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Rutgers Football Film Study: Can they play with B1G Heavyweights?

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The time is now in the trenches if the performance against Michigan was legit. Can they repeat strong line play against Ohio State?

Rutgers v Michigan
Vedral played super tough on inside runs.
Photo by Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

This football season, time permitting, I get to humor the Rutgers fan base (and myself personally) with a weekly film analysis. Last week, the Delaware win was covered here.

Live takeaways

More than probably any other Rutgers game I ever watched in my lifetime, it was almost impossible to know what was actually happening in real-time other than high-level observations: 1. Rutgers played with more heart as a team. 2, Michigan’s defense held in a way very few other teams can when on the field so much. 3. Regardless of the end game outcome, there is real hope for Rutgers to beat a top-25 team for the first time in a decade this season and at some point in the intermediate future beat a real conference title contender. The real question became, how close are they really? How long is this intermediate timeline or competitive window in length?

Below are some thoughts on the fun, insightful re-watch.

What happened last week.

Against Delaware, Rutgers flashed the elements we hadn’t seen all year including a vertical passing game so coming into the game at Michigan we did our best to guess what would work against the Wolverines. It will be curious to see what works against Ohio State, too.

2nd and 3, ball on the Michigan 33, 14:18 left First Quarter, game tied, 0-0.

The first play to set the tone of the game came on a 2nd down and 3 when Michigan gave Rutgers a dose of their own medicine right off the bat with an unbalanced line. (Rutgers would return the favor later). The Wolverines have their left tackle eligible (this “looks” like an illegal formation to me because their left guard should probably even be the 7th man on the end) meaning the inside tight end at the top of the line is just a blocker. They have a slight numbers advantage if they decide to run to their top right, since Rutgers is in a conservative cover 2 man under look with both safeties giving ground (yellow boxes). Rutgers is in a very symmetric look with tight but not jamming coverage at the top of the screen (green line) and basically a 5-2 alignment where the strong-side linebacker and weak-side defensive end (teal arrows) have outside containment assignments.

Michigan sends the bottom side receiver in motion which will cause cornerback Tre Avery (red box) to move with him. Normally motion attempts to tip the quarterback off as to whether the defense is in man or zone, but in this case what they are trying to do is pull the weak side linebacker (yellow arrow) and possibly middle linebacker (green arrow) away from where this play will eventually go.

Unbalanced line, H-back motion.

This now attempts to have Avery (red box) man to man in coverage with the eligible left tackle so he and CJ Onyechi are both in outside contain at the bottom of the screen. Michigan gets exactly what they want; to get a quick hitting run inside to gain the first down, not expecting a home run whatsoever.

Rutgers does not over-pursue the motion man, but Avery (red box) has followed him farther than Michigan may have expected. The edges (teal arrows) remain sealed to avoid that outside run that gashed Rutgers so many times in the past. Julius Turner (very hard to see) does an awesome job of “fighting pressure” as he is double teamed by the center and guard. By tying up the center from getting to the linebacker, Olakunle Fatukasi (yellow arrow) is free to try and make the tackle. Also doing a great job is Mike Tverdov (also hard to see) because he also is engaged with the right tackle but stays engaged with the ineligible tight end long enough that Tyshon Fogg (green arrow) is still clean himself if the play follows #86. The safety (yellow box) crashes down hard which is critical to stop the play before the runner gets into space.

Ultimately the runner (blue arrow) does find a tiny crease between center and guard, but is first slowed by Mayan Ahanotu (red arrow) who knocks his man backward into the running back. Then Fatukasi (yellow arrow) and the safety (yellow box) are right there for a big hit, with Fogg (green arrow) also still free to assist if required. The running back absorbs a blow yet does fall forward to get the necessary yardage and move the chains, but this was not an easy conversion. Michigan did get some push on the line of maybe a yard and a half at best (the black line of scrimmage is still visible) which was worth watching the rest of the way. Throughout this film review we will come back time and again to see who was pushing who at the point of attack. This is old school Big Ten man on man football and early in the game, Michigan was trying to see how much they could push the pile.

