocked back into the end zone. He secured the ball, took a hit and helped Michigan kneel things out and take the game to overtime. Harbaugh told The Wolverine that while Michigan does not exactly rep those types of situations, the situational awareness it took to make the play is something that they have gone over. "That sort of thing, I wouldn't say we explicitly rep it in terms of actually prac- ticing something like that happening," Harbaugh said. "But it's certainly a type of thing that we cover. 'Hey, I dropped the ball and it's in front of me. I dropped it and goes in the end zone. I touch a kickoff and it goes to the end zone. I'm in the end zone and touch a kickoff, and it goes out.' "So, there are all those things. You cover them and make sure that everyone un- derstands them. And then there's a sec- ond component to it where you want to be thorough. At some point, there's a line where you don't want to be putting a lot of negative thoughts into their head too and practicing bad things happening and it's like, 'Oh my god, they don't think I'm go- ing to catch the ball.' There's certainly try- ing to coach it without negatively affecting their ability to do their job mentally." For the younger Harbaugh, the oppor- tunity to compete for a national title was the culmination of a lot of hard work the program has put in since 2015. He was on his father's first staff in Ann Arbor and was around for all of the highs and lows heading into the CFP championship game. "It's awesome," Harbaugh said. "I'm just super happy for [Jim] and for the whole team. I have a ton of appreciation for him and admiration and love for him, and I think he's the best in the world at what he does. It is neat to see you have a great plan and you get good people and you stick to it. "To see that get us to this point with the chance to put an exclamation mark on it and say, 'Hey, look, it worked.' That's, that's a cool thing, but they're just excited and excited for the team and to have the opportunity that they have." ❏ Special Teams Fight Through Uncharacteristic Plays In Rose Bowl Grad kicker James Turner missed a 49-yard field goal and an extra point after a bad snap in the Rose Bowl but rebounded to nail both of his field goal attempts (from 31 and 38 yards) and all 4 point-after tries in the CFP National Championship. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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