ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WLNS) – The Michigan Wolverines opened up the 2023 season with a 30-3 victory over East Carolina on Saturday, dominating the Pirates even without head coach Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines.
Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore were both serving suspensions imposed by the university. Harbaugh’s suspension is for the first three games of the season while Moore will return to the sidelines next week.
Without Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter served as the acting head coach for the game.
Quarterback JJ McCarthy was precise through the air, completing 86.7 percent of his passes (26-for-30) for 280 yards and three touchdowns. All three touchdown passes were to wide receiver Roman Wilson, who led the team with six receptions for 78 yards.
The Wolverine offense paid tribute to Harbaugh early in the game by lining up in the train formation and holding up four fingers to signify the No. 4 jersey Harbaugh wore as a player at Michigan in the 1980s.
McCarthy also wore a “Free Harbaugh” shirt to the postgame press conference.
“It’s as simple as this, I just want my coach back,” McCarthy said of the messaging behind the shirt.
“I personally just felt like something was missing today and it was definitely him,” he added. “Like he has just this presence that it’s all about winning, all about competing, all about pushing through. Just as simple as the pregame speech, I was missing that voice. It really sucked going out there for the first game and him not being out there.”
“We’re trained for this situation,” Minter said of Harbaugh’s absence. “The way we operate, the way [Harbaugh] empowers our players and the way he empowers our coaches, he breeds confidence into our team.”
East Carolina spoiled Michigan’s hopes of posting a shutout by kicking a field goal on the very last play of the game, but regardless, the Wolverine defense took care of business against an inferior opponent. Among the players pitching in was former Waverly track and field standout Keshaun Harris, who made his first career start at defensive back.
Harris was a three-time all-state track and field athlete at Waverly and won individual state titles in the 110m hurdles and 300m hurdles.
He went to Michigan on a track and field scholarship and joined the football team as a walk-on in 2019. Harris made two tackles in Saturday’s game while starting in place of the injured Will Johnson.
“He’s just worked really, really hard,” Minter said of Harris. “Football was kind of new to him as he was coming here so just over the time of studying, of getting a ton of reps the way we operate. He was ready for his moment and I’m really proud of the way he played.”
Minter added that Harris has improved steadily and was in line to start this season anyway before the team added UMass transfer Josh Wallace late in the spring.
“I think going into my fifth year and knowing that it’s my last year, it’s all-or-nothing,” Harris said. “So I think just honing in to my craft and really focusing and being a student of the game, I think that is what made my jump from last year to this year.”