I will add that Rutgers struggled in the 2nd half against Delaware against the run, but I believed at the time (Ask Aaron if you don’t believe me) it was because they played more odd (3-4) fronts than they usually do. It turns out they were probably planning to use this against Michigan and trying to work out the kinks.

3rd and 1, ball on the Rutgers 42, 12:24 left First Quarter, game tied, 0-0.

Michigan ran the same concept on a critical 3rd and 1 without the unbalanced line and Rutgers was ready for it. The reason they get the conversion is because Mayan Ahanotu (yellow arrow) does not plug the hole as well as he did on the previous play. This was a sign of what I saw too much of in the first half from a number of defensive linemen in standing up too much, not getting low enough. We used to say “low man wins” and Michigan’s offensive line despite being tall did a good job getting down and maintaining leverage.

The edge is set well again by Onyechi (teal arrow), which prevents that outside run and a big hit (red arrow) at the line to gain is ruled forward progress (I didn’t realize how questionable this was at the time). Also note that two offensive linemen aren’t really blocking anyone (green arrows). When you re-watch this game and watch any other game afterward always look for two things 1. What offensive linemen are not engaged with anyone at the end of the play and 2. What defensive linemen are standing straight up and not in the pile.

3rd and 8, ball on the Rutgers 39, 11:14 left First Quarter, game tied, 0-0.

Rutgers did not let the questionable spot get them down and put the Wolverines in a 3rd and long on the next sequence. Michigan’s coaches schemed very well for this situation because Rutgers always has their linemen and linebackers adjust to the “strength” of the offense. I have covered how the defense decides which is the strong-side previously, but to oversimplify; if the other team switches which side they have more players on (usually by motion), the defenders have to make a decision to either stick to their assignments OR possibly alter their gap and coverage assignments. Michigan also studied film well enough to know that Rutgers likes to put all six of their linemen and linebackers at the line of scrimmage in “obvious passing downs” so the line will not know who is blitzing.

Michigan’s quarterback may have been able to audible this play, but once the motion man (red arrow) comes toward the bottom of the screen the Rutgers safeties (teal boxes) switch assignments, you can see their momentum (teal arrows) indicating they are changing who is in a deep cover 1. This means that the slot corner (long green arrow) is definitely in man to man on the slot receiver and the two outside men (short green arrows) are also locked up.

After this happens with 13 seconds on the play clock, Michigan looks to the sidelines to see if they should adjust. (Note that by getting lined up so quick, this hurry up and wait offense can work). Rutgers runs around a bit after Michigan resets to make it “look” like they have changed their assignments, but being all back in the same spots roughly Michigan knew they had what they wanted. They motion the tight end back to the top of the formation which freezes both Rutgers safeties. So Michigan has six people blocking six and trust their line to hold up by funneling the Rutgers defenders in the direction of their stunts and twists, then rely on the running back to find a hole and hit it fast.

Running full speed (blue arrow), Blake Corum is able to shake a tackle from Mo Toure and then drag a second defender (Fatukasi) five yards to achieve the first down. The safeties were too deep and unable to help, they are each 8 yards behind the yellow line to gain. This would prove the biggest difference in the second half as Rutgers only played conservative with its safeties on 3rd and long. Otherwise it was cover 1, man under with an extra man in the box.

Michigan would hit a slant route against Kessawn Abraham with the safeties playing back then also convert a key 3rd and inches inside the five yard line thanks to a good block by their center, en route to their first touchdown. They used up more than half of the first quarter with the drive. Michigan 7, Rutgers 0.

Rutgers made a big sideline back shoulder throw to Aron Cruickshank to get across midfield and then was getting push in the run game. Note the image below where four Rutgers linemen (green arrows) have driven their men back at least three yards each. And that quarterback Noah Vedral (red arrow) had he kept the ball had all kinds of daylight, too. Isaih Pacheco (blue arrow) only gains two yards dragging two defenders, but that was enough to move the sticks.

