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Rutgers hangs with #4 Michigan for a half before falling at home, 42-7

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Pacheco, Blackshear, Hampton earned respect, but Michigan depth too much in the end.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Rutgers
Pacheco delivered another highlight or two.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The #4 Michigan Wolverines waltzed into Piscataway as the only remaining Big Ten team that appeared to control its own destiny. It was quite cold for the fans who got pretty loud after Rutgers came up with a 4th down stop on Michigan’s first drive. The Wolverines had gone 62 yards on 12 plays, but RU’s defense got the stop when Avery Young crashed down to stuff Karan Higdon.

Michigan had a methodical drive following a three and out by the RU offense. The Wolverines went 59 yards on eight plays and converted a key third and two from the RU three yard line by a nose. Higdon punched in a touchdown on the next play to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.

Rutgers answered immediately on the first play of the ensuing drive. Raheem Blackshear went in motion drawing the linebackers and a simple counter to Isaih Pacheco was turned into an 80 yard touchdown. On the play, Pacheco blew past the defender trying to keep outside containment and then ran away from the DBs trying to catch him, altering his direction multiple times. Two defenders got to him around the 5 yard line, but Pacheco’s momentum dragged them the rest of the way to paydirt. The ensuring extra point tied the game at 7.

Michigan’s offense in the first half was unable to get a deep ball as Rutgers had numerous pass break ups including one from Young and another by Saquan Hampton, usually on first down. Then on second the Wolverines were able to gain at least five yards seemingly every time to set up a third and manageable. With the game tied at 7 and 11 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, Higdon powered for a 4th down conversion to the RU 16. Quarterback Shea Patterson then completed a 15 yard pass that RU stopped at the one, but Higdon ran in on the following play to give Michigan a 14-7 advantage.

Rutgers avoided disaster for a minute after a quick three and out when Adam Korsak’s punt was either tipped or at least altered significantly. Somehow the ball rolled all the way to the Michigan 47 yard line and you had to feel like maybe luck was on RU’s side. But after a complete coverage breakdown on a third and seven, it was 21-7. Rutgers rolled after the snap to a cover two look, but only one guy dropped deep. The miscommunication likely between Saquan Hampton and Damon Hayes allowed Shea Patterson to find Nico Collins for a 36 yard TD.

After advancing the ball with some wildcats runs, RU decided to go for it on 4th down and 2 at midfield with 2:38 to go in the half. The Wolverines dropped into a zone and had the perfect defense called for what Rutgers tried to do on offense. Rather than dive up the gut, Sitkowski rolled out and had to try and scramble for the sticks but was about a foot short.

On the very next play, Rutgers avoided disaster as Hampton broke up a pass and then RU stopped back to back runs on second and third down. Michigan elected to punt on a 4th and 3 with a minute left to go in the 1st half at the Rutgers 43 yard line. The kick was downed near the Rutgers 18 yard line and after one run by Jon Hilliman, both teams were content to let the clock run out on the half.

At the half, Rutgers had zero net passing yards with two completions on six attempts from Art Sitkowski. In his defense, two drops came on screen passes that hit running backs in the hands. Pacheco had 106 on the ground, 80 of it on one play and Blackshear had six carries for 24 yards including at least two wildcat runs. Michigan had 91 rushing and 155 passing yards. 38 of those rushing yards got Higdon across the 1,000 yard barrier for the campaign. The biggest stat was probably that Michigan was 5-8 on 3rd down and 1-2 on 4th while the Scarlet Knights were 0-4 on 3rd and 0-1 on 4th down conversion attempts.

Michigan received the second half kick. They were able to convert back to back third downs on awesome scrambling followed by accurate throwing from Patterson to get the ball deep in RU territory.

Two plays later, Patterson had 12 seconds to throw as RU could not get to him with a four man rush against seven blockers. Eventually one of the three players running a route, Oliver Martin got open in the end zone and Patterson threw another accurate ball on the run to defeat excellent coverage. It was now 28-7 and RU was in danger of it getting ugly.

Rather than rolling over and dying, Pacheco exploded for a a 60 yard kickoff return that was called back for a hold on Tyshon Fogg. Fogg was nowhere near the play but did maybe hold his block a little too long. Rutgers went to the screen a few too many times after moving the ball to the Michigan 44, but still had a chance to convert as a third down toss intended for Eddie Lewis fell incomplete after a lot of contact near the Michigan 15. Korsak’s punt rolled out at the Wolverine 7 with 7:57 remaining in the 3rd.

After stuffs on first and second at the UM 9 yard line, Michigan easily completed a ball to Donovan Peoples-Jones over the middle to the 35 for a first down. The RU D gathered itself and an impressive pass breakup downfield by linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams forced a punt to keep the miracle upset possibility on life support with five minutes left in the third.

RU did nothing to help the cause with another holding penalty on the punt return where Avery Young got nothing despite breaking a few tackles, backed them up. Rutgers converted a third and ten, their first third down conversion of the game, on a smart playcall by McNulty. RU sent four receivers right with left tackle Tariq Cole uncovered making him an eligible receiver and Michigan was again confused by the counter action resulting in Blackshear’s 17 yard run on third and long.

Rutgers kept playing to win and followed with some trickery as a halfback option pass by Isaih Pacheco found Giovanni Rescigno (yes Philly special-esque) down the sideline to get the ball to midfield. Had Pacheco led Gio a little more, the play could have went a lot longer. The momentum did not last as Rutgers went wildcat but Pacheco and Blackshear fumbled a handoff and Michigan recovered.

Avery Young had played a great game, but could not defend a perfectly thrown ball to a spot from Patterson to Nico Collins in the end zone. The score with eight seconds to go in the third quarter made it 35-7 and effectively ended the game.

In the fourth, RU was able to complete some passes which was nice to see but ... after a punt, Michigan inserted their backup quarterback Brandon Peters and the very first play went for a 61 yard TD run from Chris Evans. The rout was on as everything was officially garbage time afterward. Rutgers had one more chance for points, but Sitkowski was picked off on a ball that Bo Melton easily could have pulled down deep in Wolverine territory. Sitkowski had a stretch of 88 attempts without a pick snapped (longest streak in the Big Ten amazingly before that play).

The final score of this game looked ugly, but Rutgers was very competitive against the #4 team in the country for a while at least. The way the game played out, you could see if Rutgers had a stud quarterback like Patterson and Michigan didn’t (a la 2014), the optic would be a lot different. The unfortunate thing is that Rutgers has put together three consecutive competitive performances that would probably have defeated the teams on the schedule earlier in the season. At this point though, the Scarlet Knights have just two more chances, both against ranked opponents, to get a Big Ten win in 2018.

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