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Progress Made By Rutgers In Loss To Michigan

During a rebuild, margin of defeat matters

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year’s 78-0 shellacking of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights by the Michigan Wolverines was a mid-season embarrassment to first year Head Coach Chris Ash, the team, the fans, and the athletic program. It raised again the cries that Rutgers didn’t belong in the Big Ten, that the money spent on athletics was a waste, and that perhaps Rutgers should just go back to playing the Colgate’s and Lehigh’s of the world as they did in the 70’s.

The 35-14 loss to Michigan on Saturday was a positive step by the Scarlet Knights merely by the margin of the defeat. Rutgers held Michigan scoreless in the first quarter, was tied at 7-7 in the second, and was down by only two scores at the end of the third quarter. The 14 points put on the board by the Scarlet Knights were the first points scored by them against the “Big Four” (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State) since November 2015. That means they were the first points scored against those traditional powers since Pat Hobbs tapped Chris Ash to be the Head Coach of the Scarlet Knights in December 2015.

This game is yet another indicator of the growth of this team. Like the wins over Illinois and Purdue, playing tough against Michigan shows that the team is no longer a doormat, and with continued growth, could be a force in the conference in the future.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan
Freshman wide receiver Hunter Hayek makes a reception
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Following the loss to Ohio State, Chris Ash said he challenged his team. The wins at Illinois and at home against Purdue demonstrated the team’s willingness to step up and show their stuff. Despite the loss, a closer game at the Big House in Ann Arbor also demonstrates growth.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Michigan
Jamarion Grant running the ball
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Now, does that mean fans should be happy or satisfied with a loss? Of course not. Losing stinks, and no one likes to lose. No team is EVER satisfied when they lose, and fans who are satisfied with a close loss have accepted defeat. However, growth is incremental, and these are the steps that demonstrate that the 2017 edition of the Scarlet Knights are stronger, faster, and more skilled than last year’s team. That is growth, and that is what we need to strive to continue.

There will come a time when this is not enough, that a “respectable” defeat will be worthless. We are not yet at that point, but today’s loss shows we are on the road to that point.