4th and 3, ball on the Michigan 32, 3:00 left First Quarter, Michigan leads 7-0.

This is the first indication Rutgers was playing to win and not just keep the game close. After the previous play where Isaih Pacheco gets caught on the perimeter, on 4th down Rutgers has Noah Vedral (green arrow) motion to the top of the screen, occupying too many defenders. Michigan is not ready for Johnny Langan (red box) to switch from tight end to quarterback. Rutgers holds their blocks long enough and you know Langan can drag one guy three yards for a first down. Also note Kyle Monangai (yellow arrow), the vertically challenged running back is tasked with blocking 6’6” All-American Aidan Hutchinson and comes through.

This is a reminder of how effective Langan can be when the defense can’t just add all their extra linemen in a tight space. In fact, if the linebacker did not read this perfectly OR have the strength to hold on for dear life, Langan would have been gone for a touchdown. I think this may have scared Michigan enough that later in the game they always kept a safety back, which allowed more of the outside runs to work. Except of course when Langan telegraphed runs without perimeter options.

The drive stalled after a Vedral inside run on 3rd and 6, but Rutgers got a field goal and most importantly, the Scarlet defense much needed rest. Michigan 7, Rutgers 3.

1st and 10, ball on the Michigan 28, 1:01 left First Quarter, Michigan leads 7-3.

Michigan stacks two tight ends and a miscommunication between Kessawn Abraham and Olakunle Fatukasi has them both break (yellow arrows) toward the outside receiver leaving the seam wide open. Safety Avery Young (off screen) makes a good tackle with Abraham in pursuit after quickly chasing from behind at full speed to make the stop at the RU 47 yard line. It’s impossible to tell who made the wrong decision with whom to cover OR if they were expecting safety help, but for the most part Rutgers has been good despite missing key cornerbacks early in the year. Michigan didn’t even know who would be playing key cornerback snaps and the whole Big Ten knows Rutgers favors their run stopping linebackers on early downs, so this was a good play to call on 1st down expecting man coverage against the stacking concept. Even if it didn’t go for a big play, the Wolverines probably assumed they could get a few yards with Fatukasi covering one of their elite athletes at the skill positions. Any opponent in the Big Ten should be able to exploit this and if that team is Ohio State, it might go the distance.

2nd and 7, ball on the Rutgers 45, 15:00 left Second Quarter, Michigan leads 7-3.

Michigan to start the second quarter goes back to the air again with stacked receivers. With the Rutgers linebackers sucked in on play action an inside breaking crossing route is wide open. Rutgers has Patrice Rene (not even pictured) playing it very safe on the outside in his first game of the season and the safeties giving a ton of cushion as they did in earlier screenshots. Ohio State runs this concept a lot, sometimes even farther downfield, so Rutgers will need to play tighter coverage and hope they can hold up.

Michigan QB Cade McNamara misfired on this same exact route concept on a key 4th quarter play though. Was it because Rutgers played tighter coverage? Was it because of the hit he took from Julius Turner? Could be any of the above, but for sure McNamara was completing passes in the first half when he had good protection and his receivers had tons of space around them. Michigan was down to the 3 yard line after Christian Izien was called for a horse collar tackle at the end of this play.

Michigan scored a touchdown on the following play when Rutgers slanted the defensive line to the left and the Wolverines ran the opposite way. Christian Izien was the only man who could have made a tackle at the one yard line, but he lacks the size to halt a Michigan running back in his tracks. Michigan 14, Rutgers 3.

4th and 1, ball on the Michigan 31, 11:21 left Second Quarter, Michigan leads 14-3.

Thanks to some good running by Isaih Pacheco, a late hit on Michigan, and some excellent push up front, Rutgers got the ball into Michigan territory again. I loved this 4th down play call even though it failed because as I mentioned in the Syracuse film review, Rutgers is getting enough push up front to just sneak the ball less than a yard when they need it. The play failed because Pacheco (he was a high school quarterback) struggled to handle the snap, which is to be expected when you don’t practice it a lot. The added wrinkle is that quarterback Noah Vedral was pretending he didn’t know the play and sells it well enough to slow the linebackers down.

