If you don’t count Ohio State or Michigan State or Notre Dame, Jim Harbaugh is now 4-0 in rivalry games at Michigan.
This past Saturday was his fourth win in as many tries over the hated Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
The Wolverines left New Jersey as 42-7 victors, making them 9-1 on the season and 7-0 in conference play. With just one tuneup before The Game remaining, Michigan has maintained a dominating stride and they appear incapable of slowing down.
The Wolverines went through the motions against Rutgers, which explains why they only won by 35 points. At this point, the goal is to stay healthy and win the surest way possible, and they accomplished that on Saturday.
Admittedly, I succumbed to a Benadryl-induced haze while watching the game on Monday, but you can’t expect me to have much to say about a game against Rutgers.
Michigan looked good. Rutgers looked bad. How many different paragraphs can I stuff those two facts into?
When Michigan Was On Offense
The running game for Michigan — both offensively and defensively — is why I say they were going through the motions.
They rushed for 193 yards on 40 attempts (4.8 ypc), with 61 of those yards coming on a Chris Evans touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Evans rushed for 75 yards on six carries. Third-string running back Tru Wilson was playing in the first quarter — which was another indicator of how much this game mattered — and finished with 58 yards on eight carries.
It was a rough day for Karan Higdon, who rushed for 42 yards on 15 attempts. He did score twice, however, which had to anger touchdown vulture Ben Mason.
After averaging over nine rush attempts per game in his previous three games, quarterback Shea Patterson didn’t run the ball once against Rutgers. This was further evidence that Michigan had no desire to put players in situations to get hurt. Sure, football injuries happen all the time, but there are ways to decrease the potential of those injuries, and they did that with Patterson.
Patterson had a very good day throwing the ball, completing 18-of-27 pass attempts for 260 yards and three touchdowns. Right now, the game seems very easy to him.
Of course, the Rutgers defense is where offenses go to feel good about themselves.
Tarik Black got the start, but didn’t catch a pass. You may expect the first part of that to continue for the rest of the season, but not the second part. He is going to have an impact on Michigan’s season yet, just wait.
Donovan Peoples-Jones led the Wolverines with five catches for 83 yards. Nico Collins caught three passes, and two of them went for touchdowns. Oliver Martin is also getting more involved, which has been a long time coming, as he was in the same recruiting class with DPJ, Black, and Collins.
Gone are the days when the box score was littered with throws to the tight end because that’s what this offense was. It may still happen down the road, but there are now proven options at receiver for Patterson to rely upon. He just also happens to have some talented tight ends as well. In fact, three of them started on Saturday.
The Michigan offense hasn’t been spectacular, but it has been just good enough to maintain a level of confidence that borders on arrogance.
When Michigan Was On Defense
For the first time since Michigan’s season-opening loss to Notre Dame, the Wolverines didn’t outrush their opponent. They rushed for the same 193 yards that they allowed.
The 193 yards is the most that Michigan has allowed since allowing 226 yards in last year’s 31-20 loss at home to Ohio State. The Buckeyes have set the Wolverines’ season-high in rushing yards allowed in four of the last six seasons. If they make it five of seven, then I like OSU’s chances of upsetting Michigan this year.
Rutgers averaged 5.8 yards per carry, thanks in large part to an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter by tailback Isaih Pacheco. Pacheco rushed for 142 yards on 16 carries, and in so doing he proved that anybody can run against this defense.
Or maybe he just got lucky.
I did like how Rutgers employed motions in their run game, which is what sprung Pacheco for his touchdown. With a receiver motioning behind the play prior to the snap, he drew in three defenders while Pacheco took the hand-off and slowly went 80 yards in about 19 seconds.
It wasn’t quite the opening scene to There Will Be Blood, but it was up there.
Rutgers also had some success with the wildcat, if my Benadryl did not deceive me.
But again, I will chalk up any rushing success to Michigan’s lack of need to be ramped up for this game. There are more pressing things to come. The horizon is almost here, so the journey begins to lose its importance.
Freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski completed 8-of-19 passes for 40 yards with an interception. It was the fifth time this season as a starting quarterback that he failed to throw for at least 50 yards in a game.
The Michigan defense played a lot of people on Saturday. Starting safety Josh Metellus was held out due to injury, so he was replaced by Brad Hawkins. Hawkins was also involved in that 80-yard run, by the way.
The 80-yard run was Rutgers’ only drive of at least 40 yards on the day.
Michigan’s defense was a schoolyard bully who accidentally let a kid get a good shot in on him, so as retribution the Wolverine defense gave Rutgers a swirlie in every downstairs bathroom at school.
The Michigan Special Teams
Linebacker Khaleke Hudson almost blocked a punt, which is about the only exciting thing that happened for either special teams unit on the day.
Not everybody can put on a punting exhibition like Ohio State did on Saturday, you know.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan didn’t need to travel with its ‘A’ game to win comfortably at Rutgers, and this edition of Michigan Monday is a reflection of that. Neither one of us brought our ‘A’ game because it wasn’t needed. We are both saving it up for next week.
I think this week’s Michigan Monday was pretty unnecessary, and it probably showed. It’s like trying to tell somebody about your side salad while they can see their steak being brought out of the kitchen.
“Are you even listening to me? I said this lettuce pairs very nicely with the French dressing I brought from home because I knew this Frisch’s wouldn’t have it.”
Nobody cares about a Rutgers side salad.
But much more importantly, it also means that we are just six days away from the best week of the year.
Once Ohio State finishes with Maryland and Michigan is done with Indiana, it is Game Week.
And may God have mercy on our souls.
The Road To The Game
Sept 1 – at Notre Dame 17-24 (0-1)
Sept 8 – Western Michigan 49-3 (1-1)
Sept 15 – SMU 45-20 (2-1)
Sept 22 – Nebraska 56-10 (3-1, 1-0)
Sept 29 – at Northwestern 20-17 (4-1, 2-0)
Oct 6 – Maryland 42-21 (5-1, 3-0)
Oct 13 – Wisconsin 38-14 (6-1, 4-0)
Oct 20 – at Michigan State 21-7 (7-1, 5-0)
Nov 3 – Penn State 42-7 (8-1, 6-0)
Nov 10 – at Rutgers* 42-7 (9-1, 7-0)
Nov 17 – Indiana
Nov 24 – at Ohio State
* Denotes rivalry game