The winning streak is over for Rutgers, but it’s hard to argue that a step forward wasn’t taken in a 35-14 loss to Michigan on Saturday. Moral victories are never the goal, but after last season’s 78-0 embarrassment, today’s outcome certainly qualifies as major progress for this program. Rutgers covered the point spread and were tied with Michigan midway through the second quarter. The game changed when freshman quarterback Brandon Peters came in for the Wolverines and led them to a touchdown on three consecutive drives to put things out of reach. However, Rutgers fought the entire way and were much more competitive on Homecoming at the Big House than they were on their last trip two years ago, which was a 33 point loss.
The highlight of the day for Rutgers was a 65 yard touchdown run by Janarion Grant, when he took a direct snap under center. He did a great job of letting the play develop and used his blockers well, before breaking away from the Michigan defense. Grant looked like his old self in producing his best play of his senior campaign so far.
Overall, the story was predictable. Michigan dominated the game on the ground, rushing for 334 yards, averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The Rutgers offense struggled against a stout defense, compiling just 195 total yards of offense. One note, Raheem Blackshear, the freshman running back who played so well in the previous two wins, did not play due to injury. Michigan dominated the time of possession with almost 37 minutes with the football and had 25 first downs, while Rutgers had just 9. Both lines of Rutgers struggled in this game. Still, there were some positives in this game for the Scarlet Knights.
Rutgers committed just three penalties in the game. They held Michigan to 3 of 9 on third down conversion attempts. The touchdown in the second half came from an 11 play, 75 yard drive that Gio Rescigno made some big throws, including a 30 yard pass play to tight end Jerome Washington. For a second consecutive week, they did not turn the ball over and won the turnover margin, as Jawuan Harris made a great play in interception Michigan early in the game.
I also think offensive coordinator Jerry Kill showed more creativity in using Grant as a running threat, taking direct snaps, as well as adjusting to Michigan’s pass rush by going to the shotgun formation in the second quarter.
There were missed opportunities, like Gio missing Grant in the middle of the field when he had his man beat and open space in front of him. On defense, Kiy Hester almost grabbed an interception that he should have had and could have run back for a score. With the game tied at 7, Rutgers had Michigan in a 3rd and 24 situation deep in their own territory after a Kemoko Turay sack. Running back Ty Isaac ran it 23 yards on the next play and Michigan went for it on 4th and 1. Jim Harbaugh gambled with the ball in his own territory and they barely got the first down on what was a questionable spot. Michigan went on to score on the drive and that was the closest Rutgers would get the rest of the way.
Regardless, this was an encouraging effort from Chris Ash’s team. There is no question this team is improved this season and they’ve even gotten markedly better since a month ago. This season was about making progress and there is no doubt that is occurring. We would all love the Eastern Michigan game back, but the bottom line is the coaching staff and players have rebounded in a positive way. It’s going to take time before Rutgers can win a game like this in the Big House, but forward progress was made today.
Next week is a winnable game at home against Maryland. If Rutgers can be victorious in that contest, it will virtually guarantee that they will finish better than last place in the Big Ten East. For me, that would be the ultimate benchmark as proof things are getting better. As for today, the signs are there that Rutgers is taking steps forward. They accomplished covering the spread and being competitive against a team that flat out embarrassed them last season. Time for Ash and company to regroup, as next week is hugely important. Even so, people are noticing the improvement and that is a big step as well.