If Pacheco handles the snap cleanly, he just follows Troy Rainey and Nick Krimin (yellow) arrow for the less than one yard he needs. Instead when he picks up the ball he tries to go outside right (red arrow) which Michigan has since closed down by submarining at the line of scrimmage. Oddly enough, if Pacheco happened to go left, he would have had a touchdown (green arrow) as you can see Raiqwon O’Neal seal the edge since no one had outside contain.

Sure, maybe Rutgers didn’t need the gimmick, but I want to see more of this run up to the line and fall forward type of short yardage play. Tom Brady does it and he was never quick to begin with, playing at Michigan before any of these current players were born.

1st and 10, ball on the Rutgers 40, 6:07 left Second Quarter, Michigan leads 14-3.

After the teams exchanged punts, Michigan has great field position and throws again on 1st down. Rutgers only rushes four and McNamara has time to find a receiver wide open (green box) in space to get Michigan into field goal range. In the second half, Rutgers did get pressure with four on early downs and three in 3rd and longs which they need to do against top Big Ten teams.

The Rutgers defense dug in on the next sequence and with a delayed blitz forced McNamara to uncomfortably (yet accurately) throw a fade route that Tre Avery was able to break up on a 3rd down. Michigan settled for a field goal and a 17-3 lead.

3rd and 2, ball on the Rutgers 32, 2:39 left Second Quarter, Michigan leads 17-3.

I want to highlight this play because it had Michigan out of sorts and they didn’t show a replay at the time. I would have sworn this was a legal formation, but it becomes obvious that it’s not because the right tackle split way out is more than a half yard behind the spot of the ball (red arrow).

This spooked Michigan enough that after Vedral’s run to get the first down was negated by the illegal formation penalty, the Wolverines safeties were way too far back on the next play. Vedral does a virtuoso job avoiding the free rusher (teal arrow) and hit Aron Cruickshank who has enough space to get a head of steam and achieve first down yardage.

Cruickshank then carries a defender 4 yards to leave no doubt Rutgers would get another set of downs. Had Rutgers scored on this drive and won the game, this may have been the play of the game. Instead the drive stalled after the 4th down decision that was discussed at nauseum.

Vedral (green box) had good protection but the ball was not perfectly thrown and the defensive back (teal box) made a great play on the ball, the type of play Michigan did not make a year ago at Rutgers. To beat good teams, you have to make some of these contested plays, especially when your best receiver is involved.

I didn’t love the decision to go for it at the time because of how Gleeson himself seemed a little surprised. If Schiano planned to do this all along, 3rd down play calling could have been different, but I understood the logic and am fine with it because it showed me the same thing we saw against Indiana last year, Rutgers would play TO WIN. Now this play MAY have cost the game based on how decisions were made later OR it may have been the reason Michigan basically just hid in their shell in the 2nd half following their late field goal to make it 20-3 at half.

The coverage wasn’t awful, but an accurate ball to an open receiver (teal box) goes for a big gain to get Michigan in field goal range. This is also the play where Julius Turner (green box) in my eyes did NOT commit a targeting penalty and should not have been ejected, but hit McNamara hard enough that maybe he was shaken the rest of the game. This was not the first hit McNamara ever took in his life, but it seemed to affect both him and Michigan’s offense significantly afterward.

After a stuff on 1st down where the entire Rutgers team rallied to the ball, Michigan used Scarlet aggressiveness against them and had a wide open tight end (teal box) that would have gotten them all the momentum right before half. McNamara is not even pressured and his receiver is five yards away from any defender, but the ball wasn’t thrown well nor did the receiver make a good play and it fell harmlessly incomplete.

