[Sorry for the late publishing of this. Road games on Saturday followed by basketball games on Monday have made the hours scarce, even with falling back.]
Michigan went into Rutgers Saturday night and did what most people do when they visit New Jersey — they got roughed up early and then they ran away at the end.
Except Michigan ran away by outscoring Rutgers 38-0 in the second half.
The Wolverines trailed 17-14 at the half, but by looking at the box score after 30 minutes there should have been no reason the Scarlet Knights were actually in the game, let alone leading it.
Those facts were finally put into evidence in the second half and Michigan put the kind of hurt on Rutgers that usually comes with some kind of warning about not “making us come back here again.”
The Wolverines won 52-17, and in doing so they rushed for almost as many yards per carry as the Buckeyes did in their 21-7 win over Northwestern this weekend. Impressive feat, fellas! You should be proud.
When Michigan Was On Offense
Michigan rushed for 282 yards on 53 attempts (5.3 ypc) against Rutgers. It was the sixth time the Wolverines have topped 200 yards on the ground in a game this year. (They did it seven times last season.)
Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards both rushed for 109 yards in the game. Corum carried the ball 20 times (5.4 ypc) and Edwards carried it 15 times (7.3 ypc). Both players had carries of 40+ yards.
Aside from Corum’s 43-yard run and Edwards’ 46-yard run, the Rutgers defense did pretty well against the Michigan running game. But you can’t just remove those runs because that’s part of what those two do. You can contain Corum for only so long before he gets free and chunks up the numbers.
In the first quarter, Corum rushed for 53 yards on 11 carries, but 43 yards came on one carry, meaning his other 10 carries averaged one yard per attempt. Rutgers actually had Corum contained on that 43-yarder, but they just couldn’t bring him down. If you can tackle Blake Corum, you can hold him in check. If you can’t, consider yourself bested.
Also, “if you can tackle Blake Corum” is probably the biggest “if” in college football right now. Corum and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young are the two most exciting players in the game. Both are impossible to stop at times. The play is never truly over until the whistle is blown and a referee physically wrestles the ball from their hands.
If there’s a concern with the running game, it’s that the Wolverines ran the ball 13 times in short-yardage or third-down situations in this game and gained just 12 yards. Two of those went for 1-yard touchdowns, so they gained all of the available yards on those two plays. The other 11, however, didn’t meet the same fate. It should be noted that Michigan was without starting left tackle Ryan Hayes and started redshirt sophomore Jeff Persi instead.
Also, if you’re going to talk about concerns with the Michigan offense, spending too much time on the running game might be a waste. Corum and Edwards are the best duo in the Big Ten and may be the best duo in America. Edwards is also possibly growing into Michigan’s best receiving weapon as well.
Rest assured, the Buckeyes are going to have to use all available resources to contain Michigan’s running game, and then hold up on the play-actions that will no doubt be a feature of the Wolverine passing game.
Speaking of which, quarterback JJ McCarthy completed 13-of-27 passes for 151 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked once, and he only rushed for six yards. His long completion of the game was a 35-yard rope to Ronnie Bell on the run and it came on the first play of the game.
McCarthy still can’t find the range on deep shots from the pocket. He’s getting closer but he still missed two or three in this one. I also have to wonder about how well this group of receivers can track the deep ball and then come down with contested passes.
I can guarantee, however, that he is going to hit at least one deep shot against the Buckeyes in Columbus this year.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Michigan held Rutgers to 14 yards rushing on 19 attempts. The Scarlet Knights’ leading rusher was Kyle Monangai, who rushed for 17 yards on four attempts. The Wolverines continue to be dominant against the run.
Michigan has held four of their last five opponents to under 50 yards rushing. They’re allowing just 57.3 yards rushing per game in conference play. What does that mean for the matchup against Ohio State? Probably that the Buckeyes better be crisp through the air.
Rutgers quarterback Gavin Wimsatt has not been known for his passing this year, and that didn’t really change this week. He completed 14-of-29 passes for 166 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Two of those interceptions went to linebacker Michael Barrett in the third quarter. Barrett took one of the interceptions back for a pick six. The other ended up being returned 21 yards to the Rutgers 10-yard line. After the pick six, Michigan led 28-17 and the game was effectively over.
Freshman cornerback Will Johnson had a nice interception. He continues to look like a future star.
