On Saturday at the Big House, The Rutgers Scarlet Knights took on a Michigan Wolverines squad that was embarrassed at Wisconsin last week. As per usual, Rutgers won the coin toss and deferred. The Wolverines immediately marched down the field for a touchdown. After a Rutgers three and out where they punted on 4th and 1 from their own 31 yard line, Michigan marched down the field again. The home team moved the ball down the field fairly easily, but did face a few critical third downs they converted. Rutgers did themselves no favors with back to back penalties at one point at it was quickly 14-0.
Rutgers got the ball at their own 25 and proceeded to move the ball very well themselves all the way down into the red zone. The only setback was an injury to Raiqwon O’Neal which mattered a lot later on. As the first quarter ended, Rutgers faced a 4th and 3 from the Michigan five and a half yard line. With the extra time to decide, the Scarlet Knights elected to go for it. The fake jet sweep, QB bootleg was well covered so Art Sitkowski did what he could, tuck it and run. Unfortunately defensive tackle Aidan Hutchinson ended up in pursuit and delivered a heavy blow to Art to keep him about a yard short of the sticks for a turnover on downs.
Michigan moved the ball out of the shadow of their own goalposts, but flipped field position despite a short punt by their own star punter, Will Hart. Hart’s kick bounced just past midfield and Avery Young tried to field it on a bounce but got walloped immediately, lucky to not fumble. Rutgers committed two penalties to back themselves up yet again and punted on a 4th and 25.
This was the momentum Michigan needed and they moved the ball through the air effectively before scoring on a Shea Patterson scramble into plenty of open space for his second rushing touchdown where he was not touched. Bam, 21-0.
Rutgers moved the ball a bit on their next drive but was forced to punt after Sitkowski took a few vicious hits. The Wolverines did an excellent job to kill the clock and throw a few balls to the end zone, but settled for a Jake Moody field goal to make it 24-0 heading to intermission.
At the half, Michigan had 252 total yards including 183 through the air to just 74 total yards for Rutgers (58 on the arm of Sitkowski). Rutgers did not register a single passing yard in the second quarter. Michigan converted 15 first downs to just 5 for the Scarlet Knights. The Wolverines were 3-5 on 3rd down to just 2-6 for Rutgers.
The second half began as Tre Avery attempted to return the kickoff from his own four and was pummeled by about eight Wolverine defenders around the 14 yard line. The ball popped out and after review the ball was handed to the Wolverines at the Rutgers 15 yard line. Michigan scored three plays in and the score was now 31-0 less than a minute into the 3rd quarter.
Michigan wanted to impose their will in the run game in the second half after managing just 69 rush yards on 21 carries in the first half, but it was through the air that Michigan sent this game into maximum garbage time on their second drive and third drives of the second half to go up 38-0 with 2:35 left in the third quarter. As much as they tried, Michigan was unable to just bludgeon RU on the ground.
The only notable happening after that was Avery Young getting ejected for targeting when he should long have been replaced.
- This looked bad early on, like 60-0 bad as Michigan scored on their first two drives very easily. The Rutgers defense did begin to slow them a little bit and it became tougher as the half went on rather than the Rutgers defense wearing out. Then Rutgers had it together for a while before Michigan just poured it on in the second half as the RU offense just couldn’t do enough to score or run clock.
- I thought Rutgers had to go for it on 4th and 3 from the Michigan 5 as the second quarter began. Though the play did not work, I liked the playcall because the hope was that the jet sweep action would draw the defenders to the left while Art rolled to the right. Against a lesser defensive tackle, Art probably outruns or side steps enough to at least get the first down, he only needed another half a yard for that. Michigan on a long field then had to punt despite the momentum.
- The talent gap that some people harp on was surely apparent today. The biggest example was that Michigan could get a vicious pass rush with just four men against often six RU blockers. On the flip side, Michigan was getting Shea Patterson unlimited time against a four man rush forcing RU to bring five or six men which flushed Patterson out of the pocket at least.
- Despite the talent gap, Michigan was not blowing Rutgers off the ball with their offensive line in the run game. The Rutgers defensive line held their ground and allowed the linebackers to shoot gaps with more energy than they had since early in the Iowa game. The Michigan defensive line completely clogged the middle though and barely gave an inch to the Rutgers rushing attack.
- I cannot stand kickoff returns when you can automatically get the ball at the 25 if you get dropped inside your own 15 yard line. Then fumbling in a crowd of like a zillion defenders, who is blocking? If they can’t block just take the touchback.
- The Michigan backups played with reckless abandon. They were a lot more impressive than the starters, especially on defense.
Watchability score: 4 out of 10. Though Rutgers was losing big in the first half, there were some good plays on both sides of the ball. Yes, the bar is quite low for this Scarlet Knights squad, but if they could have simply avoided fumbling the second half kickoff, we may have gotten three quarters of watchable ball. Minus points for Michigan running the hurry up and wait offense, but the classic uniforms on a day that looked better on TV than it was at the stadium was fine.
The Michigan fans got loud on a 4th down and short for Rutgers at their own 41 despite a 31-0 score at that moment. At that point I still had this at a six but the second half Rutgers couldn’t even move the ball with its starters against the Michigan third stringers. Overall this was much less painful than what we have seen in recent years because Michigan wasn’t sloppy and played mostly clean, competent football.
Or maybe I’m just off the deep end. Or maybe I was half paying attention in the second half listening to the WRSU radio broadcast with the Wisconsin-Northwestern game on my television. Thank goodness the Jets have a bye this week.
Key stat(s): Shea Patterson, 17 of 23 for 276 yards. He only got one passing TD, but scored three more times with his legs. The inability to get any kind of pass rush gave him all day to pass and too much space to run. He entered the game completing just 55.6% of his passes this year, but much of his struggles were due to injury.
Additional Takeaway(s): Nice to see Rutgers get a turnover on a Damon Hayes interception. It was a third and four and Michigan struggled to run the ball all day so Rutgers was ready for a pass. Hayes simply outwilled Nico Collins for the ball.
This coaching staff was desperately trying to do damage control by keeping virtually all starters in the game into the 4th quarter, down 45-0. This got super dangerous as Avery Young was flagged for targeting call which I believe means he will now miss the first half of next week’s game.
B1G Boy Football: At this point, I don’t think Rutgers can do anything to “fix” their run game. Even Isaih Pacheco, who is a borderline tank, straight into the line was losing yards. So then the opponent doesn’t respect the dive play at all and commits resources everywhere else to slow down other plays. This was killer on those fourth down attempts where Rutgers was forced to throw short and hope for broken tackles. And as per usual when you can’t wear down the other team at all by sustaining drives, it’s hard to drive them back.
The only hope for the Rutgers offense is to improve their passing attack and then execute run plays to catch the defense off guard. I don’t think Rutgers lacks offensive line talent to the point that the future is terrible, but they need time to grow into players. With a lost season a year ago, basically everyone is a year behind where they should be. I’ve always said a good quarterback can help control pressure, but even Tom Brady would have had trouble in this one.
Next up: Rutgers hosts a Maryland team that got waxed at home against Penn State Friday night 59-0. It will be interesting to see which team shows up ready to play, if either can show some resiliency.
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