Even when you love contact, it’s human nature to take it easy initially before you get your first big pop in practice or a game. If you have never played football, think about when you were a kid and you are all comfy and dry walking by wet grass or even mud. You try to stay clean and dry as long as you can, but once you get a little damp or muddy, you have a choice to make. A few kids might head inside for a change of clothes, but most kids just embrace the conditions, thinking they might as well just have fun since it’s only a little mud.

This was the first time Michigan was figuratively (NOT literally to my eye) hit in the mouth all season and their offense simply fell apart afterward. Lucky for Wolverine fans though, their defense in the second half showed they could take a punch. When most defenses run out of gas having been on the field so much, the Wolverines tightened up when it mattered, but not without taking Rutgers’s best shots in the second half.

Rutgers got the ball to start the second half and despite facing a 3rd and 15, had a screen set up that Isaih Pacheco had in his hands, but dropped. You would have thought this screen was a give up, but the safety (teal box) gets completely caught upfield and Rutgers has a blocker (green arrow) to handle the second safety. Two linemen (red arrows) if Pacheco reads them right could get on their men while offscreen two other receivers had angles on their men (yellow arrows).

The Michigan staff saw the same thing I saw because after this they were spooked even worse than I mentioned earlier, and played a mostly conservative cover two without crashing down safeties until Rutgers was in the red zone. If Ohio State or any other defenses play aggressively, this play could go for big yards.

Rutgers was then hosed by the referee confusion on the ensuing punt. Let me re-iterate that the refs did not lose this game for the Knights, but they set up a hurdle RU had to overcome. Adam Korsak hit a booming punt, outkicking his coverage for the first time in a while. There was 1.5 seconds before the screenshot below it appeared from one angle that Shameen Jones (green arrow) may have been blocked in the back so one official threw a flag. Another official threw a flag for a blatantly obvious block in the back on what appeared to be Jamier Wright-Collins (red box). Then after discussing, a third official ruled Jones could not have been blocked in the back if he recovered to pursue like this, and he was right. But lost in the shuffle was the actual block in the back the second official saw as all flags were picked up.

So Michigan had the ball up 20-3 at the Rutgers 40, but on 3rd and 12 they just ran the ball into the line and punted. They basically surrender punted from a 3rd and long. The team that was winning 20-3, yes that team at home was willing to not even try to get points. Looking ahead, Ohio State could run the ball on 3rd and long since they have the horses to convert but I highly doubt they will just give up on a drive like this.

Rutgers just killed Michigan on the ensuing drive with unbalanced lines on almost every 1st down play, getting into 3rd and manageable, which they converted three times in a row. One from Pacheco, one from the Langan package with Vedral on the sideline, and one from Kyle Monangai after the lines played to a stalemate. Monangai just got around the outside and delivered a blow. Monangai showed signs of this against Temple and Syracuse, but I was pleasantly surprised he had the same success against the Wolverines.

1st and 10, ball on Michigan 14, 6:34 left Third Quarter, Michigan leads 20-3.

After Michigan started reeling and surrendered a 10 yard catch by Isaiah Washington then a reception by Avery Young, they were flagged for a roughing the passer that looked more like targeting than what Turner was ejected for. In my opinion a roughing the passer call was justified in the modern day, but I agree that no one should have been tossed from the game for it. Of course it did seem like a double standard.

Rutgers was focused though, and did not whine yet again. Instead the penalty call gave the Scarlet Knights time to regroup and build on exactly what they did on the previous two plays. The following was a thing of beauty that I let out a loud yell in my apartment as a result of, more audible than any sports related play since the Melton TD run against Maryland last year.

Since Rutgers had been in so many unbalanced lines, Michigan is a little confused as to whether tight end Matt Alaimo will be the eligible receiver on the end of the line. This causes just a half second delay so the cornerback (green arrow) goes sprinting about a half step behind the man he is covering, Brandon Sanders (green box). The top side corner (red arrow) having been burned by Washington two plays earlier is laser focused, also because the slot corner (teal box) is blitzing (teal arrow) and Vedral might need to throw a hot route. The bottom side linebacker and safety are wary of Aaron Young (yellow arrow) coming out of the backfield to the bottom of the screen as he did on the previous play. The middle linebacker (yellow box) has to play the run if Vedral keeps it.