Rutgers had just two drives of over 31 yards.
Defensive end Mike Morris had another 1.5 sacks for the Wolverines as he now has 7.0 sacks on the season, which is second in the Big Ten this year.
Rutgers had a 61-yard drive and a 68-yard drive in the first half. Overall, the Scarlet Nights had five drives that went backwards, seven drives that went forward, and one that abstained.
The Michigan Special Teams
This may have been the worst game I’ve seen from Michigan’s special teams in years. But that’s also part of dealing with Rutgers. They make everything stupid.
Jake Moody missed a pair of 50-yard field goals, but those aren’t kicks that college kids are expected to make. Brad Robbins only put one of his four punts inside the 20-yard line (not counting the one that got blocked and ended up inside Michigan’s own 10-yard line.)
Say what you want about Greg Schiano but the man can design a punt block. Rutgers defensive back Max Melton blocked a first-quarter punt and fellow DB Timmy Ward picked it up and returned it seven yards for the Scarlet Knights’ first score of the game.
If the punt block didn’t ring any bells, it should have. It was essentially the same play that Schiano used at Ohio State in 2018 when a freshman receiver named Chris Olave blocked a Michigan punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Both Olave and Melton came from the same spot on the line of scrimmage and went right up the middle for the block. The first two screen grabs are Rutgers and Max Melton. The last two are Ohio State and Chris Olave.
One of the interesting aspects of this play in the Ohio State version is that Urban Meyer didn’t think it would work.
“To tell you the truth I didn’t think we could do it,” Meyer said after the game. “Coach Schiano drew that up, and (quality control coach) Parker (Fleming) who works with us, and I saw it on Wednesday. I grabbed Parker and I said ‘You cant, you only have 2.1 seconds to get there. He’s not that fast.'”
Turns out Chris Olave got there in 1.9 seconds. Melton probably did something similar.
As we all know, coaches are copycats, especially when they copy from themselves.
Michigan also got caught on an onside kick after the blocked punt, but Rutgers failed to recover it. The ball went nearly 15 yards before being touched.
Overall, a lot to correct from this game, but Schiano’s special teams are like preparing for Army or Navy’s offense. Expect the unexpected and then deal with it the best you can. It may not have anything to do with anything else they’ll see the rest of the season, but it put them through a test and showed them they need to stay on their toes.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan needs to move their halftime speeches up to pregame so that they can play better in the first half of games.
The Wolverines trailed at the half in this one for the first time in Big Ten play, but close first halves are nothing new for them. Their largest halftime lead in conference play has been 13-0 over Iowa. On average, they have gone to halftime with a 14-10 lead in Big Ten games this year. (Ohio State has gone to halftime with an average score of 23-10.)
It’s all a bit clunky in the first half until things start piling up for Michigan’s opponents and they finally collapse under the wait of pressure and mistakes. The Wolverines do a great job of making teams pay for their mistakes, and Rutgers certainly emptied their pockets in this one.
But what is the deal with these first halves? The second half is complete domination over the last five weeks, but the first halves should concern Wolverine fans as they get ready for Ohio State.
It also means that if you don’t get Michigan early, you better hold on for dear life in the second half. The line of scrimmage gets pounded and pounded in the first half until it eventually breaks in the second half. Once that happens, the opponent loses their footing and both sides of the ball just get pushed wherever Michigan wants them to go.
When the Wolverines play in Columbus, the Buckeyes better pool their resources into the line of scrimmage defensively. If Blake Corum is slowed, Michigan is slowed. If he isn’t, then every flaw on this Michigan team gets covered over.
Make somebody else beat you. And then do it again. And again. Make Michigan prove that they can be dynamic without Blake Corum making plays.
And then make them do it again.
The Road To The Game
Sept 3 — Michigan 51 – Colorado State 7
Sept 10 — Michigan 56 – Hawai’i 10
Sept 17 — Michigan 59 – Connecticut 0
Sept 24 — Michigan 34 – Maryland 27
Oct 1 — Michigan 27 – Iowa 14
Oct 8 — Michigan 31 – Indiana 10
Oct 15 — Michigan 41 – Penn State 17
Oct 29 — Michigan 29 – Michigan State 7
Nov 5 — Michigan 52 – Rutgers 17 (Rivalry Game)
Nov 12 — Nebraska
Nov 19 — Illinois
Nov 26 — at Ohio State