With the corner blitz, the free safety (pink arrow) must come up to take the slot receiver who has been vacated. The slot corner himself (teal box) bites on the fake jet sweep to Sanders (green box) and crashes down on him leaving #4 (green arrow) who was covering Sanders unsure of who to take. Even though the outside linebacker is setting the edge and engaged with Alaimo, the outside corner (plum box) stays home and does not cover anybody.

After the slot corner (green arrow) goes back to Sanders, this temporary confusion allows Young (yellow arrow) to sneak behind #41 (yellow box) for an easy touchdown since the safety (pink arrow) cannot cover two men. Note Vedral demonstrates good pocket presence to evade the blitzer (teal box) as this is a long developing play which gives him time to come back after the QB. Vedral can step up because the rest of the line holds up extremely well, including Troy Rainey who is on an island.

This works so effectively because two of the elements were successful on the previous two plays. It shows that success builds on smaller successes which you have to do to beat good defenses. Michigan has excellent size and speed but it’s totally logical how this can happen, especially on a long drive. Michigan 20, Rutgers 10.

The highlight one more time:

3rd and 1, ball on Michigan 43, 5:12 left Third Quarter, Michigan leads 20-10.

So like that, Rutgers is in double digits, blowout watch seems to be evaporated and now let’s see how Michigan responds. They have all eleven men in the box on a 3rd and 1 and safety Avery Young (yellow arrow) crashes down with reckless abandon to make the play in traffic and force a punt. Great seal on the backside by Aaron Lewis and Tre Avery (green arrows) who Michigan left unblocked. Despite the numbers advantage in the middle, Michigan did not push Rutgers backward like we saw from Rutgers teams last year against Nebraska and yes, this same Michigan team. The key play was #88 Ifeanyi Maijeh (hard to see) next to Young, who fights pressure and holds his ground, not allowing a hole to open up. The runner cuts back inside away from Young and is pummeled by Fatukasi and a host of others.

On 4th and 1 Michigan wanted to draw Rutgers offsides but McNamara and the whole offense looked discombobulated. They took a delay of game and then just punted.

3rd and 1, ball on Michigan 45, 1:35 left Third Quarter, Michigan leads 20-10.

On a key 3rd down, Michigan simply over-pursues the outside an aborted option handoff to Pacheco and Vedral is left an obvious crease (blue arrow) to move the chains between a puling Troy Rainey and left tackle Raiqwon O’Neal (green arrows). Hollin Pierce (yellow arrow) has his hands full with the All-American Hutchinson, but his pure strength and long arms neutralize the defender though the refs could have been liberal with the laundry and flagged him for his hands being outside. Now Rutgers is at least playing Michigan to a stalemate at this point on both sides of the ball. The Wolverine D who has been on the field for about 12 minutes in the quarter thus far is also getting tired.

On the very next play, Vedral is feeling it with his arm (remember how I mentioned in a previous analysis he can get hot throwing after a good run?). Noah hits Shameen Jones (blue arrow) in an NFL sized tiny window to move the chains again. The ball probably should have gone to Aron Cruickshank (green arrow) but when you get rid of the ball quickly and confidently, the defense cannot react to throws like this. Vedral at his best hits these throws. Other times, he doesn’t even attempt them. If the offensive line can protect this well (they drove Michigan back on this play significantly), the good version of Vedral will lead scoring drives against Big Ten competition.

The drive stalled at the 7 yard line after Michigan was able to bear down on 1st and 2nd down to start the 4th quarter then a clear holding penalty where Aron Cruickshank’s jersey was obviously held set up a field goal. Michigan 20-13.

3rd and 10, ball on Michigan 21, 13:55 left Fourth Quarter, Michigan leads 20-13.

McNamara faces some pressure as Rutgers gets to him with just three against six blockers allowing all four receiving targets to be covered tightly (green arrows), plus spies (teal arrows) to take the check down or QB scramble. Two deep safeties are off screen just in case. McNamara scrambles but is nowhere near the line to gain. The fans in the stadium and some Michigan fan friends who were texting me were really panicking now because Rutgers just wanted it more.

3rd and 9, ball on Michigan 11, 9:53 left Fourth Quarter, Michigan leads 20-13.

On the next Rutgers drive, a 26 yard run by Pacheco, then 9 from Vedral, and about 7 more from Pacheco had Rutgers shredding the Wolverines again, almost all of which coming with an unbalanced line. A 20 yard run by Pacheco got RU to the 11 but the condensed field in the red zone and a false start got them to a 3rd and 9. Rutgers had to use their second timeout, the first was in the exact same area of the field on the previous possession.

I was so irritated coming out of the timeout. Rutgers fails on a fade route to Isaiah Washington (red arrow) into double coverage (hey, at least it was a taller receiver) out of a max protection. This was the worst play call of the game by far.

The offensive line yet again holds up incredibly well even with Michigan rushing six. Gleeson completely outsmarted the Wolverines by doing the extra protection, but a fade route?

Ok let’s say you want to throw the fade as a 1st option, but then you see this alignment. The defense is gassed, you have a mobile QB, and the line is protecting well, maybe even have Vedral roll right (green arrow)? Then maybe he can even run it, look at all that space. Even if he can’t run it in for a TD, some backyard football and Cruickshank or Melton can shake free from their men (yellow arrows)?

Of course Rutgers barely misses a chip shot 29 yard field goal rather than going for it on 4th. Some people criticized Schiano for assuming the 3 points and trying the kick which still would have left them down 4, but I was ok with the decision to kick because there was a lot of time left and RU had the momentum along with a rested defense. It’s true those kicks are a lot more sure in the NFL, but Ambrosio has been very reliable and already hit two short field goals in this game. If you hit that field goal the stadium goes near silent, then a touchdown without needing a two-point conversion wins the game and Michigan is still probably playing it conservative with the lead on offense. Rutgers got the ball two more times, so Schiano did calculate the timing correctly. Of course they did lose the game, so second guessing is logical.

Rutgers forced another three and out right away as Michigan had not gotten a 1st down in the second half by this point. The Knights cruised to the Michigan 38 again for a 3rd and 1, but were stuffed on an amazing individual effort to stop Pacheco short when Isaih probably should have ran straight ahead and tried to push the pile, a rare error in a brilliant game from him otherwise. Against a team without a 4-star linebacker he probably gets 10 yards.

Then the 4th and 2 play had the stadium going bonkers and Michigan sent in their goal line defense into the game. Everybody keyed on a telegraphed Johnny Langan carry. The line held up decently well, but this play was going nowhere. Langan was initially hit 4 yards short of the first down line to gain and somehow managed to carry two defenders to be just a yard short of the sticks, but come on. This will not work against the elite of the Big Ten, probably not even the bottom of the pack Big Ten defenses. Second worst play call of the game.

Michigan rode the momentum and a lucky facemask call into field goal range, but missed a 47 yard field goal attempt of their own. Vedral missed an open Melton on first down, then fumbled on 2nd to effectively end the game. It was shame since the offense played so well.

Final score: Michigan 20, Rutgers 13.

Unsung Heroes

  1. Troy Rainey. Before his false start that killed momentum on a drive Rutgers was rolling downfield, he was probably the player of the game. Unbelievable performance for his first career start.
  2. Isaih Pacheco. Michigan has one of the best rushing defenses in the country. Pacheco carried 20 times for 107 yards showing why he has been the starter for three years at running back. If he plays like this, Rutgers can go a long way.
  3. Ifeanyi Maijeh / Jamree Kromah. After Turner was out, Maijeh stepped in to play more snaps and at times looked like an emotional leader as well. Kromah did not look ready to me to play in the Big Ten earlier in the year, but playing in the center of the defense he held his ground to be a key contributor in the second half.

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: Rutgers put themselves in position to win a game, having the ball on three drives down by 7 and that’s all you can ask for on the road against a ranked opponent at this stage of the rebuild.

Reasons for pessimism: 1. If Michigan could complete balls to open receivers with minimal pressure late in the 1st half and entirety of the second, that may have been a blowout. 2. Is Michigan actually good? 3. So many unorthodox plays had to be used, what’s left in the bag? 4. The defensive line was not getting low enough early in the game, but the linebackers bailed them out a ton. 5. Will Aron Cruickshank really get many more kick return opportunities this year? 6. Normally a loss gets a 6th reason for pessimism, but not this one.

Reasons for optimism: 1. On the road in the Big House with freshmen at two offensive line positions and you lose by one score. 2. Michigan could not even get a first down for the first ~25 minutes of the second half and Julius Turner was ejected in the first half? The defensive line got low and won their assignments in the 2nd stanza. 3. That wasn’t even a moral victory, because it could easily have been an actual victory. 4. The refs didn’t lose this game, but at least four different times after questionable calls that went against Rutgers, the Knights dug in and made the best of their situation. 5. If Vedral hits Melton on the 1st down throw on the final drive, with Michigan’s defense is gassed, would we have seen THE drive of the last generation for Rutgers Football?

Initial thoughts on Ohio State: Excuse me, “The” Ohio State. The Buckeyes already had their wake-up call against Oregon. Other than the fact that they have the talent edge overall, their wide receivers can catch and run the length of the field every time they touch the ball. Rutgers was able to make downfield tackles on Wolverine receivers but OSU is a different animal entirely. The Ducks already showed the recipe to beat the Buckeyes, but will those vulnerabilities (pass blocking, DB tackling, etc.) still exist this weekend? Rutgers will need to out-coach their opponent and get pressure with four so they can play seven in coverage or this will be a blowout.

Final thoughts

If you told me Rutgers would even be in that game after it was 14-3, I would have not believed you. The fact that Rutgers came back from a 20-3 deficit and pitched a shutout in the 2nd half is one of the top defensive performances of my lifetime. That along with the offense moving the ball with old fashioned man on man blocking mixed with opportunistic throws is a recipe to put themselves in position to win games.

That said, I also cautioned all of you and myself not to put too much stock into one game, win, lose close, or lose big. For reference, Purdue went 6-7 in 2012, but it took a touchdown with three seconds left from Ohio State in Columbus to send their game into overtime, which the Buckeyes ultimately won en route to a 12-0 regular season. The next year, Ohio State smoked the Boilermakers 56-0, so it’s important for Rutgers to capitalize opportunities against Top-25 teams when they present themselves. Amazingly in 2018, Purdue again went 6-7 but handed Ohio State (13-1) their only loss in spectacular fashion, 49-20. A middle of the pack Big Ten team can catch a juggernaut by surprise if they play all out and don’t stay too conservative.

Do I think Rutgers is even a middle of the pack Big Ten team? I’m not sure but it seems possible. On the offensive and defensive lines, Michigan is an elite Big Ten team along with Ohio State, Iowa, and probably Wisconsin, but it was obvious that if their offense couldn’t move the ball, Rutgers had enough avoid just getting worn down even without Turner. Iowa and Wisconsin have shown the same chinks in the armor with their QB play. This shift was also due to the fact that the RU offense was moving the ball and even a defense as good as Michigan will wear out in today’s college football world. So I think Rutgers has enough if things go right to be passable in the trenches, but they won’t win games with elite OL/DL play and it will take an even better effort from the offensive skill positions to pull a major upset.

Will I still stick to my prediction that there is no way Rutgers beats OSU until at least 2030? Let’s say I am a lot more confident it will happen in this decade, but it still probably won’t be this year. Purdue LOST to Rutgers in 2017 then beat Ohio State in 2018, so it’s worth tuning in. There is legitimate evidence as to why you just might see something special and that’s all we can ask for, hope. If not, turn the page and face another top-25 team the following week with third chance to make some noise and get a step closer to bowl eligibility.